According to psychologists, happiness refers to the balance between positive and negative emotions, judgments about our life in general, the fulfillment of human potential, and finding meaning in life.
In 2020, everybody is aiming to be healthier and happier. Not only as a psychologist, but also as a woman in her 20s I have gathered some simple advice for you to lead a happier and more fulfilling life.
How? Just as bad habits, good habits are engrained, too. Work to make positive habits part of your daily routine.
Disclaimer: There is no quick fix pill to make you happy; the way to happiness is a long but worthwhile journey.
Disclaimer: Happiness looks different to everybody and there is no one unique way to happiness that will work for everybody but below are some of the things you can try to be more content with your life and with who you are.
1. Stop comparing yourself to others
From one day to another, we are hardwired to examine ourselves in comparison to others. Primarily, this is due to many of our qualities not having an objective scale to measure them. For example, there is no simple and valid scale to measure one’s kindness or attractiveness. Mostly, that is why we compare ourselves to others; to decide how kind or attractive we are.
On the other hand, it is easy to measure one’s height and weight. Thus, we are less likely to compare our heights, but more likely to compare ourselves to others in unmeasurable qualities, such as popularity, looks, wealth, or success.
Psychologists have proposed a social comparison theory according to which individuals determine their own social and personal worth based on how they compare themselves to others.
People generally engage in either upward or downward comparisons. In upward comparisons, we compare ourselves with those we believe are better than us in some way. In downward comparisons, we compare ourselves to those who we think are worse than we are, for example, less intelligent, successful, or attractive. Research has shown that downward comparisons usually increase our self-worth.
However, upward comparison has certain benefits, too. Upward comparison can be beneficial when people compare themselves to others as a way of measuring their personal development or to motivate themselves to improve.
But there is a thin line between improving and beating yourself up because others seem to be doing better. Looking up to individuals who are higher achieving may motivate us in some situations but can lower our self-worth and damage self-esteem in other instances.
Feelings of guilt, deep dissatisfaction, or remorse are among other adverse psychological consequences of social comparison. What is more, because of the constant comparison, individuals might engage in destructive behaviors like lying or even disordered eating.
Accordingly, there are dangers to each approach – upward comparison can bring feelings of jealousy and insecurity, whereas constant downward comparison can result in overconfidence and arrogance.
It is especially important to be aware of the dangers of social comparison when browsing social media feed. Individuals (including influencers) only share their best profiles, best outfits, and the best moments on social media, but keep negative moods and feelings, conflicts, and failures to themselves.
What is more, the photos uploaded to social media are more often than not photoshopped – the sky is made to look bluer, the smile bigger, the nose smaller, and the legs longer. Therefore, comparing your non-edited selfies to the ones you saw browsing your Instagram news feed, would be hugely unfair to you.
To sum up, try to get a break from comparing yourself to others as often as possible. Remember everything that is good in your life and commit to being grateful for what you have and what you are. Break the habit of feeling insecure, envious, and discontented with your life or yourself and start enjoying who you are.
2. Take a break from social media
Relating to what I wrote above, social media can sometimes make us feel ugly, boring, or lonely, and make our lives seem unexciting and ordinary. Hence, it is essential to get a break from social media whenever you can.
You can start by limiting the time spent on social media to one hour per day. Another way to break a habit of scrolling the news feed is to decide for a day in a week to be social-media-less.
I follow an influencer on Instagram and she takes a break from all her social media accounts on weekends. According to her, this healthy habit has greatly improved her mental health and mood, which inspires me to do the same.
3. Take care of yourself
Learn to put yourself and your needs first, and take care of yourself. Know when you need to take a break, or when you need some time for yourself.
Be mindful so you learn to recognize your feelings, moods, and needs. By practicing mindfulness you will become more aware of the present moment and the things happening around you. Furthermore, mindfulness can be very helpful when dealing with stress and/or anxiety.
Speak out about your feelings and tell others what you want and what you need. If you never tell, how are others supposed to know what goes on in your head?
Break out of vicious circles of work to relieve stress. Know that life is full of stressors and stress is not necessarily harmful but learn to recognize when things become too stressful.
I often feel overstressed and in my case, this only leads to anxiety, doubt, and fatigue. It is easy for me to sign up for more work than I can do, or rather, for more work than is healthy for me to do. I then end up planning my every minute of the day, having another project coming up just as I complete the previous one.
Work overload can lead to stress, which has several negative consequences for our physical and mental health. It can result in chronic fatigue, daily headaches, sleepless nights, and tired muscles. Moreover, long-term stress can adversely influence our mental health; for example, contribute to depression, anxiety, irritation, and constant anger.
Therefore, it is vital that we recognize stress and be mindful of how stress affects our functioning. Second, we need to prioritize our wellbeing in such situations and evaluate what we can do to make the best of the situation. Can we take a day off? Can we pass one of the projects on to another person? Can we ask somebody to help us out?
