As a positive psychology expert and founder of Happiness Scientist, I’m often asked the question: “Are you happy all the time?” The answer is no! I am a human being, not a robot, and hence experience the full range of emotions. However, because of what I study and teach others about happiness, I do have a toolkit that allows me to be aware of what I’m experiencing, and be able to respond in ways that are helpful.
My interest in happiness came about because of circumstances I found myself in. As a teenager, I was miserable – going through teenage angst, being bullied by my classmates, and navigating a rather chaotic home environment. I felt lousy about myself, and had a pessimistic attitude towards life. Worst of all, I had no idea what to do to make things better.
Thanks to the help of a kind and encouraging form teacher, I found the courage to walk away from the bullies. I also started believing in myself, became more confident and, in the end, emerged from that period with a big smile on my face. The seed planted in my head was that “Happiness can be learnt”. So, I ended up at the University of Pennsylvania in 2010 to study Positive Psychology.
Over the last 11 years, I have shared the research and tools of how to be happier with more than 20,000 individuals in schools and companies.
What I’ve come to realise is that many people pursue happiness thinking that it is the end goal. Or that it’s a pursuit of having “more” – if I have more money, more stuff, more validation – then I’ll be happy. However, you might find yourself stuck on what psychologists call the “hedonic treadmill”, which is a pursuit of more pleasure that at some point you simply get used to, or derive less satisfaction from.
Instead, one is happier when you can feel content with your current life. In other words, being satisfied with what you have at the present moment, and not constantly seeking more.
Another observation I’ve made is that people expect (or are waiting for) that one thing to bring all happiness to their life: that new car, next promotion or vacation. Instead, the path to contentment lies in your daily habits. In my own journey, here are some strategies that I have found to be helpful:
Focus on what is going well right now
Instead of looking for the next big thing, spend some time daily to appreciate what you can be grateful for, and why you are grateful for it. This could be people in your life who have helped you, experiences you’ve gone through, or moments that you cherish. For example, I’m grateful for the time spent with my daughters during these school holidays.
Savour the little things in life
This is about intentionally feeling, enjoying and extending the good moments in your life. Doing so prolongs the sometimes fleeting positive emotions. For example, you could savour a cup of coffee, pause as the wind blows through your hair, or reminisce about fun travel moments in the past.
Stop comparing yourself to others
“Comparison is the thief of joy,” said Theodore Roosevelt. When we compare our lives to others and look for what is missing, you might inevitably feel that your life is less than. Instead, spend your energy and focus on investing in your goals, reminding yourself of the progress you’ve made, and creating the path that you want.
Text: Sha-En Yeo/ Her World