Ever see those women who always seem to be in a great mood and are genuinely happy? Well you can be one of them, too! As you may have guessed, being deeply satisfied in life isn’t necessarily dependent on having your dream job or boyfriend. So what’s the key? We did a little research and talked to plenty of successful women to find out their secrets.
It pays to be nice. A Stanford University psychologist found that those who performed random acts of kindness experienced an increase in well-being. Try paying for the person behind you at the drive-through. Or follow in the footsteps of Diane von Furstenberg, who starts her day by emailing a kind word to someone. A little act of kindness will go a long way toward happiness for you and those you encounter on the daily.
Being intentional about practicing gratitude can contribute to a happy and healthy life. Gratitude researchers linked practicing gratitude to lower stress and depression levels. Add to that increased optimism, energy, and attentiveness and you’ve got a winning blend, the study notes.
Many of the women we interviewed identified gratitude as one of the most important ingredients. Janis Dworkis, an award-winning copywriter and editor, says a key ingredient to happiness is to “Look around at all the wonderful, amazing things you do have in your life. And start to focus on being grateful for those things. You’ll find that your gratitude is your own personal tool for achieving that happiness all on your own.”
Instead of reserving gratitude for Thanksgiving, try starting a gratitude journal. In it list what you are grateful for each day, recommend gratitude researchers Robert A. Emmons and Michael E. McCullough. Adriana Paniagua-Morales, a mom to three boys who also works and goes to school full-time, says that keeping a gratitude journal has helped her maintain perspective and not slip into “autopilot” each day. She gets up about two hours before her boys do and writes down a sentence or two about what she is grateful for. “Having written documentation allows me to reflect on all that I am blessed with and focus on the positive things in my life instead of focusing on what I may consider as ‘bad’ for the time being. Usually those negative emotions are short-lived and only tend to be energy wasters for me. As a busy woman I can’t afford to distribute that time and energy into something that isn’t productive in the end.”
Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, found that being authentic was a key ingredient to living a happy life. On her blog, she says she realized that as much as she’d like to be the kind of person who visits “a jazz club at midnight” or “jets off to Paris for the weekend,” those kinds of things don’t contribute to her happiness. Instead, she invests in the things that make her happy as she is right now and not as the kind of person she wishes she could be.
Invest in the things that make you happy as you are right now. “You have to ask yourself what makes you happy—what makes you happy that you do have control over—and fill your life with those things,” says Dworkis. “Take responsibility for it.”
TAKE TIME TO WONDER
Researchers found that experiencing an “awe-inspiring” event can help individuals become more empathic, generous, and humble—all key ingredients to living a fulfilling life. Experiencing wonder can include watching a sunset, seeing a baby walk for the first time, or hearing someone’s courageous life story. Researchers say that the average person experiences awe about three times a week. But it’s essential to intentionally look for these moments. Expanding your perspective and trying new things is necessary to increasing your exposure to awe-inspiring experiences.
“I am a big believer in being a world citizen,” says Catherine Johnson, a psychotherapist located in Dallas. “For me that means experiencing other cultures, being friends with a diverse group of people, and really listening to different perspectives.”
It may not surprise you that exercise made the list. But it’s worth mentioning the amazing benefits that just 30 minutes of exercise a day can bring. They include reducing stress, boosting your mood, lowering your blood pressure, preventing diabetes, strengthening your immune system, and improving blood circulation, according to the Mayo Clinic. So whether you love to run, bike, swim, or practice yoga, you can make time in your day for exercise and reap the benefits.
My friend Karasays exercise is an important part of keeping balance in her life: “You never regret leaving the gym. I laugh now when I read the Nike slogan ‘Just Do It’ because sometimes that is all you can do. And it feels good even when it may be difficult!”