12 Keys to Happiness in Life

By Val Silver

Are you unhappy? These 12 keys to happiness will help you unlock the door to feeling satisfied and content. People who rate themselves as happiest include these happiness secrets in their daily lives. If you practice them faithfully, they will help you be healthier and happier, too.

Philosophers, mystics, and wise ones have long spoken about the secret keys to happiness. Researchers are now proving the truth of their words. 

Benefits of Being a Happy Person

The words healthy and happy are often found together for good reason. As a mind-body being, how happy you are is a key indicator of your physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual health.

Happy people tend to enjoy healthier relationships and make more money. They are more present, resilient and creative. 

On average, they live nine years longer than their less cheery counterparts and experience 30% less illness. When you are present and resilient, you are less affected by the health-harming, immune-suppressing effects of stress.

Not only that, but happiness feels good. You feel more confident, more at ease, enjoy higher self-esteem, and have a zest for life. 

Sounds good, and yes I want to be happy, but what are the keys to happiness and how do I get them?

keys to happiness

The Keys to Happiness

Here is the good news. Pleasure and gladness of heart are not things to be found. Finding happiness is cultivated like a beautiful garden or a fine wine. Joy and contentment can be yours, too, when you make these happiness secrets part of your life. 

1. Set the intention to raise your happiness set point.

To a great extent, happiness is an inside job. No one and nothing can make you happy. It is your response to them that decides how you feel. They may temporarily give your spirits a boost, but ultimately a sustained sense of contentment and joy come from inside you.

You were born with a baseline happiness set point compliments of your genetics and personality traits instilled early in life. Still, that set point is only responsible for 50% of how happy you feel. To some extent, that level is permanently changeable up or down. 

If it is true that half of how happy you feel is predetermined, what about the other 50%? Well, it is estimated that 10% is influenced by circumstances and the other 40% is due to your personal intentional activity. That gives you a lot of power over your emotional state. 

Draw the proverbial line in the sand. Set the intention that you are going to enjoy life more and that you are the one that will make that happen. Have faith in yourself and your spiritual source. Believe that using the happiness keys will work for you and put them into practice. Wishing alone will leave you unhappy. So will doubt. 

Intentional activity in thought, word and deed is the foundation for all keys to happiness. Open yourself to possibilities and allow space for how this will manifest. Enjoy the experience.

2. Practice gratitude throughout the day.

Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Look inside yourself and around you for all you can feel thankful for.

Gratitude is one of the spiritual keys to happiness. This is not about just being grateful for stuff, but for the simple things of life. If things aren't going as well as you like, find the silver lining in the cloud and be thankful for it. If you are on top of the world, celebrate those moments.

Refrain from comparing yourself with others to find them or yourself lacking. Just be grateful for what is. When you thank the universe for the goodness you do have, you open yourself to more goodness, as this happiness quote suggests. There is peace in gratefulness. If you do not feel it at first, no problem. Be grateful anyway and eventually the feelings will follow.

how to be happy, lasting happiness quote Mary Morrissey

3. Be okay with not having all the answers or the answers you want.

Be open and flexible. This is resilience. Have a goal and work towards it, but detach emotionally from the outcome and how it evolves.

Goals take us in directions. Ask yourself, "I wonder what it would take to..." and then take a step or two in that direction today instead of complaining about not having it now. Celebrate the small steps you take. Enjoy the journey.

Here's another great question I learned from Maryam Webster, creator of the ETHOS method. "What generative energy, space and consciousness can I manifest to ____ (fill in blank with the solution you are wanting, not with the problem). Then use a clearing technique to release any blocks that keep this from happening.

4. Allow yourself to slow down and enjoy little things.

This is one of the easier keys to happiness. Take a breath, pause, and focus on the present moment to shift your energy and enjoy a sense of inner calm and peace.

Really let yourself be present to the moment. Engage your senses and notice the wonders all around you. Take pleasure in the moment. Listen to the birds sing. Smell the roses. Watch your child sleep. Look at the stars. Fully take it in, even for just a few seconds. Take a deep breath and blow out tension on the out-breath. Let yesterday go and let tomorrow worry about itself.

If your needs are met, take the pressure off yourself to work and earn more just to keep up with other people. Happy people know that contentment is less about money and more about doing things they love with people they love Running on the hamster wheel of success for the sake of impressing others robs you of power and joy.

keys to happiness, blooming flowers

5. Take back your power.

Give up the false illusion that your emotional state depends on someone or something else. Take responsibility for your thoughts, responses and actions. If you hear yourself saying, "I'll be happy if...", or "I'll be happy when...", you are setting yourself up for discontent.

This does not mean you cannot have goals. It means you set and work towards them from a position of self-love and inspiration, not dissatisfaction and misery.

This key to happiness is about claiming your power and defining boundaries. Look at how you treat yourself and others and how they treat you. Ask yourself:

  • What are you tolerating? 
  • Where are you leaking energy? 
  • Are you giving too much or too little? 
  • Do you have enough time to do what you love? If not, why?

As you answer these questions, you may be tempted to judge yourself. Don't. Just observe and assess.

Then, using that awareness, decide where changes can and most need to be made. Once you are clear about this, list a few things you can do to make changes. Be aware that your brain will resist big long-term changes, but will respond well to small, consistent steps. Need to clean up the mess in your house? No problem, go for it and get it done. Changing the habits that got it that way-that will require more diligence and smaller steps. Find a way to bring pleasure to the task and so much the better.

6. Let go of your blocks to loving yourself and others.

Letting go of grudges and opening your heart to love are two essential keys to happiness.

