What are the keys to happiness?
It seems like all of the obstacles and problems we encounter center around this one question. We’re constantly striving towards our most ambitious goals and improving our skills with the hope that we’ll be able to find happiness in these pursuits.
Luckily, with all of the information and knowledge that has poured in over the past two decades, researchers have given us the roadmap to living joyful, fulfilling lives.
Contrary to what you might think, it’s not all about reaching goals and attaining an abundance of wealth. In fact, the central keys to happiness actually revolve around simple, selfless things that we can do every day to lift not only our spirits, but the ones of those around us as well.
Let’s talk about the keys to happiness and then cover some actionable habits that you can implement into your daily life to increase your sense of well-being.
Common Misconceptions About the Keys to Happiness
Many of the preconceived notions we have about happiness come from a misguided view of what actually creates meaning in our life.
For starters, it’s important to note that happiness is not a destination that we can reach, it’s a temporary state.
Just like our motivation ebbs and flows on an hourly basis, our happiness levels do the same. You can be having an engaging conversation with a friend, and then an hour later find yourself slugging through work and hating every minute of it.
It’s simply impossible to be happy during every single moment of the day, yet that state is something that many of us pursue.
In that sense, lasting happiness is an illusion. What we really need to be chasing is inner peace – we need to create a sense of satisfaction with our current situation.
Another misconception is that happiness lies in achieving the goals you set for yourself.
It’s true that striving towards achievement and reaching our goals will increase our sense of self-worth, but there’s a couple problems with this theory.
First off, it assumes that our goals are guided by our values, and in many cases they aren’t. One of the worst things that can happen in life is expanding so much energy trying to achieve success and then find out that it’s not what you wanted in the first place.
You see this all the time with actors, movie starts, famous athletes, etc. They spend their entire lives trying to master one thing, become incredibly proficient at it, only to find themselves slipping into a state of deep depression. And in the most tragic cases, this leads to them taking their own life.
This often happens because at some point, they sacrificed living in accordance with their values to chase their most ambitious goals.
Your values are the things that you believe are important in the way you live and work.
They determine your priorities, and they are the measures that you use to determine whether or not your life is turning out the way you want it to. Knowing what you want is only one aspect of the keys to happiness – the more important part is knowing why you want it.
When the things you do and the actions you take align with your values, you feel pretty satisfied and content. You get that feeling of inner peace that was mentioned earlier.
But when the goals you’re striving for and the actions you take don’t align with your values, this can be a real source of unhappiness.
For example, if you value social connection and deep personal relationships, but you work 100 hours a week and have no time left over to have a social life, then you’re constantly going to feel like something is missing from your life no matter how far you advance in your career.
This is a direct result of the goals you’re pursuing being in direct conflict with your values.
Real quick before we move on, I want to briefly mention the arrival fallacy, which is a principle that explains why happiness doesn’t necessarily lie in the pursuit of our goals.
The arrival fallacy states that once we attain our goal or reach our destination, we will feel lasting happiness.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of “I’ll be happy when.” In the past I’ve routinely made the mistake of saying things like…
- I’ll be happy when I scale my business to six figures
- I’ll be happy when I have a bigger social circle
- I’ll be happy when I’ve increased my self-confidence
It’s not that these pursuits were not worthwhile and wouldn’t add any satisfaction to my life, but the fatal mistake I was making is that there are countless reasons to be happy now. I completely overlooked these reasons because I was so focused on arriving at the destination where I believed I would find joy.
There’s no reason to tie your level of happiness to some future event when there are countless blessings that you can appreciate at this very moment.
Not only that, but when we finally reach the summit and achieve our goals, there’s always going to be something else to chase.
If you earn six figures per year, you’re going to want to earn a million per year.
If you want to buy your dream car, in a few years you’ll want another one.
If you get a promotion at work, your aim will shift to the next promotion probably hours after you get your new title.
