How to Achieve Authentic Happiness

7 steps to stay positive and live in a way that makes you happy

We live in a world that demands all too often that everything in life be urgent and important, instantaneous and absolutely satisfactory. Meetings, work, hobbies, friends, family, car repairs, death, debt, credit cards, bills, insurance; it’s enough stress to drive anyone away from being truly happy. The stress of these responsibilities can make life difficult to enjoy.

Dr. Michael Frisch, psychologist and professor at Baylor University and one of the pioneers of positive psychology, suggests that there are 16 different areas in life that contribute to our happiness, including creativity, religion and family. There are several simple changes you can easily make to your daily routine to achieve authentic happiness.

Step 1: Schedule your priorities — rather than prioritizing your schedule

Your job, your family, your friends, your partner all want you to put them first. It’s not possible. When you put your job first, your friends suffer; when you put your friends first, your partner suffers; when you try to put everyone and everything first, you suffer. Sit down. Make a list. Write out everything you do — all you’re involved in.

Then, ask yourself some questions about your present situation. Are you in debt? Struggling to make rent? If so, your job should be a part of your life that comes first or close to it. Is your marriage on the rocks? If so, depending on the specifics of your situation, making quality time to spend with your spouse may need to top the list.

Even though culture often demands that you live a life where your job is urgent and important, your spouse is urgent and important and your responsibility to care for your personal life is urgent and important, you do not have to live that way. If you do, you will burn out.

In his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey recommends to try to live in a way where everything is important, but not necessarily urgent. Ask yourself, what does not need to be done today? Once you can see everything in your life listed out in front of you, prioritized as something that needs immediate attention or something that is important but can wait, you’ll be surprised to find how much more manageable your "to do" list becomes and how much extra time you have. As the stress of the "to do" list melts away, authentic happiness has a place to grow.

Step 2: Surround yourself with happy people

Spend time with friends and family who share a positive state of mind. Their mood will be infectious. And, as the Russian proverb says, "Show me your friends, and I'll tell you who you are;" it's well known that you're more likely to become like the people with whom you associate.

Step 3: Pray or meditate

The preliminary results of a long-term study being conducted by researchers at the University of California-Davis on the correlation between gratitude and happiness suggest that engaging in prayer, meditation or religious activity increases gratitude, and gratitude increases an individual's experience of happiness.

Step 4: Keep things in perspective

When things go wrong, or do not go they way you expected, find a positive way to flip the situation and resist the temptation to wallow in self-pity. Happiness is a choice. Life isn’t perfect and never will be. There will always be a reckless jerk on the road ready to slam on his horn and give you the finger. The line at the DMV will always be excruciatingly long. Job lay-offs can and will happen. People find themselves in unhealthy relationships. Trust gets broken. Not every job is a dream job.

Once you can accept these basic facts of life, the little things that used to bring you down won’t seem so awful. Spending time feeling sorry for yourself and your situation without making positive changes will move you farther from your goal of happiness. Life requires hardship. It builds character. Realize you have a choice to be happy.

Step 5: Cultivate gratitude

At the end of the day, be thankful for the little things: your health, the roof over your head, the bed you sleep in, your job (no matter how much you dislike it, you’re still making money, right?). Keep a journal or make a list of all the things for which you are grateful.

According to the preliminary results University of California-Davis study, subjects who kept daily gratitude journals or lists reported a higher sense of physical and emotional well-being, are more pro-social and are more likely to achieve personal goals than those who did not. It’s easy to forget and become jaded about the small things, but the traffic jam on the freeway, your sexist boss and your credit card debt don’t seem so bad when you remember to be thankful for the good things in your life.

Step 6: Make a list

Make a list of the 20 biggest reasons life is worth living. Having a list to focus on of positive things about life when things get difficult can help you turn your mind back toward the bigger picture and increase your happiness.

Step 7: Make time for yourself

Do the things on that list that make your life worth living. We all deserve a day where we can turn our cell phones off, make no plans, sleep in and relax. Go to the beach, take a hike, see a movie, have coffee or drinks with friends, read a good book, take a nap. Do what you love. Engaging in pleasant activities naturally increases personal happiness.

Step 8: Serve others

Get involved with a charity or find ways to serve the people you come in contact with every day by practicing random acts of kindness. Being generous and friendly to others can help bring greater personal meaning to your life, increasing personal satisfaction and overall happiness.

Achieving authentic happiness is a journey that is not likely to happen overnight. However, putting these seven positive psychology steps into place can help you navigate the path to happiness.

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