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5 Ways to Find Out What Makes You Happy (With Examples)

by Sarah Grocutt

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What makes you happy? It is such a simple question and yet it is not always easy to give a simple answer. But knowing exactly what makes us happy, can undeniably help us to shape our lives more positively.

If you find it difficult to answer this question, then you will certainly not be the only one. In fact, it isn’t always as straightforward as you may think. But it is an important question. And if we truly know the answers, we can make positive steps towards achieving a more fulfilled and contented life.

In this article, we will explore why knowing what makes us happy is important, the barriers to finding out what makes us happy and some useful tips to help you discover what makes you happy.

The importance of doing what makes you happy

We all know it is important to do what makes us feel happy, and yet we often take ourselves and our own happiness for granted. In a time where we prioritize so many other things over our own mental health, here is a reminder of why being happy has never been so important:

  1. It helps you to stay motivated and to ultimately believe in yourself!
  2. It will give you increased self-confidence and self-esteem.
  3. It can lead to more productivity.
  4. It helps you to learn and grow.
  5. It improves your physical health.
  6. It will improve your relationships with others.
  7. It helps you to enjoy life more!

There are easily hundreds of reasons why doing what makes you happy is important. In fact, the list is endless. And honestly? Who doesn’t want to enjoy life more?

How the things that make you happy can change over time

Happiness is defined by Collins dictionary as good fortune, pleasure, contentment and joy. It comes as no surprise then, that the same experiences which used to bring us ‘joy’ and ‘pleasure’ when we were younger no longer bear the same importance.

Our own values and beliefs can also change over time too. A study in 2015 found significant differences in people’s values over a life span. Personally, for me, I value the importance of my physical health and well-being over other areas in my life. As a teenager and young adult? Not so much.

And even how we define happiness can change as we become older according to research. This particular study in 2010 found that younger and older people’s association with happiness was very different, with younger people relating happiness to feelings of excitement.

When we put this into the perspective of how we can find out what makes us happy, it is important that we can recognize our own happiness is far from fixed, rather it is a continuous, evolving state.

It also brings up the question of how happiness means so many different things to different people. This may explain why figuring out what makes us happy can be quite complicated.

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What makes you happy now?

If I were to ask you what makes you happy, your answers may be as follows:

  • A new job.
  • Having loads of money.
  • Being slimmer.
  • A new car.

This way of thinking can be associated with destination addiction. This is a term coined by British psychologist Robert Holden. It can be described as the belief that happiness can be found in another place or in the future i.e., another job, house, or car. This takes us away from being present and knowing what makes us happy in the here and now.

Who hasn’t had that way of thinking? So, before you begin thinking about what makes you happy. Perhaps think beyond ‘the destination.’

What is it in the here and now that brings you joy and contentment? Being mindful of this attitude (which we are all guilty of!), can pave the way for a unique way of thinking. It may also get you thinking beyond the materialistic aspects we can sometimes focus too much on.

Materialistic thinking and behaviors do not often bring us long-term happiness. It is well-known in the psychology field that people who place a high value on materialistic items have lower levels of life satisfaction.

So, when you begin thinking about what makes you happy, try and search for things that make you feel happy now. It may just be the key to unlocking long-term happiness.

How things that make you happy are sometimes out of your control

This is an interesting thought. When we think about things that make us happy, we often think of activities, experiences, and environments. Things that are being actively directed by ourselves.

Ok, nothing wrong there. But what we don’t always acknowledge is that it’s sometimes the external events in our lives that make us happy. A personal example for me is knowing my son is happy in school or knowing my friend will soon be having her baby.

Sometimes what makes us happy, are things we are not actively pursuing or experiencing directly. Be sure to think of those examples when identifying what makes you happy too.

How some things may fool us into thinking they make us happy

Unfortunately, we have all been there. Sometimes we attach happiness to negative influences, environments, relationships or experiences.

A simple example! Eating a ton of ice cream on the sofa makes me happy. Or does it? Because when I eat loads, I think it is going to make me happy, but then I feel terrible afterward.

So, what things give you a sustained feeling of happiness and joy? Mine certainly doesn’t involve eating lots of ice cream. This is definitely something worth pondering if you’re trying to figure out what really makes you happy.