That’s just how we’re wired – there’s no scenario in which we simply walk around in life with no ambition because we’ve finally “made it.”
Unless you’re 80 years old and living out your retirement on a beach in Florida, there’s always going to be some next level of success that you want to attain.
Scientific Keys to Happiness (The Big Four)
Researchers have analyzed populations around the globe and found that there are four distinct qualities that bring satisfaction and inner peace to people’s lives.
These are often referred to as the The Big Four – friendliness, cheerfulness, compassion, and gratitude.
Key #1 – Friendliness
It sounds simple, but one of the major keys to happiness is being a friendly person.
We’ve all met those people before right?
The ones who greet everyone the same way and seem to have never met a stranger in their entire life.
Friendliness is about being open with people and making the lives of those around you better. It’s about being willing to make the first move socially without worrying about how you are perceived by others.
Key #2 – Cheerfulness
Cheerfulness is about living with the “glass half full” mindset.
There’s an incredible sense of power you feel when external events do not dictate your temperament or provide you with an excuse to lash out at people around you.
Being able to offer a sunny disposition to the world even when your inner world seems to be falling apart is a life skill that will make getting out of a rut far easier.
Key #3 – Compassion
In the world we live in today, it’s easy to become single-minded and prioritize ourselves 100% of the time.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with prioritizing your own goals and ambitions, but there needs to be a trade off between helping yourself and helping others.
Compassion is probably one of the most overlooked keys to happiness because people underestimate just how good it feels to genuinely do something to improve someone else’s life.
Walking around knowing that you’re having a positive impact on other people’s lives is a priceless feeling that will in turn improve your own life as well.
Key #4 – Gratitude
Last but not least, we have gratitude.
Wherever you find yourself in life, there are reasons to be grateful. Acknowledging the blessings you’ve been given, no matter how insignificant they might seem, is a sure-fire way to enhance your overall well-being.
Researchers have found a distinct correlation between your level of gratitude and your level of depression, so make sure that you take some time each day to show appreciation for the present moment.
4 Daily Habits That Will Help You Unlock The Keys to Happiness
If you’ve read my articles before you know that I like to keep my advice action-based. Understanding the theory behind the central keys to happiness is important, but nowhere near as important as putting those keys into action.
Here are four actionable habits that you can implement into your daily life in order to achieve that inner peace we just spent a bunch of time talking about.
#1 – Keep a Gratitude Journal
One of the simplest ways to increase your appreciation for your current circumstances is to keep a gratitude journal.
Researchers have found that expressing gratitude on a daily basis actually rewires your brain to think more positively and helps you cope with negativity and stress more easily.
The cool part about gratitude is that it’s super easy to implement. If you take a few minutes every morning to appreciate the blessings you’ve been given, then you will see the benefits described above.
Personally, every morning I write down three things that I’m grateful for in my life. And most of the time, the items that I write down seem simple and insignificant – a roof over my head, food to eat, two parents who are still alive, etc.
This habit allows me to stay grounded and for a brief moment, realize how lucky I am despite having not achieved everything I want to yet.
Most people start thinking about their problems and shortcomings from the moment they roll out of bed.
This habit will counteract the natural human tendency to emphasize negative experiences and get your day started on the right foot.
#2 – Check in With Your Friends Daily
One of the keys to happiness outlined above is friendliness, and a big part of friendliness is simply making the effort.
Sending a short text message to a friend. Face-timing someone that you haven’t talked to in awhile. Meeting up with your social circle for a night out.
These are all simple things that you can do to strengthen the social bonds that you have in your life if you’re willing to put in a little effort.
All it takes to have a flourishing social life is to be proactive instead of reactive when it comes to your personal relationships.
Instead of waiting for plans to be made, make plans yourself. Instead of waiting for people to reach out to you, reach out to them first. As you do this more and more, you’ll start to fundamentally shift your identity and making the first move socially will feel more natural.
