It’s a question we might ask ourselves here and there when something great (or awful) happens to us. But think about it in a general sense: When was the last time you evaluated your overall happiness and satisfaction with life?
There are so many factors to consider when answering that question that it can feel overwhelming or, even worse, become yet another stressor weighing on your happiness. But it’s a topic that’s ripe for introspection, so we’ve put together the official New York Times guide on how to be happy. In it you’ll find guidance ranging from tips for conquering negative thinking to assessing the effect of marriage on your happiness.
But today we’re going to focus on the four things you can do right now(ish) to improve your happiness. Because you deserve it, friends.
Conquer your negative thinking
Humans have evolved to focus on the negative. If we overlearn a bad situation, we’re more inclined to avoid those situations in the future or react more quickly, writes Tara Parker-Pope in our happiness guide.
But, as we all know, that isn’t always helpful in a modern world. When something bad happens, we tend to overanalyze and have trouble getting our mind off it.
The trick to avoiding those spirals and rabbit holes of misery is to acknowledge and challenge our negative thoughts. Rather than try to bury them, we should own those thoughts and ask ourselves a few questions, like, “What is the evidence for this thought?” or “Am I basing this on facts or on feelings?” A little self-investigation can help us get over the thoughts that just won’t leave our heads otherwise.
This can be a difficult concept for those of us who tend to beat ourselves up over perceived failures, so our guide has an exercise you can use to practice. Write yourself a letter of compassion just as you would to a neighbor or friend who had experienced a hardship. The concept is the same, only the recipient is you.
This one is really simple: Go easy on yourself. If you’re compassionate and supportive of other people, why shouldn’t you give yourself the same luxury?
Money helps, but only to a point
An often-cited study from a few years ago boldly named the amount of money at which happiness peaks: $75,000 per year. Another recent (but less rigorous) examination put that number at $100 million. Still another study said lottery winners are no happier than the rest of us.
Mmm … what?
The truth is, we’re plagued by the constant craving for the next thing. Tara calls this the “hedonic treadmill” in the happiness guide and, essentially, we’re stuck on it.
A more helpful way to look at this idea is to find purpose and meaning at work. Rather than focusing on work as a means to earn money, try to find genuine satisfaction and purpose in the work you do. Studies have shown this is possible in every type of job.
Buy more time
If given the choice between buying material things and buying services that save you time, you might want to think about the timesavers.
In two surveys cited in our guide to happiness, researchers found that people who spent money on conveniences like ordering takeout for dinner or getting a cab were happier than those who didn’t.
So what does that mean for you? If you can afford it, buy yourself some extra time. (Yes, this is permission to order a pizza for dinner tonight.)