To find happiness in your life, I believe there are six specific areas that you can improve on to get there. I’ve gathered comprehensive research over the years to determine the following six dimensions of happiness:
Let’s dive into each one.
Humans need vitamin D. Sunlight gives us this happy vitamin. Nowadays, more people are staying indoors, behind screens. No wonder we feel sad. We need to get outdoors. We can’t just buy one of those lights for our bedrooms and call it a day. Even on a cloudy day, there is something about the outdoor air that gives us a nice burst of energy and calmness. The sun is still peeking through those clouds, giving us what we need.
Most would say that the sun is not enough to get vitamin D. Certainly some fatty fish and mushrooms could make up for those deficiencies. But beyond vitamin D, a day outdoors just makes us happy. That’s a good thing.
When I’m driving around on weekends, one of the more devastating societal changes I’m noticing is the lack of kids playing outside. Kids are never enjoying the sunlight these days. I get the feeling that, despite all of the campaigns to get kids outdoors, the appeal to stay in is much stronger. Life is easier behind a phone or tablet, and we haven’t been doing a good job at communicating the benefits of the outdoors.
Imagine if you just started walking for 10 minutes each day. I can’t even begin to tell you what moving the body can do for you in terms of happiness. The problem I see is people comparing themselves to athletes and others who are further ahead than they are, so they just give up.
Exercise is a personal journey that starts with your capabilities. And you likely have more capabilities than you think.
I look at the word exercise and think it means torture. Weightlifting? Ew. Running 20 kilometres? Double ew. Now what if we looked at fun activities and did those? Dancing? Oh, that might be fun! Yoga class? I could do that! We always look at exercise as some chore, which is why we decide to be sedentary instead.
We should be rewiring our brains to think that sitting down or not moving is more boring than doing a fun activity. Then getting exercise will become effortless.
For me, I start the morning by going for a swim at 6am. At first I hated swimming, but two years later, it makes my entire life better, and happier, on so many levels. Exercise in general has reduced my anxiety, negative thinking, bouts of depression and procrastination levels, while increasing my energy, happiness and productivity levels.
I like afternoon walks too. Any kind of movement, even for 10 minutes a day, is a great start. Hey, maybe 10 minutes sounds scary. How about one minute of dancing in one spot, even if it’s shuffling from side to side? Let’s make it fun!
After a nice hike in the wilderness, I implore you to come up with negative thoughts – it’s nearly impossible! You feel so accomplished, oxygenated and energized after physical activity. The only thing you can think of is how awesome you are after your achievement!
Another exercise tip: slow down. I’ve seen this countless times. Someone gets into exercising, pushes it too hard, then has to sit on a couch for six months after an Achilles heel injury. Don’t try to catch up with the world around you. I notice people swim faster than me all the time. It doesn’t change my pace one bit. Everyone has different starting points. Start where you are and pay no attention to others.
Eventually you’ll be exercising every day, just because you’ve found something you love to do. Stick with it and you’ll really see some positive changes, both mentally and physically.
If you are often isolated from the world, you may be lacking in proper connection. See if you can connect socially with someone and notice the benefits afterwards.
When I go out for dinner with friends, I notice a significant boost in happiness after. There is something about humans as social creatures. No matter how introverted someone might be, they still need to socialize from time to time.
I wish social media could give you the connection you need, but most times it does the opposite. People are distancing themselves by scrolling on feeds and consuming content without ever really connecting on a meaningful level. I think this is why we are seeing the rise in popularity of long-form podcast content, as people are longing for deep conversations in their own lives.
There is significant power to having deep conversations. It gets your brain functioning on a level you may have never tapped into before cognitively.
Many people are buying pets as a way to fill their social void. Although pets are nice to keep you company, it is difficult to have a two-way conversation with them!
When I started dating and socializing with people, I found it to be more enjoyable than sitting at home with my thoughts. Interestingly, I’m highly introverted and still need that social connection.
See who you can connect with, whether it be family, friends or a significant other. Put the television remote or smartphone down and pay attention to the conversation. Really listen. Really see how you can connect deeply in the moment. You may notice a boost to your happiness after.
Social connection is a big factor for mental health. If you can find someone you regularly socialize with on an emotional level, you might see the benefits that I’ve seen.
A healthy, whole food, plant-based diet seems to be the way to go. This means you can eat meat too, but it shouldn’t make up your entire plate. Carnivores may disagree, but we simply don’t know the long-term health impact from meat-only diets – except that the Inuits have very short lifespans on this kind of diet.
Both Mediterranean and Okinawan diets are following a mostly plant-based diet, free of refined sugars and carbohydrates. They live the longest out of any other country.
If there is one thing that could significantly improve your lifestyle, it’s eliminating refined foods. Donuts, cookies and cakes are so addictive, but they are arguably worse for your health than alcohol. Yet nobody talks about this problem and its connection with obesity in North America. North America has a big problem with refined foods, and no wonder we are miserable from all of it.
