Think about your friends and family. Bring each person to mind. Do you think they’re happy?
Everyone goes through difficult and unhappy patches from time to time. But ask yourself whether, as a rule, this person is a happy person. When you ask them how they are do they usually reply in a genuinely positive and upbeat way.
If you’re like me, when you think about each person, you can more or less instantly say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the question. When writing about this subject, I realised that pretty much all my friends and family are happy people. This begs the question, why? What makes them so?
It seems to be explained by eight characteristics that they have in common and which are supported by the research on wellbeing and happiness.
They are hopeful and optimistic. They expect the best in the future and believe that it’s possible to create a good future.
They are kind. Being kind boosts people’s mood and happiness levels
Kind people have a generosity of spirit and enjoy helping others even in small ways. It’s natural to them to give to others and help people to succeed.
They are positive. They use positive language much more than negative language. They smile and people like being around them because of their positive energy.
They approach life with energy and zest. They seem alive and excited about things they do and they approach life as an adventure
They feel grateful and show gratitude. They appear to be aware of, and thankful for, the good things they have and that happen to them. They take time to express gratitude and thanks.
They’re curious. They are engaged with the world and they find a range of subjects and topics interesting
They give and receive love. They value, and invest in, close relationships with others, in particular those in which sharing and caring are reciprocated
They are authentic. Happy people are true to themselves and feel they can be themselves and follow their true nature.
Whilst people have a natural baseline of being happy (or not), the good thing is that these eight characteristics can be nurtured and practiced. For example, keeping a gratitude journal has been found to increase positive emotion. Watkins et al., (2003) asked research participants to do a number of different gratitude exercises, such as thinking about a living person for whom they were grateful and writing a letter to someone for whom they were grateful. Participants showed increases in their experiences of positive emotion immediately after the exercise, and this effect was strongest for participants who were asked to think about a person for whom they were grateful.
Practicing small acts of kindness, even if it’s just a kind word to the waiter is a way of cultivating a disposition of kindness. With conscious thought this can be developed even if it’s not a person’s natural strength.
In these days of increased stress, mental health problems and loneliness there is a strong case for cultivating happiness. So, next time you feel like complaining stop for a second and think of something positive in your life however small.
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