You rob yourself of much joy when you hold on to negatives and/or refuse to accept and nurture yourself, no matter how you justify it. Do you want to nurse your wounds or do you want to rise up and live and love life?

As Dr. Phil asks, "Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?"

Holding on to resentments and anger are like drinking poison. Forgive and release the past. Stuffing hard feelings is a recipe for ill health and misery. So is holding onto a victim mentality. Even if it gets you what you want in the moment, you pay for it at the expense of real happiness and joy.  Feel your feelings fully and let them move out. Get professional help if you need it.

Healing and peace come with love.  As counter-intuitive as it sounds, compassion and acceptance of yourself and others are where transformation begins. 

love and kindness happiness dalai lama quote

7. Practice Loving Kindness and Altruism

Here is a happiness secret you can count on. Doing good for others on a regular basis is one of the best ways to feel happy in the moment and to raise your happiness set point. It is good for your health and longevity, too.

Doing good deeds and acts of kindness feels good. Altruism helps you feel better about yourself, and with improved self-esteem comes a greater sense of happiness. It is true that in giving from the heart you receive. It is part of the makeup of your brain. 

Practice generosity of spirit and random acts of kindness. Make it a lifestyle, a daily goal. Give compliments and express appreciation. In the spirit of love, nurture your spirit and care for yourself and others. Your sense of self-esteem and hope will soar.

When you are kind and giving makes you feel good and helps others feel loved and happy, too.

8. Optimize your feel good neurotransmitters.  

Get your brain chemistry working for you.  Endorphins, serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine are four keys to happiness and feeling good.  Low levels of serotonin can leave you feeling edgy and moody instead of at ease. 

This list of natural serotonin boosting healthy living habits will sound familiar.

  • Enjoy moderate or gentle exercise for a burst of endorphins.
  • Reduce stress
  • Eat healthy foods and limit sugar consumption.
  • Enjoy morning sunshine.
  • Get a massage or other type of bodywork.
  • Do any necessary emotional and mental healing.
  • Hug a loved one for a dose of the love hormone, oxytocin.
  • Get enough sleep. I don't know about you, but after a few nights of poor sleep I feel more crabby than happy. Adequate sleep paves the way for the next day's happiness. Make this a priority for yourself and your family.

Celebrate little accomplishments throughout the day no matter how small.  Give yourself a heartfelt cheer, a "good job", an "atta-girl or boy". Your brain will release a burst of feel good dopamine as a reward.

9. Surround yourself with positive, inspirational people. 

There's a saying that we are most like the five people we spend most of our time with. Surround yourself with people who exude happiness and contentment and inspire you to be happy.  Minimize time with people who create stress and misery. 

Carefully choose whose words you read and listen to in the media, too. It is easier to move in the direction of happiness when those around you exude this energy already.

Build and nurture relationships with loved ones. Do not qualify these relationships with expectations. Be open to possibilities. Ask yourself, "I wonder what I can do today with my children/spouse/friend so we experience happiness today. What meaningful activity can we share together?

10. Share your life with a pet.

Studies show that people who live with pets enjoy many benefits. Overall, they are happier, more socially outgoing, enjoy healthier relationships, are less lonely and have higher self-esteem than those without pets. They comfort us, keep us company, make us get out and exercise and make us laugh. Pets offer unconditional love and provide us with as much emotional support as family and friends. Yes, sometimes even more. 

When I would take my dog to the nursing home to visit my mother-in-law it warmed my hearts to see people smile and reach out to pet him as we made our rounds in the common area. As one man said, "He brightens up the place."

man with dogs, happiness secrets

11. Focus on one meaningful task at a time. 

You might be relieved to know that the ability to multitask is an illusion. We are actually less efficient and compromise brain power when trying to do more than one thing at once.

Get in the flow instead. Fully engage and get totally absorbed in a task, especially one that is meaningful or survival-based. Turn off your phone, the TV and radio. Set a timer if you need to, but give this activity your full attention.

As a reward for learning and focusing on meaningful tasks, your brain gives you a dose of feel good dopamine. So go ahead - volunteer, cook dinner from scratch, clean a room in your house, knit a scarf, complete a project, take dancing lessons. Be productive. Live your life on purpose and bring more of what gives your life meaning and purpose into your days. 

Likewise, cut back on what does not add real quality to your life. It is okay to do less. 

12. Create the happiness you desire. 

No kidding. The secret of how to be happy is to put the keys to happiness to work for you. Create the mindset and habits that foster joy and contentment. Get your intention on board.

To make this happen, you must believe and take action. It is okay to act 'as if'. It is okay to fake it until your new thoughts and actions feel genuine. Think of it as training yourself. Nothing feels natural and comfortable when we are first learning the how-to. Eventually it becomes second nature.

If you feel stuck, try this: 

  1. Get a sense of how to find happiness by reviewing the characteristics of happy people. Which traits do you already possess, and which do you need to develop?
  2. Reread all 12 keys to happiness. Which do you already practice, even a little, and which do you want to cultivate? What is the first step you can take to make it happen? Do it. Repeat and/or select the next step.

Now that you know the keys to happiness, be consistent and make them a habit. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. You may be surprised how quickly a small shift of perspective or habits can enrich your experience. Get yourself off the hamster wheel and step into a healthier, happier life for you and your family. Your measure of holistic health, and theirs, depends on it.

Related Pages

Source: Friends with Benefits: Pets Make Us Happier and Healthier

Keys to Happiness page updated 04/2020

For Educational Purposes Only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult with your health provider before using natural remedies and/or complementary therapies if you are pregnant, nursing, or you are being treated for a medical condition. Be aware that certain herbs and supplements interact with medications.

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