A wise person once said that happiness is a journey, not a destination. Well, no offense to them, but how long is this so-called “journey,” and how the heck am I supposed to know if I’m going the right way? Chances are, you and I are probably looking for happiness in all the wrong places, and, according to new research, that’s because the high expectations you’ve set for what happiness should be, have likely become major roadblocks. So how can you make your happiness last if you’ve only experienced how frustratingly fleeting it can be when, on the rare occasion that you do experience pure happiness, it’s there and gone in a moment’s time? Some say the answer is to lower your expectations, but it's not always effective to expect the worst and hope for the best, is it? In truth, you might just have to tweak the definition of what happiness actually means to you.
I think one of the main things people tend to get wrong about happiness is this one-size-fits-all mentality that comes along with it. See, happiness is a relative term, and my definition of happiness probably doesn't match your version of the emotion, at least not entirely. But, either way, you and I both probably have grandiose images in our heads of what happiness feels like, looks like, smells like, and maybe even what it tastes like (hello, chocolate). In truth, if I’ve learned anything from my 26 years of life, it’s that nothing is ever the way you expect it to be. It could be better, though, if you let it be.
Let’s face it — The Beatles were geniuses when they whispered their words of wisdom: let it be. This is how each and every one of us should be living our lives — day by day, moment by moment, going with the flow and appreciating details, even the smallest ones. And, according to new research, this isn’t just me or a couple of fine lyricists blowing smoke up your you-know-what. The simple act of rolling with the punches and experiencing a moment for exactly what it is, is ultimately what’s going to make you the happiest version of yourself. The only major thing that’s holding you back is your own expectation for happiness.
In order to figure out how to make happiness last, researchers from the University of Minnesota and Texas A&M University asked study participants to first describe an important purchase they’d made in the past month. Participants were split into two groups: The first described their purchases as something they thought would generally bring joy to their lives, while the second group expected their purchases would serve a specific purpose, like increase their excitement, peace of mind, and relaxation over time, ScienceDaily reports. The researchers then issued three rounds of surveys: one to be taken right after the participants’ initial purchases, a second one two weeks after their initial purchases, and the last survey was issued out six weeks after their initial purchases.
According to the researchers' findings, which will be published for review in the October issue of the Journal of Consumer Psychology, at the time of their initial purchase, participants across the board shared the same level of happiness. As time went on, however, those who bought their material goods or booked a vacation with the intention of being a happier person overallwere significantly more joyful six weeks after the fact than those who had very specific goals in mind.
Of course, changing your definition of what happiness means to you is easier said than done, especially when our culture has painted this luxurious picture of what happiness is: money, fame, material things, etc. But according to Robert Glatter, M.D., an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital, Northwell Health, the reality is that super high level of happiness you’re fantasizing about isn’t something you can obtain on a consistent basis. “We all want to feel the best we possibly can,” Glatter tells Elite Daily. “What’s important is that you reach a point where you can say to yourself, 'This is where I want to be,' and that you feel satisfied.”
So how do you go about trying to make your happiness last? Well, there’s a few routes you can take. For starters, Glatter stresses it’s extremely important not to compare your life to someone else’s highlight reel, especially on social media, because jealousy can be a pretty slippery slope to climb down from. “It’s important not to compare your life to others, especially if you see your friends in a 'happier' place or state of mind at a given time,” he explains. “It’s best to celebrate with them and congratulate them, as this is what you would want if you were basking in happiness.”
Another way to master the art of genuine, long-lasting happiness is to regularly practice gratitude through things like journaling, meditation, even something as simple as saying a quick thank you to the universe. “Gratitude shifts our thinking to consciously focus on positive outcomes,” Clarissa Silva, a behavioral scientist, relationship coach, and creator of the Your Happiness Hypothesis, tells Elite Daily. “By expressing gratitude for small things in your day, it rewrites our chemistry and our ability to create happiness as an approach to how we deal with life.”
In addition to expressing gratitude daily, Silva also suggests creating a routine for yourself so that, every day, you know what needs to get done, and you can feel accomplished by the end of the night. Adopting positive habits like making your bed as soon as you wake up, preparing and eating a healthy breakfast, or completing a small workout in between daily to-dos “can produce a highly productive day because it’s creating the mental state of happiness through accomplishment," Silva explains.
And, listen, if treating yourself to a piece of chocolate every day is what's going to do the trick, then by all means, friend, indulge. Life's too short not to be smiling.