Changes in circumstances can trigger an increase in happiness but research shows that these increases are often short-lived according to the Journal of Happiness studies. In contrast, engaging in intentional activities that you enjoy has been shown to have a more sustainable positive impact on your well-being. This is likely because intentional activities tend to expose us to diverse experiences and new opportunities which, in turn, may lead to increases in happiness.
Although society tends to talk about ‘pursuing happiness’, research indicates that happiness is not a product that we obtain but rather that happiness is a process – one that occurs while engaging in intentional activities.
If you want to increase your levels of happiness, making a small daily change that allows you to engage in an intentional activity that brings you pleasure is a good place to start. The change that you make should be something that fits with your personality and daily routine. It is important to be realistic about what changes you can or want to make – if you choose something that is too time-consuming, difficult, or not a true reflection of who you are, it is less likely to be a sustainable change.
Take a few minutes (or longer if you need) to think about the things that you do on a daily basis – how you start and end your day, for example – and how it makes you feel. It can be helpful to write these down so that you can split them into things that make you feel better or happy (we’ll call this the ‘positive list’) and things that make you feel worse, unhappy, or frustrated (the ‘negative list’). From there, think about small changes you can make to improve your day. If a ten-minute walk outside improves your mood, can you fit that in before work or at lunchtime? Adding in an intentional activity like this to boost your mood is likely to increase your overall happiness.
At the same time, have a look at what is written on your negative list. Is there anything there you can stop doing? There are some things that we may not be able to change, such as the commute to work for example. You may, however, be able to make that a bit more bearable (or even enjoyable!) by playing your favourite songs in the car or listening to a podcast you enjoy.
Remember, happiness is a process, not a product, and so you will need to embrace the process of increasing your positive mood. Try making small changes like we have discussed above and be mindful of the impact of these on your mood. These changes do not need to be permanent – try to take time to regularly think about what parts of your day are working for you and what parts need to change. This is an ongoing process, and with time, you might find yourself automatically adapting your daily activities to be more intentional and increasing your happiness as a result.
written by Kerryn Giles, Educational Psychologist