Happiness is the most important personal goal for most people, and I tend to agree. What’s the point of life if we’re not living it happily? What if you are currently unhappy? What if you have been unhappy for a long time already? You might start to wonder when your life will improve again. If you are currently struggling with this, then this article is for you.
So when can you be happy? In a lot of scenarios, the answer is that you can be happy right now. Why? Because happiness is often a choice. This article will show you real-life examples of how you can be happier right now. But happiness is not always a choice. If that’s the case for you, this article will still show you tips and examples of how you can work towards being happier.
This is only the tip of the iceberg, as this topic is a lot more nuanced than this short answer. I’m going to show you examples and tips for multiple real-life scenarios that you can learn from in order to understand and improve your current situation.
This article is part of a much bigger guide on learning how to become happy that I’m sure is the biggest freely available guide on the internet right now. This article contains some great tips, but you’ll find a lot more actionable tips in the section Happiness Tips!
Eternal happiness doesn’t exist
First things first: Eternal happiness doesn’t exist.
The first important thing to realize when talking about happiness is that it’s impossible to be happy all the time. Therefore, you are not alone. At any given time, there are a lot of people that are struggling to find happiness. I’ve been unhappy countless times myself. Hell, even the happiest man alive has experienced unhappiness at some point.
But the good thing is that as much as happiness is not eternal, so is unhappiness. Nobody is unhappy for their entire life, and with a little help, we can work towards being happier tomorrow.
That’s why I wanted to shed light on this question: when can I be happy? I want to find out the following things:
- What do you need in order to be happy?
- What influences your happiness?
- When can you choose to be happy?
- What’s keeping you from being happy right now?
- How can you work towards becoming happier?
You can use this table of contents below to jump to the specific sections if you want to skip ahead.
What do you need in order to be happy?
What do money, friends, a promotion at work, reaching your goal weight or traveling the world have in common?
These are not the main fundamentals of your happiness.
You can have all the money in the world with dozens of friends while traveling the world. If you’re lacking the fundamentals of happiness in your life, these things will not fix your underlying issues. Here are some fundamentals which are much more important, and I’m sure you’ll agree here:
- Good health, both physical and mental
- A level of independence
- A purpose in life
It’s important to know that your current unhappiness might be caused by a lack of these important factors. If you are currently feeling unhappy and don’t know why, then it’s a good idea to consider these important factors of happiness and see if they are all present in your life. If they are not, then you must focus your attention on fixing these issues first.
You won’t be able to find a quick fix to your problems by escaping your life with a holiday to the Bahamas. Maybe temporarily, but not long-term. I’m sorry.
What influences your happiness?
Some people find it really frustrating when they hear: “just choose to be happy”. A lot of people think that happiness is 100% a function of your own mindset. That’s not true. And that’s usually because you are missing one or more fundamental factors of happiness.
It’s not like you can stand in front of a mirror and repeat “I’m happy” thirty-five times and then POOF you’re happy. It doesn’t work like that.
In fact, it turns out happiness is influenced by a lot of factors that we cannot control.
It’s very simple actually. They say happiness is determined as follows:
- 50% is determined by genetics
- 10% is determined by external factors
- 40% is determined by your own outlook
Notice how there’s a significant chunk of your happiness that you can’t control? You see, even though we sometimes have the ability to choose happiness (as shown in this article with actual examples in this article), the opposite is true in a lot of cases. As hard as you might wanna try, happiness is sometimes more than just a decision.
Your happiness formula
In our page about “What Is Happiness”, I discussed the concept of how your happiness is unique. The things that make me happy on a daily basis won’t necessarily make you happy. In fact, happiness is something that’s constantly evolving as time passes. What makes me happy today will likely not make me happy next week.
We all have our own “happiness formulas”, which is as unique as we are ourselves. We all define happiness differently.
That unique formula is dependent on factors that we can learn about. Some factors that are part of my happiness formula:
- Good health
- A purpose in life
But more specifically:
- My relationship
- My passion for running
- Being relaxed and not stressed
These are things that I determine on a daily basis, which allows me to learn everything I can about my personal “happiness formula”. We can’t control 100% of our happiness, but I believe we can understand 100% of our happiness.
When can you choose to be happy?
