How To Be Happy:

A Practical Guide with 45 Possible Paths to Happiness

Dan Brook

You can be happy.

Political philosopher Hannah Arendt advises you to “Dedicate yourself to the good you deserve and desire for yourself. Give yourself peace of mind. You deserve to be happy. You deserve delight.” No matter who or what or where you are, I couldn’t agree more!

Photo by Daniel Xavier

Happiness is a psychological and sociological skill — even if there might also be a biological and genetic component — that can be learned, practiced, increased, shared, and enjoyed. Indeed, Sonja Lyubomirsky’s research in her The How of Happiness indicates that half our happiness may be due to genetics, only 10% to life circumstances, and 40%, the part we can control, to our thoughts and actions: “Our intentional, effortful activities have a powerful effect on how happy we are, over and above the effects of our [genetic] set points and the circumstances in which we find ourselves.” Although there might not be a specific recipe for happiness, there are a variety of ingredients to choose from and combine.

Stanford University researcher Emma Seppälä discovered that we do not become happy because we’re successful, but rather we’re more likely to be successful in anything because we’re happy. “When we value our happiness — and also the happiness of those around us — we become more productive, more focused, more resilient, more charismatic, and more influential — not to mention more innovative, too. That’s not all. The ability to have fun improves our relationships, helping us connect with our colleagues, family, and friends more easily, and even makes us more attractive to others.”

Writing about awe, which can increase our happiness, humanistic psychologist Kirk Schneider distinguishes between a quick boil of happiness and a slow simmer of joy. This dichotomy also arises in my “A Sociology of Joy”. One does not need to be constantly happy — an impossibility — to have a joyful life. Whether we think of it as happiness, joy, bliss, contentment, or satisfaction, it has to be much more than a flash in the pan that quickly comes and goes; rather, it should be a process and lifestyle.

Albert Einstein seems to side with the joyous slow simmer, when he wrote that “A calm and modest life bring much more happiness than constantly chasing success, which always involves constant restlessness.” Likewise, French Tibetan Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard, a former biochemist who has been described as the “world’s happiest man”, remarks that “Happiness is not an endless succession of pleasurable feelings; it’s an exceptionally healthy way of living.”

Also for Aristotle, happiness, just like excellence in anything, is not about a moment, thing, event, feeling, hope, person, or distant promise. Based on Aristotle’s eudemonia, happiness is a process, a practice, a habit. In that vein, Google’s Mo Gawdat advises us to “make happiness a priority” and to “develop happiness skills”. I hope you find some here.

Whatever your thoughts about happiness, here are 45 possible paths backed by science to help get you there:

1. Earn enough to cover all your needs and some wants

People are much more likely to be happy after they have their basic needs met, as well as some of their wants and a savings cushion. Decreased financial anxiety is likely to lead to increased happiness. Beyond that (about $83,000 per year in the U.S., though possibly less), however, happiness no longer increases with additional income or stuff, even “awesome stuff”, for people who live in wealthier countries, while it is more likely for those in poorer countries. That said, people are happy and unhappy at all income levels in all countries.

2. Get more experiences

People who get more experiences — travel, road trips, concerts, theatre, restaurants, hiking, picnics, movies, museums, classes, events, outings, conversations, dancing, hobbies, learning new skills — tend to enjoy those activities and then continue to enjoy them as they reminisce about them. This is especially true of new, exciting, or unique experiences, including positional and peak experiences, ones that “rare, exciting, oceanic, deeply moving, exhilarating, elevating experiences that generate an advanced form of perceiving reality”, according to Abraham Maslow. Some physical things, though, can also act like experiences, especially certain photos, art, colorfully-painted walls, electronics, souvenirs, heirlooms, etc.

3. Collect fewer things

We all need things, as we are physical beings living in a physical world, but material things tend to weigh us down. The more things we have, the more things we have to organize, guard, and defend, physically as well as emotionally. In this sense, property becomes a sort of prison, as what we own also owns us. Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius advises us to “Remember this: that very little is needed to make a happy life.” Rabbi Hyman Schachtel reveals that the secret to happiness is not necessarily having what you want, but wanting what you have.

4. Maintain and increase your health

One’s health is essential to one’s happiness. Therefore, plant-based diets (good food leads to a good mood!), hydration (we are mostly water, after all), exercise (use it or lose it), social relationships (family and friends), and staying away from smoke and other pollutants are all good for happiness. These are some of the commonalities of Blue Zones, places where communities of people live the longest and are disproportionately centennarians. Meditation (returning to yourself and relaxing, whether secular or religious) and sleep (rejuvenation) are also beneficial for health and happiness.