A clean diet could reduce and eliminate a number of health problems in your life, giving you the kind of healthy lifestyle you deserve and can be happy about. I notice when I eat clean for a week, I don’t need naps throughout the day, my mood is regulated and I end up feeling much more energized and productive.
I just wish someone would make sugar illegal! So tasty.
Humans need at least 7 hours of sleep, and ideally 8. There are outliers to this equation, but maybe those people are supplementing with caffeine or drugs. Sleep regulates so many bodily functions and has so many health benefits, yet we forgo it for more stress, more production and more more more in a day.
I believe a better night’s sleep will tap into powers you wouldn’t have tapped into otherwise. For instance, coming up with ideas would be one. Have you ever tried to come up with ideas when your brain is in doze mode? Not going to happen, not for great ideas at least. But when you have a quality, long night’s sleep, you end up in a higher gear throughout the day.
It’s not how many hours you have in the day. It’s how effective those hours are. Sleep more and be happier.
There are a number of books out there suggesting the power of positive thinking. It’s true…and logical. If you are thinking about bad things all day, you can’t possibly be happy!
I also think that overthinking can be unhealthy. You begin to doubt yourself and your decisions. I battle with overthinking all day.
Thoughts can become dangerous if most of your days are unstructured or undisciplined. Entrepreneurs tend to have unstructured days, where they are alone with their thoughts quite often. This is why meditation and mindfulness are growing rapidly in popularity. People want to control their thinking before their thinking controls them.
I could suggest all of the positive affirmations in the world for you, but if your thinking is negative, it may be because something in your life is nagging at you. I would sit with those thoughts and develop a way to handle them.
As an example, someone may be struggling financially, and it’s on their mind every day, 24/7 it seems. I would develop a plan to handle the financial struggle, such as steps for finding a job, starting a business or freelancing for others. That person does not need the anxiety and bad thoughts associated with financial struggle. It is a pattern of thinking that leads many towards a self-destructive life. That is for sure.
Let’s throw another example into the mix. This person is looking to get out of their current job because it makes them miserable (been there). All they do is think about how bad the job is, and complain about their situation without doing anything about it. Decades pass by, as decades do for all of us. Still, nothing has changed. That person essentially led a miserable life, dominated by negative thoughts about a job.
What could they have done? Take on different responsibilities within the company. Start a side hustle around a hobby they enjoy. Find a different job at a different company. Appreciate and be grateful that they even have a job!
There are so many ways to handle negative thinking, but it starts with taking action to fill your mind with positive experiences and outcomes.
That concludes the six dimensions of happiness, but as a bonus, I’d like to talk about several areas that are surprisingly not on the list, and the reasons why they missed the cut. Here they are:
I’ve had enough money to survive. I’ve been bankrupt. Money is completely irrelevant for happiness. Once you have a base level of income to handle food and shelter, the level of happiness with income level is not correlated. A billionaire is no happier than a millionaire. Other life factors are at play (the six dimensions) to explain any discrepancies. Money will not make you happier. In fact, the chase for money is likely to make you even more miserable.
The number of friends you have does not indicate a deep level of connection to these people. Don’t be fooled by those who love popularity contests. If someone has many friends, they might be compensating for their lack of desire to truly connect with anyone on a meaningful level. You could have no friends but connect quite deeply with your family. That would be more than acceptable. Maybe you have colleagues and peers you work with. Connecting to them can be more powerful than any friendships.
Physical, material possessions mean nothing in terms of happiness. That man with the sports car could be hiding his misery. Same goes for digital possessions. Just because you have millions of photos on your computer, doesn’t mean you are more happy. It is the power of what you don’t know about the material world and consumerism. I’ve seen people from Africa who are significantly more happy without possessions compared to Westerners with countless stuff (and stress) to their names. It’s the ploy of marketing, telling us what we ought to need, when we actually need nothing material to be happy. When someone says they need something in order to be happy, they will likely not find it from that additional item.
Therapy is certainly a tool to help you build the life you desire and fix the problems you can’t fix on your own, but people don’t need therapy to be happy. You can get that from a true connection. When I went to a few therapy sessions, I certainly noticed a motivational boost afterwards. Then that moment passed. Then I felt miserable again. Depending on therapy for happiness is not the solution.
Controversially, I am against medications for anything. I am especially adamant against antidepressants, until a last resort is needed. Yet pharmaceuticals is making ridiculous sums of money through temporary mental health fixes like these. You do not want to numb your brain for the rest of your life. Big pharma feels otherwise.
That’s it! I hope this post on happiness will help you on your journey to self-improvement. If you tackle each of the six dimensions as small daily habits, you will see a major positive impact over time, I’m sure of it.