By Emily Gibson, MS, LPCC

Could it possibly be that I may have cracked the code for happiness? That I might have figured out how to have more happiness in my life, and how you can too? Happiness is a great feeling, one that we are often in pursuit of. “I’ll just be happy if _____” or “When I get _____, I’ll finally be happy.” But just like all our emotions, happiness levels come and go. We don’t ever actually “finally” get happy and then just stay there. Even after doing all the hard work of healing, life will absolutely attempt to unmoor you and will definitely throw waves your way. It’s how you handle and deal with those storms that is important.

So what’s the secret? It’s what I call “stacking happiness.” Essentially, you take a bunch of small things that make you happy and add them up. It’s recognizing that there isn’t one single thing, person, animal, experience, or whatever that will make you happy, it’s really leaning into the positive feelings that come from a variety of sources. For example, I can go for a walk (movement is amazing for healing) and while on the walk, really notice the sights, sounds, and smells around me, feel the sun and wind on my face, and pay attention to what I see in nature. I can listen to my favorite podcast while walking, think about a friend or loved one and great times spent with them. I can arrive home from the walk and pet one of my cats, really leaning into how his fur feels, what it’s like when he’s purring. I can make myself a warm beverage and notice what the feeling of warmth does for my sense of happiness and contentment. I can curl up with a good book or watch my favorite, most familiar TV show (Schitt’s Creek) and lean into what it’s like to laugh and feel a sense of connection to the characters I’ve spent so much time with. In other words, you add up small, positive experiences that each provide just a little happiness all by themselves – if each thing causes just a 1% increase in happiness, adding up a bunch of them can be really effective! The more often we truly do that – leaning into positive emotions, the more we can pay attention to and find more of the little things that make us happy.

Some other ideas (many borrowed from Dr. Daniel Amen’s book You, Happier):

  • Good night of sleep
  • Meditation/mindfulness
  • Exercise, even a few minutes
  • Warm, sunny days
  • Healthy food
  • Physical affection/touch
  • Starting the day with “today will be a great day”
  • Happy memories
  • Feeling productive
  • Creativity
  • Audiobooks, podcasts, YouTube or other videos
  • Learning something new
  • Laughing at a joke, making others laugh
  • Staying connected with people you care about
  • Great conversations
  • Watching a sporting event
  • Getting recognized for effort
  • Attending to spirituality or religious beliefs, connecting with something greater than ourselves like the idea of the Universe or God
  • Feeling purposeful
  • Making a difference in the lives of others

These are just a few of the things we can stack up to find happiness. But we also need to keep in mind that when we’re low or it feels really challenging to find anything positive to focus on, we can get moments, however fleeting, that add up. Some days are meant for thriving, but some are just for surviving. Emotions come and go – when you’re low, you will come back up, you won’t be stuck there forever (even if it feels like it at the time!). So, ask yourself what brings a smile to your face? What makes you feel good about life? What do you value most? And use the answers to those questions to introduce more happiness to your life.