So our happiness is defined by a “formula” that includes variables that we can influence and variables that we have no control over at all.
In some specific scenarios, we find ourselves in situations where our unhappiness is primarily defined by factors that we can control. In these scenarios, our own actions are directly influencing our own happiness. These are the scenarios in which you can actually choose to be happy.
Here are some examples of when you can choose to be happy.
- Example 1: When you’re stuck in traffic
- Example 2: When you’re annoyed at your partner for not doing the dishes
- Example 3: When it rains outside and your plans are ruined
These short examples might sound silly, I know. Let me explain one in more detail:
Focusing on something positive when possible
Imagine this: You are in a hurry after a long day at work. You need to get back home as soon as possible because you need to do groceries, cook dinner and head out to meet your friends.
But traffic is extremely busy and you end up stuck in front of a red light.
Bummer, right?! There are a couple of things you can do here:
- You can be mad at this #*#@%^@ traffic light and be pissed off. This traffic light is ruining your plans!
- You can accept the fact that this traffic light is the way it is and decide to not let it influence your happiness.
We cannot control the traffic. But we can control how we react to it. And that’s why it’s a perfect example of how happiness can be a choice. We get to choose how we react to events, and by choosing a happy outlook, we can vastly improve our happiness when dealing with these situations.
It’s difficult to be aware of the situation when such a scenario presents itself. However, this is something you can train. So the next time you recognize a situation like this, instead of becoming frustrated by this busy traffic, why don’t you try to focus on things that actually make you happy?
- Put on some good music and just sing along.
- Give your friends a call and talk about your plans for the evening.
- Send a nice message to someone you love.
- Just close your eyes and take a deep breath. Allow your mind to rest easy, instead of being focused on the busy traffic around you.
You see where I’m going here, right? At the start of this article, you read that roughly 40% of your happiness is a result of your personal mindset. You can train yourself to take control of that 40% of happiness.
Happiness is a choice in a lot of scenario’s, and recognizing when this is the case is a great step in the right direction!
What’s keeping you from being happy right now?
The next thing I want you to do is to determine what is making you unhappy right now.
Just take a moment to consider your own happiness. What I want you to do:
- Rate your feeling of happiness on a scale from 1 to 10. Write it down somewhere.
- Determine what factors are having a negative effect on this happiness rating. In other words, what’s happened and caused your happiness rating to be this low? Why is it not higher? Write that down.
What did you come up with?
I’m doing this every single day, and recently, the following factors have had a negative influence on my happiness:
I want you to come up with a similar list.
The next step is to determine whether or not these factors are within your control. Are you tired as a result of your own actions? Are you unhappy because you are pessimistic about future events?
Are any of these factors within your control? Good, because that means that you have the opportunity to be happier right now, just like the examples that I mentioned before.
How can you work towards becoming happier?
It’s very likely that your current happiness is not completely a result of your own actions. If you’ve been struggling with unhappiness for a while now, it’s safe to assume that you can’t just “turn off” this unhappy feeling.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t do something right now to start working towards a happier future.
Here’s an in-depth article I published recently that contains an actionable 11-step guide to become happy again. It includes the following steps:
- Write down what’s currently making you unhappy (we’ve covered this one already!)
- Try to improve yourself one step at a time
- Find the balance between long-term and short-term happiness
- Realize that happiness is often a choice (check)
- Create an actual plan
- Track your happiness
- Spend time with people you love
- Don’t give up after a bad day
- Prioritize your sleep
- Try to spread happiness
- Be grateful
Again, this is just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve covered a lot of different ways to become happier and understand it better here on the Happy Blog.
No matter how long you’ve been unhappy already, there are a lot of things you can do today to work on being happier tomorrow. In a lot of scenarios, you have the power to be happier by controlling how you react to certain things. Again, you can’t force yourself to be happy, but you can steer it in a better direction by becoming more aware of what factors influence you the most.
I hope this article has helped you realize that you can influence your own happiness. It’s what I’ve been doing for the last >5 years. If you have a similar kind of experience, I’d love to hear all about it in the comments below. Let me know what you think!
Founder of Tracking Happiness and lives in the Netherlands. Ran 5 marathons, with one of them in under 4 hours (3:59:58 to be exact). Data junkie and happiness tracker for over 7 years.