Ten Keys to Happier Living
02 Nov 2016 | Action for Happiness
What really makes people
We're constantly bombarded with messages about what makes for a
good life. Advertisers tell us it comes from owning and consuming
their products. Media coverage associates it with wealth, beauty or
fame. And politicians claim that nothing matters more than growing
the economy. But do any of these things really bring lasting
For thousands of years, people have looked to philosophy,
religion and grandmotherly wisdom to answer such questions. But in
recent decades this ancient wisdom has been tested by scientific
research. Scientists have found that although our genes and
circumstances matter, a huge proportion of the variations in our
happiness come from our choices and
activities. So although we may not be able to change our
personality or the circumstances we find ourselves in, we still
have the power to change how happy we are - by the way we approach
Action for Happiness has
identified Ten Keys to Happier Living, based
on an extensive review of the latest research about what really
helps people flourish. These are not "ten commandments", because
each of us is unique and what works for one of us may not for
someone else. They are simply ten areas that tend to make a big
difference to our happiness - and are within our control.
1. GIVING: Do things for
Caring about others is fundamental to our happiness. Helping
other people is not only good for them, it's good for us too. It
makes us happier and can help to improve our health. Giving also
creates stronger connections between people and helps to build a
happier society. And it's not all about money - we can also give
our time, ideas and energy. So if you want to feel good, do
- Do three extra acts of kindness today. Offer to help, give away
your change, pay a compliment, or make someone smile.
- Reach out to help someone who's struggling. Give them a call or
offer your support. Let them know you care.
2. RELATING: Connect with
Our relationships with other people are the most important thing
for our happiness. People with strong relationships are happier,
healthier and live longer. Our close relationships with family and
friends provide love, meaning, support and increase our feelings of
self worth. Our broader social networks bring a sense of belonging.
So it's vital that we take action to strengthen our relationships
and make new connections.
- Make more time for the people who matter. Chat with a loved one
or friend, call your parents or play with the kids.
- Make three extra connections today. Stop to chat in the shop,
wave at a neighbour, learn the name of someone new.
3. EXERCISING: Take care of your body
Our body and mind are connected. Being active makes us happier
as well as healthier. It instantly improves our mood and can even
lift us out of depression. We don't all have to run marathons -
there are simple things we can do to be more active each day. We
can also boost our wellbeing by spending time outdoors, eating
healthily, unplugging from technology and getting enough sleep.
- Be more active today. Get off the bus a stop early, take the
stairs, turn off the TV, go for a walk - anything that gets you
- Eat nutritious food, drink more water, catch up on sleep.
Notice which healthy actions lift your mood and do more of
4. AWARENESS: Live life
Have you ever felt there must be more to life? Good news - there
is. And it's right here in front of us. We just need to stop and
take notice. Learning to be more mindful and aware does wonders for
our wellbeing, whether it's on our walk to work, in the way we eat
or in our relationships. It helps us get in tune with our feelings
and stops us dwelling on the past or worrying about the
- Give yourself a bit of head space. At least once a day, stop
and take five minutes to just breathe and be in the moment.
- Notice and appreciate good things around you every day, big or
small. Trees, birdsong, the smell of coffee, laughter perhaps?
5. TRYING OUT: Keep learning new things
Learning affects our wellbeing in lots of positive ways. It
exposes us to new ideas and helps us stay curious and engaged. It
also gives us a sense of accomplishment and helps boost our
self-confidence and resilience. There are many ways to learn new
things throughout our lives, not just through formal
qualifications. We can share a skill with friends, join a club,
learn to sing, play a new sport and so much more.
- Do something for the first time today. Sample sushi, try a new
route, read a different newspaper or visit a local place of
- Learn a new skill, however small. A first aid technique or a
new feature on your phone, perhaps. Cook a new meal or use a new
6. DIRECTION: Have
goals to look forward to
Feeling good about the future is really important for our
happiness. We all need goals to motivate us and these have to be
challenging enough to excite us, but also achievable. If we try to
attempt the impossible, this creates unnecessary stress. Choosing
meaningful but realistic goals gives our lives direction and brings
a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when we achieve
- Take the first step. Think of a goal you're aiming for and do
one thing to get started. Make a call, fill in that form, tell
- Share your dreams. Tell three people about an aspiration that
is really important to you this year and listen to theirs too.
7. RESILIENCE: Find ways
to bounce back
All of us have times of stress, loss, failure or trauma in our
lives. How we respond to these events has a big impact on our
wellbeing. We often cannot choose what happens to us, but we can
choose how we react to what happens. In practice it's not always
easy, but one of the most exciting findings from recent research is
that resilience, like many other life skills, can be learned.
- Ask for help today. Confide in a friend, talk to an expert,
reach out to a colleague, ask a neighbour to lend a hand.
- When something is troubling you, do something you really enjoy.
Shift your mood and bring a new perspective on the problem.
8. EMOTIONS: Look for
Positive emotions - like joy, gratitude, contentment,
inspiration and pride - don't just feel good when we experience
them. They also help us perform better, broaden our perception,
increase our resilience and improve our physical health. So
although we need to be realistic about life's ups and downs, it
helps to focus on the good aspects of any situation - the glass
half full rather than the glass half empty.
- Do something that you know will make you feel good. Listen to
music, watch something funny, get outside or call an old
- Try to smile and say something positive or constructive every
time you walk into a room. Notice the reaction you get.
9. ACCEPTANCE: Be
comfortable with who you are
Nobody's perfect. But so often we compare a negative view of
ourselves with an unrealistic view of other people. Dwelling on our
flaws - what we're not rather than what we've got - makes it much
harder to be happy. Learning to accept ourselves, warts and all,
and being kinder to ourselves when things go wrong increases our
enjoyment of life, our resilience and our wellbeing. It also helps
us accept others as they are.
- Ask a trusted friend or colleague to tell you what they think
your real strengths are. Try to make more use of these.
- Be as kind to yourself as you are to others. See your mistakes
as opportunities to learn. Notice things you do well, however
10. MEANING: Be
part of something bigger
People who have meaning and purpose in their lives are happier,
feel more in control and get more out of what they do. They also
experience less stress, anxiety and depression. But where do we
find meaning and purpose? It might come from doing a job that makes
a difference, our religious or spiritual beliefs, or our family.
The answers vary for each of us but they all involve being
connected to something bigger than ourselves.
- Feel part of something bigger. Spend time with children, visit
an inspiring location, gaze at the stars or join a club.
- Be more charitable. Give others your time, offer to help
neighbours or friends, consider giving blood or volunteering.
Find out more