It may seem like a simple question, but the answer can be trickier to work out than a Sudoku puzzle.
That’s because happiness is an overall state of mind that isn't altered by our environment. Research has shown whether you’re happy or not has less to do with your circumstances and more to do with genetics and, most importantly, the way we choose to think about ourselves and the world.
Here happiest experts share their tips to get you thinking about the choices you can make that will help you to live your best life.
“For the lucky ones, happiness comes easily,” says Dr Timothy Sharp from The Happiness Institute in Australia. “But for most of us, it’s something we need to work at. The good news is that it’s not hard. By practising the principles of my CHOOSE philosophy, you can boost your happiness and wellbeing.”
Clarity – of goals, direction and life purpose. Set clear targets and make specific plans to ensure they become reality.
Healthy living – activity and exercise, diet, nutrition and sleep. It’s hard to be happy if you're sick and tired all the time. Do whatever you can to be healthy and you boost your chances of cracking a smile.
Optimism – positive but realistic thinking. Happy people see themselves and the world differently. They search for more positives. This is a learned behaviour, so start practising it now.
Others – the key relationships in your lif. Research indicates that happy people have more (and better-quality) relationships than those who are negative. Devote time to developing and fostering your key connections.
Strengths – your qualities and attributes. Rather than spending time trying to fix their “weaknesses”, happy people use more time identifying and utilising their strengths. Find out what you’re good at and do it as much as possible.
Enjoy things and live in and appreciate the present. By taking in the moment, you’ll love life a lot more.
“Exercise does more for life than making it a long one,” says Greg Stark, director of Better Being Personal Training in Sydney, Australia. “It can also make it a better one by reducing anxiety and depression, enhancing your mood, improving your self-concept – the way you feel and think about yourself – and giving you a higher quality of life.
“Want to amp up the happiness factor when you work out? Head outdoors. Studies have shown that people who train outside experience greater feelings of revitalisation, increased energy and positivity as well as decreased tension, confusion and anger than those who exercise indoors.
“If a client of mine is having a stressful day, I know it's time to get out in the open and get some green therapy,” he says. “Do either 20-30 minutes of cardio to raise your heart rate and stimulate the release of endorphins or practise deep abdominal breathing to slow your heart rate and decrease stress hormones – yoga is great for the latter.”
“Eating the right food will sustain your energy levels, assist your concentration and keep you from feeling lethargic and irritable,” says Australian dietitian and nutritionist Jaime Fronzek.
“Studies have shown that certain nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids (found in oily fish, leafy greens and walnuts), protein (from fish, meat, chicken, eggs, nuts, yoghurt, lentils) and complex carbohydrates (found in wholegrain bread, brown rice, sweet potato and fruit), can improve your mood.
“On the flipside, foods such as refined sugary treats and fatty, fried takeaways can lower your mood. Alcohol may make you feel relaxed initially, but it’s a strong depressant and can affect the quality of your sleep, which can make your mood even worse the next day. Remember the old saying – you are what you eat!”
Try these nutrient-rich foods to boost your mood.
Breakfast Porridge with skim milk, a dollop of natural yoghurt and some fruit
Lunch Wholegrain sandwich or wrap with chicken, salad and avocado
Dinner Grilled fish with steamed veggies and baked sweet potato
Snacks Fruit, raw nuts and seeds, boiled egg
“There’s a significant correlation between your career and life satisfaction,” says founder of Max Coaching Jane Lowder. “Every job has its unfulfilling bits and bad days, but it’s time to leave when work is affecting your wellbeing.
“The idea of ‘finding your passion’ can be unhelpful. Not everyone is driven by a singular interest, and it can be guilt- and anxiety-inducing to insist this is the only means of choosing the right career.
“It’s just as valid to pick a work path for pragmatic reasons, like paying the bills, reducing your commute so you can spend more time with loved ones, or achieving other personal goals. If you don’t feel passionate about any one thing, do what interests you most. Making a good career choice is a unique process for every individual.”
“Feng shui is about your relationship with your environment and how the energy in your surroundings can affect you on a mental, physical and spiritual level,” says feng shui expert Jane Langof.
“Living in a home with positive feng shui attracts harmonious relationships and good health and abundance, which all affect happiness. To lift your mood, surround yourself with things you love – decorate your home using your favourite colours, accessories and furnishings.
“Allow fresh energy to circulate in your home by opening windows and doors every day. The fresh air helps you to feel energised and more alert.
“Remove any rubbish from your living and working areas – releasing this stagnant energy will help you feel more productive. Decluttering will also give you an instant boost and enable you to be open to new opportunities.”
“One of the keys to happiness is feeling connected to others,” says Jo Lamble, author of Answers to Everyday Questions About Relationships. “In order to create great relationships, it’s important to have a healthy sense of self. If you don’t feel good about yourself, you’re vulnerable to jealousy, dependency and intimacy issues.
“Loving and respecting yourself means you know you’ll be okay if your relationship ends. It doesn’t mean you want it to finish, just that you aren’t dependent on another person to make you content.
“If you’re single, focus on your physical and mental health and strengthen bonds with friends and family – it’ll mean you’re relationship-ready when someone great comes along.”
READ MORE | Do you believe in soulmates? Here's how your answer could be affecting your relationship
Drop a note
Write “choose happiness” on a post-it note and stick it in a place you’ll see each day.
Be grateful for everything you have
Stop focusing on what you don’t have. “Being grateful and appreciating all the good in your life will significantly increase your chances of experiencing happiness,” says Dr Timothy Sharp.
Try committing a random act of kindness and you’ll experience a “helper’s high”, which is the feeling of increased euphoria people get after being kind to someone.
Put on your favourite music and move your body!
Weed out unhelpful thoughts
Learn to question your negative thoughts and see if you can plant positive ones instead. The happiest people don’t have the best of everything – they just make the best of everything.
Surround yourself with positive people
We are influenced by the moods of those around us, so think wisely when compiling the guest list to your life.
Plan a holiday
Even if it’s a year away, having something to look forward to will get you through when times feel tough.
A wise soul once said, “Anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” By letting go of old grudges, you’re freeing yourself from pain – and less pain equals more happiness.
Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, found spending 10 minutes tidying up every night before bed significantly improved her state of mind.
Just 8 minutes in the sun every day will top up your vitamin D levels, which in turn will lift your energy and your mood.
Wash your sheets
Is there anything nicer than slipping in between crisp, fresh sheets after a tough day? Bliss.
Set small goals
“And I mean ridiculously small,” says Oliver Burkeman, author of Help! How To Become Slightly Happier and Get A Bit More Done. “If you’re completely sedentary, try exercising for just 30 seconds a day at first. Procrastinating on a project? Try working on it for three minutes. Goals so tiny they make you laugh are, by definition, non-intimidating, so they sneak past the part of your brain that’s always waiting to put up resistance.”