5 ways to figure out what makes you happy

While you take some time to think about what makes you genuinely happy in life, have a look at some meaningful exercises and tips to make that all-important question easier for you.

1. Make notes on when you feel happy

We are busy people in general and constantly on the go. Has anyone ever asked you what you did today, and you struggle to remember!? (I tend to do this all the time!).

Often, we tend to rush through the day without paying attention to how we felt about certain situations. When you do experience true happiness during various parts of your day or week, keep a diary of those things you observe. It could be as small as sitting down on the sofa with a cup of coffee! If you are a person who likes numbers, you may even want to rate the day out of 100.

(Our Diary tool allows you to do this in the simplest way!).

It may seem quite strange at first but writing these down and seeing your thoughts in words can be enormously powerful. For example, here’s an article that covers how journaling can lead to increased self-awareness!

2. Find patterns in your day

Once you have made different notes on a daily or weekly basis you will begin to get a good idea of the experiences, activities, and environments which make you feel happy. Which is great!

Can you now find any common themes or patterns? Go back and have a look at what you have written. What seems to be coming up more frequently? Is it having quality time with your family or even some personal ‘me’ time? Are there even different times of the day when you tend to feel happier than others? Could the weather even affect how happy you feel?

3. Reflect on those moments of happiness

Time to be truly honest with yourself here. Those moments you wrote down in your notes? Now break this down even further. For example, in my notes, I would put down that having a meal out with my friends makes me feel happy.

But why is this? Is this because I am looking forward to socializing with friends? Or is it because I am getting out of the house to have some peace and quiet from my two lovely, yet very loud children at home? Or is it because I love my food and I want to sample the culinary delights of different restaurants in the local area?

It could very well be all three. Reflecting on these moments can be incredibly powerful and reveal even more information about ourselves that we didn’t even know.

If you want to take it one step further, read our article on how to practice self-reflection and why it’s so important!

4. Explore your drivers

Whilst we are in reflection mode, let’s dig a bit deeper. What drives you in life? What is important to you and what motivates you?

A few years ago, I was making a career change and I couldn’t seem to work out what type of job would make me happy. My friend who happened to be a psychologist and business coach suggested that I complete a logical levels exercise. With this exercise, I had to identify some of my main purposes, values, and beliefs.

This was an invaluable exercise for me. It told me which areas were important in my life and it got me thinking as to what makes me happy.

So, find time to identify your own values and beliefs. If you are struggling with ideas, google a list of values and highlight the ones with which you resonate.

Do these values match up with some of the notes you made in the previous steps? If one of your values is integrity for example, are you surrounding yourself with people that have integrity? Are you drawn to certain people in your life because of this value?

Exploring our own belief system means we find what is important in our lives. And knowing this is another step closer to figuring out what makes us happy.

5. Think about what doesn’t make you happy

It is always easier to think about what we don’t like. This can be an extremely useful exercise but can be difficult too.

We all have had negative life experiences and conflicts in our lives. And it is not always easy to re-live the negative aspects. Sometimes, we might not even want to admit what doesn’t make us happy as we are frightened of facing some big truths.

But doing this really makes everything clearer. What doesn’t make you happy? It is so important to acknowledge this question too.

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Wrapping up

Thinking about what makes us happy is never as easy as it looks. We all know it’s important to be happy and how happiness brings so many benefits. We also know that happiness is ever-changing in our lives. By using the tips in this article, I hope it brings you more clarity on what makes you happy on a deeper level. Going beyond the materialistic aspects and finding what makes you happy in the present is so important.

So, what genuinely makes you happy? When we can be honest with ourselves and truly know the answers, we can prioritize and surround ourselves with all those amazing things. And in doing that, we can lead a more content and fulfilling life.

Have you figured out what makes you happy? What’s stopping you from doing more of the things that make you happy? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

Sarah Grocutt Author

Former teacher and lover of all things psychology. Born and raised in the UK. Full-time employed by my two wonderful children and self-confessed yoga addict.

2 thoughts on “5 Ways to Find Out What Makes You Happy (With Examples)”

  1. I came here Because my spouse asked me what made me happy and I couldn’t think of anything. That one question kicked off a journey of self reflection, self healing, and searching for ME in this huge crazy and often draining world. Thank you for this article as I had no idea where to start on figuring out what makes me happy.


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