If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that happiness doesn’t always come easy. We’ve now spent an entire year learning how to laugh and celebrate and find joy in the midst of confusion and uncertainty. It’s been a year that canceled all of our plans, stripped away the basic interpersonal safety nets we took for granted, and even denied some of us—particularly essential workers—the comforting monotony of a predictable and safe workday. This new collective muscle memory for resilience is something that will surely bolster us as we (slowly) acclimate to whatever the new normal will be.
It’s fitting that now, almost exactly one year later, we would pause to celebrate the International Day of Happiness. The happiness we celebrate today, however, differs from a temporary mood enhancement or the toxic positivity that demands we only look at the bright side of life.
Our new resilience has taught us that happiness isn’t dependent on how shiny our lives look on the surface, and that joy doesn’t have to wait for the perfect conditions to take root. What we celebrate today is the choice to create and find happiness, even if the hits keep on coming.
As we observe the value of happiness in our lives today, we also pause to celebrate what this year has taught us: that even if the circumstances around us feel anything but joyful, we are always deserving of the relief that smiles, laughter and a few happy tears can provide.
Celebrate the International Day of Happiness by incorporating one or more of these simple (and sometimes frivolous) happiness boosters into your daily routine, and help your heart feel light all year long.
The worn adage of “it’s better to give than to receive” still rings true. We all naturally view life through a lens that considers our own circumstances first, which can distort our perception of reality. If we’re willing to lift our gaze to see that the world includes more than simply our own lived experiences, we discover ways that we can alleviate the suffering of others and, in the process, our own. Donate blood, volunteer at a food bank, write a letter to someone who could use encouragement or drop off a meal to a neighbor recovering from an illness.
Pay attention and notice where you are uniquely equipped to solve a problem or improve someone’s else’s day. That may mean cheerfully running an errand that your spouse has been dreading or offering to fix a neighbor’s leaky sink with the tools you already have in the garage. The happiness magic found in helping others is tied to our willingness to notice the needs around us and then use the time, resources or connections we’ve been gifted to meet them.
Commit to unexpected acts of kindness
Simple acts of kindness share generosity, love or compassion in ways that surprise and delight the person on the receiving end. Joy is contagious, and spreading it around to others is one of the fastest ways to experience it yourself. If you’ve ever been in a pay-it-forward chain at a drive-through restaurant, where the person in front of you paid for your coffee or lunch, you’ve already experienced this feeling.
But kindness isn’t limited to meal times. Spend an afternoon picking up trash at the local park, deliver cookies to first responders, call your local utility company and pay someone’s overdue bill, leave your waitress a 50% tip, listen to an elderly neighbor without rushing through the conversation, or send flowers to a local nursing home. The daily opportunities to show kindness are limitless and you might even inspire a pay-it-forward happiness chain of your own.
Save before you spend
Spontaneous spending may provide a brief dopamine hit, but it’s the long-haul saving that brings the most ROI for happiness. If you’ve ever helped a child count down to the end of the school year or planned a vacation six weeks in advance, you know the power of anticipation. It’s so much easier to get through the workweek when rest or fun or excitement is waiting in the wings.
Sock away savings for a tropical vacation, designer coat, relaxing spa day or the expensive high-tech gadget you’ve always wished for. In the meantime, take the opportunity to pre-enjoy your purchase. Plan excursions and choose restaurants you hope to try while island-hopping or imagine the outfits you’ll pair with your new designer look. Talk about what you’re saving for with your partner or a friend and allow yourself to dream about what it will add to your life.
Once you reach your savings goal and actually make the purchase, you’ll enjoy the happiness bonus of being able to enjoy the memories of that moment guilt-free, without the burden of spending the next few months or years paying it off.
Splurge where it matters
It’s shocking how much money can fly out the door when we aren’t paying attention. Small charges, like add-ons to the cable bill or delivery fees for meals we could easily pick up ourselves, compound over time and drain our financial resources without any real lasting benefit. There are categories, however, where we could put those wasted dollars to work that would enhance our mental or emotional well-being.
Think about where you invest most of your daily energy or hours and throw (budgeted) money at the problem. A $400 orthopedic office chair may sound frivolous, but if you sit at your desk for hours each day and struggle with back pain, paying a hefty sum for that lumbar support could improve your quality of life.
Splurge-worthy purchases are not the same for everyone because they are unique to individual habits and lifestyles, but they provide real, noticeable improvements to the rhythms of daily life. If the crumb-coated, sticky floorboards of your minivan raise your blood pressure every time you unload the backseat, consider having your car detailed. If the cracked screen on your smartphone slows down your everyday searches, spring for the repair. The fine print: happiness and debt don’t easily coexist, so don’t go overboard and stick to your budget.
Count your creature comforts
Pausing to give thanks for the people, things and moments that make life beautiful provides an instant boost to your happiness. Earnestly take inventory in whatever format works for you: a gratitude journal, daily prayer, thank you notes, scribbles on the backs of receipts as you ride the subway.
As you make these lists, keep in mind that comparison games often shrink joy rather than grow it, so this isn’t about considering how others might have it worse off than you, but rather focusing on the abundance that already exists in your own life.
Line up all of the creature comforts you enjoy each day—freshly washed sheets, a refrigerator that keeps food cool, transportation, running water, pain medicine, music—and be reminded of how spectacularly full each day is with bursts of happiness, ready to make your life more enjoyable.
Say “yes” to surprises
It’s so easy to stay cooped up in our comfort zones, but saying “yes” to new things can enrich and expand our lives. Try a new restaurant, join a hobby club, volunteer for a new work assignment, travel somewhere you’ve never been, RSVP yes to the next gathering, linger in conversation with a new friend.
Some adventures will spark joy, while others will do so later when they are retold as stories. Every new layer of memories leaves a path that we can return to when we need them most. Open yourself up to allow the world to surprise you with joy you haven’t met yet and you’ll soon have a stockpile of happiness that you can draw from all year long.
Photo by Rawpixel/Shutterstock