Erik Van Alstine

Erik Van Alstine

Author. Leadership strategist. Expert in Perceptual IntelligenceTM.

The Four Big Themes of Happiness

Happiness researchers say the average person needs to triple their positivity to reach a healthy sense of well-being.

How? It starts by understanding what happiness is and how to get more of it. For about ten posts now I’ve been angling around this definition:

Happiness is a pattern of positive emotion that comes from seeing good things happen at a good pace.

In previous posts I put emphasis on the “seeing good” phrase in the definition, because so much of our happiness is about mindset. It’s more about the way we perceive our circumstances than the circumstances themselves.

But while mindset is vital, it’s not everything. Circumstances matter. The things we do and the people we do things with have an impact on our happiness. So let’s build on this “mindset foundation” with the four big themes of happiness.

Big Theme #1: Relationships

When we love and serve others, we’re instantly happier. When we experience good times with good friends and family, our sense of well-being grows. We’re wired to thrive through healthy relationships.

Here’s how to make relationships better right now.

  • Forgive everyone. Yes, everyone. Life is too short to live in bitterness and revenge. When we withhold forgiveness and love because we want to hurt people back, this toxic attitudes hurts us more than it hurts them. It’s like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Get the poison out immediately by forgiving. That doesn’t mean trusting, by the way. Just because we completely forgive that friend who lied about us doesn’t mean we should trust them with more secrets. It takes time to re-establish trust, but forgiveness can happen right now.
  • Do something for someone in need. When we ask others how we can help them and follow through, it takes attention off of self, gets us focused on the good in others, and makes us grateful for what we have.
  • Share plans and dreams together. When we can get past the small talk and have meaningful conversations with friends, we feel much more fulfilled. Same is true for solving important problems together. Phone a friend, take them to lunch, and encourage them toward better things. You’ll encourage yourself at the same time.
  • Look at photos of the people you love. When we take time to remember all the good things that have happened, it’s like we’re reliving them in the theater of the mind. This magnifies the good, making us feel good.

Big Theme #2: Achievement

When we set goals and achieve them, we instantly feel happier. Life is about creating value for ourselves and for others, and when we work hard and get things done, that’s a good thing. We see good things happening, and feel happiness in response.

  • Celebrate small wins. Happiness is about a series of wins, not just about some big win way down the line. Take more time to reflect on a win, even if it’s a small one. When you get off the couch and cook a meal, that’s a small win. When you invest fifteen minutes cleaning up the yard, that’s a win. Whenever we’re making things better in the world around us, we feel good about it. When we celebrate those small improvements, we feel good about life.
  • Enjoy the journey. Big goals are awesome. But if we get too fixated on the finish line, we miss all the enjoyment from the milestones in the middle. We need to enjoy the process of succeeding, not just the successes themselves. We should celebrate every step along the way, not just at the finish line.
  • Plan good things for the future. When we look toward the future and see good things, we’ll feel good things. Plan and implement as a pattern of life.
  • Explore and discover. Human nature is wired to enjoy new things, not just good things. We need to invest in novel experiences, try new things, see life in new ways.
  • Invest more time and money into experiences, and less into things. Choose time over stuff. Stuff gets old, but we can always enjoy fresh memories of the good times we’ve had. It’s better to buy a smaller house and take more vacations than it is to get that bigger one and lose out on the new experiences.
  • Win as a team. When we can achieve together, we get a double-hit of pleasure, because we’re building on the relationship theme as well as the achievement theme. Join a sporting team. Get a job with co-workers you enjoy. Invite some friends to a hike and a picnic, so you can conquer the mountain together.

Big Theme #3: Physiological Pleasures

We feel happier when we do small things for ourselves, especially when those things contribute to our health and wellness.

  • Get a massage, take a relaxing bath, enjoy a hot shower.
  • Get enough sleep, make time to relax, leave super early for the appointment so you can enjoy the journey instead of feeling rushed.
  • Take a walk, do yoga, exercise, dance.
  • Eat good food!
  • Take time to think, listen to uplifting music.
  • Avoid too much food, too much alcohol, and too much relaxation. Too much of a good thing is a bad thing, and when we know where we’ve crossed the line, we can stay on this side of it more often.

Big Theme #4: Values

The final theme is our values. We not only love the physical pleasures, the down-t0-earth stuff, but the lofty stuff as well. Our sense of purpose. Our ideals. Our values. Truth. Human nature is wired to enjoy immanence and transcendence, the low stuff and the high stuff.

  • Seek out experiences that create awe. When we get caught up in good things that are big things, we feel a more powerful sense of meaning.
  • Do what you believe in. When our actions line up with our values, we feel a sense of consistency and alignment that makes us feel happier and more fulfilled.
  • Stay in character. When we keep our composure in a tough situation, it feels empowering, we feel a sense of freedom. We feel happy about the way we handled it.
  • Seek wisdom. There’s a better way to live, and when we find it, and feel that our lives are playing out in an artful way, there’s fulfillment in that.
  • Discover your unique sense of passion and calling. When we identify a higher sense of purpose, we create greater good in everything we do. This makes us feel profoundly happy.

When we get the mindset right, and focus on these four practical themes, the positive emotions increase. We’re on our way to tripling our positivity.

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