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How to Be Happy: Ten Strategies That Actually Work

Danielle Dent-Breen's picture

We are living in tough times. It seems, in this world of the 24/7 news cycle, and constant streams of information, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Anti-depressant use is at an all-time high. According to the US Government Statisticians who published the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a whopping one in every 10 Americans are taking some type of antidepressant, and a full 23% of American women in their 40’s and 50’s rely on them daily. There are those who say this is a good thing, because depression has been under-diagnosed and under-treated in the past, but other critics say that aggressive pharmaceutical marketing may be, in part, responsible for the 400% rise in antidepressant prescription use in recent years, and antidepressant usage certainly does not come without significant risk and side effects. What if there is some middle ground? What are the secrets used by people who seem “happy”? Keep reading for 10 strategies that actually work to help you to feel better, and take control of your mental health.


1. Learn to enjoy the ride.
Happy people realize that happiness is not a “destination” to be obtained, but rather, an attitude during the journey of life. There will be times when things are easier, and times when things are more difficult, but accepting that you will never fully arrive at a destination of happiness helps you to realize that the happiest people are the least focused on their own attainment of happiness. They are just along for the ride.

2. Focus on the good and not the bad.
Simple as it may sound, unhappy people are unthankful people. Practice gratitude. Keeping a journal or a list of all of the good things in your life, and focusing on these things daily will help you to stay on track and resist becoming stuck, worried about one or two difficult circumstances in your life.

3. Keep your expectations realistic.
It’s important to determine what you want from life, and why you want it. Determine the source of your expectations. Are you trying to obtain the unobtainable “ideal” sold to you in movies and media? Happy people are able to understand the difference between the slick, shiny fantasy and realistic expectations for their life.

4. Be willing to forgive.
If you hold unforgiveness in your heart toward those who have hurt you, you are ultimately only hurting yourself. Choosing to forgive those people who do not deserve or ask for our forgiveness breaks the power they hold over you. Ask God to help you to find forgiveness for those who have done you wrong, and be willing to let it go. It is also important to be willing to forgive yourself for your failures. If you have wronged someone ask for forgiveness, and make it right with them if you can. Ask God to forgive you, and move on.

5. Be generous.
Studies continue to show that happiness comes from giving of our time and money to a cause bigger than ourselves. Volunteer. Get involved. You will likely find that taking the focus off of yourself and instead, focusing on the greater good will help you find the road to happiness once again.

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6. Change what you don’t like.
Again, this may seem simple, but if you are living with regrets, take action to change. If you don’t like your job, do whatever it takes to get training and skills to find the job you love. If you regret that you never learned to run a mile—start running. Do you regret not making more friends, or never marrying? Get out and find someone. It really is that simple.

7. Slow down and enjoy life.
Happy people know how to take a break now and then. If you are a type-A, always-on-the-go kind of person, schedule time in your calendar for rest. Spend time with your family and friends, or take up a new hobby. People who are hyper-focused on one particular part of their life often neglect our minds and bodies’ true need for rest and relaxation.

8. Choose your attitude.
The old adage holds true here, “fake it ‘til you make it.” Every day, wake up and choose to have a great attitude. Choose to control your emotions, and not to let your emotions control you. If you don’t particularly feel happy, choose to smile anyway. A smile on your face will affect how others around you perceive you, and will cause them to treat you kindly, ultimately improving your mood and attitude. Studies have shown that the physical act of forced smiling releases endorphins in our brains, even when our mood is not necessarily happy.

9. Stop looking for shortcuts.
Your mom and dad were right here. The best way to be successful and happy in this life is to work hard, get your education, and pursue your dreams, both big and small. Nobody owes you anything in this life. It is up to you, and you alone, to make your life what you wish it to be.

10. Make a difference.
People who are happiest are those who fill their lives with significance, and leave the world a better place than they found it.

You, and you alone, have the chance this day to choose happy.