#3 – Perform An Act of Kindness Every Day
Kindness is more than behavior, it’s about harboring the spirit of compassion – which also happens to be one of the Big Four keys to happiness.
There’s great power in giving without expecting anything in return. As Gary Vaynerchuk says, “Kindness and compassion are THE strengths, don’t let anyone confuse you.”
That quote certainly rings true because oftentimes being kind and showing compassion can be looked upon as weakness in today’s world. We’re conditioned to believe that we need to look out for ourselves, which is why it can feel uncomfortable or “weird” to show that same level of compassion for other people.
Kindness is about the closest thing you can get to hacking your happiness because of the impact it has on your physiology.
Performing an act of kindness increases the release of dopamine and serotonin, which are the neurotransmitters responsible for feelings of satisfaction and well-being. It also causes the pleasure centers of your brain to light up, meaning you’ll be more likely to make it a daily habit since behaviors that are immediately rewarded are repeated.
Coincidentally, kindness also changes your relationship with yourself. Extending an olive branch to others repeatedly eventually carries over into your own self-talk, ultimately leading to a more positive internal dialogue.
The bottom line is that if you want to live a more fulfilling life, daily kindness needs to be a priority. If you’re looking for ways to make this advice actionable, here are some everyday situations where you can practice kindness.
- Give an unexpected compliment
- Buy a warm meal for someone in need
- Pay for the person’s meal behind you in line
- Help someone carry their groceries to their car
- Write a thank you note to someone who has made a difference in your life
- Donate some of your gently used clothes that you don’t wear anymore
- Take the time to write a great online review for restaurant that you love
#4 – Talk to Strangers
The great part about striking up conversations with strangers is that it encompasses three of four the central keys to happiness in one behavior.
By introducing yourself and talking to strangers, you’re…
- Displaying friendliness by embracing someone you don’t know
- Displaying cheerfulness by giving them having a positive, warm interaction with another person
- Displaying compassion by making someone else’s day better
Every day, we are presented with opportunities to expand our social circle and meet amazing people. Yet, most of the time we simply go about our day bogged down in our own thoughts – rejecting the natural urge to put ourselves out there and take social risks.
By having the courage to make the first move socially, you’re separating yourself from the masses by doing something that most people are uncomfortable doing. Due to the way humans evolved, we’re hard-wired to feel discomfort when we approach someone we don’t know.
Thousands of years ago, we lived in very small tribes, which means that we were incredibly wary of outsiders. If a stranger approached our camp, they weren’t going to be met with open arms, the chief was going to have something to say about it.
Luckily for us, we don’t live in that world anymore, but the same natural instinct to be wary of people we don’t know still lies within us.
So the next time you find yourself stuck in line somewhere or simply walking outside, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and start conversations with people. The world is a loving and friendly place, and most people will reciprocate the warmth that you show them.
If you find yourself struggling to do this consistently, shrink your goal. Instead of making it your goal to start conversations with people, start by just smiling at them as they walk by. Then, you can up the ante and start consistently saying hello to people as they walk by.
Once you’ve mastered that, start introducing yourself and trying to have genuine conversations with strangers. You’ll find that your social skills, happiness, and even your dating life will tremendously improve as you get over your fear of social awkwardness with strangers.
Regardless of how far you are from your desired future, there’s no excuse for not adopting the habits that will help you find inner peace in your daily life.
This was such a difficult concept for me to grasp for a very, very long time.
I always used to think to myself – “But I’m nowhere near where I want to be in my life…how can I walk around like everything is okay?”
And sixty years ago, that would have been an extremely valid argument. But luckily decades of research have proven that the mindset of “I’ll be happy when” is just a myth – it’s a trap that people fall into that sabotages their ability to be happy in the present moment.
By making the Big Four keys to happiness a central part of your life, you’ll be able to avoid this trap. If you constantly repeat positive habits that build up the identity of someone who is cheerful, friendly, compassionate, and grateful, you’ll be well on your way to finding the inner peace that eludes so many people.