It might be hard for you to think of solutions, and you might have to think of more than one in order to get sufficient rest. However, think about your health and wellbeing; if you are feeling well you are more likely to be productive and work better. Thus, in the long-term, it is better to take a day of rest to reenergize and regain your strength because the work will be easier to complete in the following days.
Taking care of yourself can take different forms and it can mean rewarding yourself for the hard work you have done, or the exams you passed. Click here to learn how to be kind(er) to yourself. You can spoil yourself with a delicious brunch out with friends or by taking some time off to do what you love.
Two summers ago, I was working every day for a month and I was so exhausted every day after work, I could barely find the energy to do anything else. It was my first job and during the last days, I decided I wanted to treat myself with a manicure when I finish so I made an appointment. It felt so good to have somebody taking care of my body and for me to have that hour to just talk and forget about everything else. The job was hard, but I was done and this was my way of taking care of myself.
4. Say goodbye to toxic people in your life
Recognize toxic relationships in your life and break free of them. You are your own little world and you deserve nothing less than all the love on Earth without the fear of not being good enough.
Toxic relationships bring out the best and the worst in you. You try to be the best you can for the other person to make up for their shitty attitude but end up being the worst person for yourself.
Maybe you have grown comfortable in a toxic relationship and are afraid to break the habit and step out of your comfort zone but in this case, out of your comfort zone is the best place you can be. It will take time to let go but at the end of the journey, you will again be able to see yourself as the precious ray of sun that you are.
Remember that you do not owe others anything. You only owe it to yourself; to make the best of yourself and your life and not to spend another minute crying over someone who cannot give you the love and affection you deserve.
Stop making excuses for others and rather learn to appreciate what you have to offer. You are unique and you will have something great with somebody, who will see you for the person you are. Relationships take a lot of work but not all the work should be done by you.
5. Spend quality time with yourself
People say to spend quality time with friends and family, but I tell you to remember to spend some quality time with yourself as well. Wake up and think about the good things that are waiting on you outside the bed. Take a few minutes before you get up to stretch your muscles, move your toes, and flex your face muscles.
Instead endlessly scrolling down the news feed page, pick up a book from the shelf and read it. Finally, watch the documentary you have been interested in.
Write down your thoughts. Take some time to decorate a notebook and turn it into a personal journal. Always carry it around to write in whatever you have to say.
Go to a spa and relax. Think about your body sensations and be grateful for the body you have been given. Be grateful for the opportunities that you have worked for. Be grateful and let the bitterness go.
6. Follow your dreams and goals
As trivial as this might sound, I bet you have a dream (a quiet or a loud one) that you hope to live. The bigger the dream, the scarier it might be to say it out loud. But don’t worry, almost anything is possible – as I have learned on my own.
Big dreams take a lot of devotion, vast amounts of time and energy, but are possible to achieve if you remember to take it step by step and make effort for everything you do.
7. Help somebody (it makes you feel good, too!)
Helping others without getting anything in return may sound uncompelling and unworthy of your time. But what your parents might have forgotten to tell you is that helping others makes you feel good about yourself. Research shows that performing acts of kindness can help you feel more satisfied.
Therefore, although you may think you are doing a favor to somebody else, you are actually boosting your own self-esteem and self-worth. There are two people benefiting from your selflessly offered help: the person you are helping out and yourself.
If this is not reason enough to go out there and help somebody today, I do not know what is. Commit to doing a favor every day and see the difference it makes for your mood. Help somebody to feel fulfilled, happy, useful, and generous. You can start by giving a compliment a day.
Extra note: Compliments that are not about physical appearance:
You’re such a good listener.
Our conversations always make me feel better.
You inspire me to be a better person.
You are an incredible friend.
You make me feel comfortable to be myself.
You have so much to offer.
I value the time we spend together.
You always make me laugh, even on my worst days.
The world needs more people like you.
I love how passionate you are about _____.
You’re so fun to talk to.
8. Move more
Walk to school or to work, walk over to your friend, and walk to the grocery store. Walk up the stairs instead of taking the elevator. Take every opportunity you have to make use of your body and everything it is capable of.
Make time for exercise, dancing, or yoga practicing. Make a schedule and stick to it. If you are not sure how to start, you can read more about it here.
Why bother, you might ask? Neuroscientists found that brain chemicals called endorphins are being released during physical activity. Endorphins promote good mood, happiness, and relieve stress. That is why some say that some exercise can be the best cure for any bad mood, sadness, or heartbreak.
Please know that positive habits should not add any stress to your lifestyle so if they do not fit you, ditch them. With some time and practice, you will figure out what works for you.
Share your path to happiness with me in the comments below.