Every year, leading up to my birthday, I take some time to reflect on the year that has passed and to think about what lies ahead in the year to come. It’s always an interesting experience to look back on accomplishments, failures, the high moments and the inevitable low points. A few weeks ago I was reading about a 75-year study by Harvard researchers on what makes a fulfilling life. It inspired me to think about my life as a kind of study. I decided that this birthday, instead of looking back over the year that just past, I’d look back at my life to date and — based on my 42 years of experience— I'd share my findings on what constitutes happiness.
So, here are the results of my (completely subjective and randomly documented) study: 11 components for a happy life.
Movement. I’m simply happier when I am moving my body each day. Whether it’s yoga, running, walking, swimming, playing soccer with the kids, exercise makes everything seem better. I have more energy, I am more positive, and I simply feel good in my body.
Sleep. Without a doubt, getting enough sleep gives me the energy to get through even the most challenging days. Sleep sets the reset button on my body, and on my mental state. It also is the best cure for when I’m fighting off sickness.
Positive relationships. Spending time with people I love, who make me laugh, who are positive influences, and who support me has a profound impact on my happiness meter. There is not enough time in life to nurture negative relationships. Loving friends and family are true soul food.
Food. I am happier when I’m eating well. Food tastes better to me when it’s fresh or home cooked, and especially when it’s prepared with the help of my kids. There is also something special about a well-made meal out at a favourite restaurant with my husband or good friends.
Fun. Laughing and doing ridiculous things feeds my happiness meter. There is a direct correlation between finding ways to play in life and going to bed with a smile on my face.
Mistakes. Part of recognizing what makes me happy is learning from what causes my unhappiness. The more I can learn from my mistakes, acknowledge and be accountable for my failings, the easier it is to be content with my choices.
Vacation. Whether it’s a half-day spent walking the local trails or a two-week trip to England, holidays are an essential ingredient for my personal fulfillment. Getting away from the daily tasks, the regular minutiae, going off the grid is like pressing reset on life.
Not Worrying. I could worry all day every day about everything. It’s in my nature. But I’ve learned that worrying does absolutely NO good. It doesn’t make me happy. What makes me happy is spending all of the time I used to waste worrying actually doing the things that make me happy.
Solitude. Being with people I love makes me happy, but I also truly savour being alone. Solitude is essential for my happiness. It’s a chance to connect with myself, regroup, listen to what messages my body, mind, or life in general are trying to tell me. Taking time for myself alone refuels me in order to connect with everyone else.
Giving Back. Whether it’s donating to charity, practicing a random act of kindness, volunteering or simply being there for a friend, giving (with no expectations attached) is pure feel-goodness.
Nature. Everything is better when I'm overlooking water or walking a nature trail or hiking a mountain. Nature gives us beauty, perspective, energy, and a reminder that life is so much bigger than just ourselves.
What would the results of your life study on happiness be?