5. Be around friends and others who make you happy
“Friends make our lives happier”, writes Sandip Roy. According to an impressively-longitudinal Harvard University study, “The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier.” There are different types of friends and levels of friendship for different times, places, and purposes, but they are important for our happiness. “People’s happiness depends on the happiness of others with whom they are connected.” In contrast, we have discovered that “loneliness is bad for your health”. Other studies find that happiness is contagious, just as many other emotions and behaviors are, making them at least as sociological as they are psychological. Jon Krakauer has said that “Happiness [is] only real when shared” and sharing with friends makes us healthier and happier. Further, social isolation for members of a social species like ours can be as deadly as obesity or being sedentary.

6. Love

Feeling love for another, receiving love, and expressing love are all happiness drugs. The mystic Rumi recommended to “Close your eyes, fall in love, and stay there”. A good marriage or other romantic relationship is a big boost to happiness.

7. Minimize social media and TV

Social media can lead to internet addiction and depression. “When researchers measured the welfare of hundreds of people who left Facebook for a month, they found the people were happier … [and] more active in real-life activities.” Digital distancing is good for happiness. Although too much screen time is not good, none might not be good either for many people. Experts now believe, based on a study of one million teenagers, that about one hour of screen time per day is most likely to lead to happiness (with exceptions for activities like school, work, writing, coding, creating art, donating, connecting with loved ones, etc.).

Each time you focus on a screen — for a text, message, email, call, TV show, video game, whatever — you are declaring that to be the most important thing in the world to you. The prioritization of your screen becomes more important than whoever you are with, anything anybody is saying, whatever you are doing, and anything you might have been thinking about. Addictions are not healthy and lead to less happiness, so it is best to find ways to limit your screen time and do something else you enjoy instead. “Seriously”, Eric Barker asks us, “how many of the best moments of your life happened in front of a screen?” And as Stephen Covey reminds us, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

8. Avoid advertisements

Advertisements are an especially dangerous form of media. Some have called them anti-therapy, tricking us while getting us to feel bad about ourselves and our lives, and that they are “killing us softly”, while encouraging us to consume things we don’t necessarily need nor want, can’t necessarily afford, and aren’t necessarily healthy or sustainable. Advertising is simply a form of brainwashing to achieve corporate profit, regardless of consequences, including our happiness.

9. Get more good news!

There is plenty of bad news in the world, and we sometimes might need to know about it, yet there is also a lot of good news out there, though we are less likely to hear about it. Seek it out on The Optimist Daily, Daily Good, Good, Good News Network, and other sources.

10. Don’t compare yourself to others

It depends on who or what your reference group is, but way too often we socially compare ourselves to an idealized individual or group that we think is in one or more ways better than us, which leads to feelings of relative deprivation, inferiority, and disappointment. “Comparison is the killer of happiness”, according to Mathieu Ricard. Get perspective and be comfortable with yourself. We are not in competition with others, not even with ourselves, and should be happy for other people’s circumstances, happiness, and success.

11. Emphasize your positives, de-emphasize your negatives

As important as it is to reduce negativities in one’s life — and it really is — it is even more crucial to increase the positives in your life. Do more of what you love. This is as true of your personal qualities as it is about the things you do.

12. Watch videos that make you smile and laugh

Whether it’s comedies or cats — or whatever works for you! — adding more funny things into your life will allow you to smile and laugh more and, therefore, enjoy your life more.

13. Smile and laugh, whether you have a reason or not

Smiling can be powerful medicine. Happy thoughts not only are more likely to lead to smiling, but smiling is more likely to lead to happy thoughts. “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile”, Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us, “but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy”, as well as other people’s joy. And as Laura Ingalls Wilder reminds us about the power of laughter, a trait that likely precedes language, “A good laugh overcomes more difficulties and dissipates more dark clouds than any other one thing.” Some people practice smile meditation and laughter yoga with happy results, which is actually pretty funny.

14. Listen to your music

Music activates special parts of our brains and up-tempo music, especially, makes us feel good. Try the Partridge Family’s “Come On Get Happy“, Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy“, Pharrell Williams’ “Happy“, or Michael Franti’s “Enjoy Every Second“! There are lots of other happy songs, whether explicitly or not. If it makes you happy, it’s the right music! And singing can also be a happiness boost!

15. Express gratitude

Gratitude is the gift we give when we receive gifts. And, whether we realize it or not, we have always received and are always receiving material and non-material gifts! Brené Brown told Oprah that “in 12 years of research, I have never interviewed a single person with the capacity to really experience joy who does not also actively practice gratitude”. Being grateful does not mean we are not aware of whatever might be bad, it simply means we appreciate the good and do  not simply take it for granted. Having an attitude of gratitude, especially after we savor whatever it is we are grateful for, is associated with having a joyful life.

16. Practice random acts of kindness

Doing a kind thing for someone else is also one of the kindest things you can do for yourself. By making someone else happy, you are sure to make yourself happy, too. “The best way to cheer yourself up”, Mark Twain once quipped, “is to try to cheer someone else up.” And Martin Luther King, Jr. similarly said “the surest way to be happy is to seek happiness for others.” Experiment with acts of kindness that are small and large, social and financial, symbolic and actual, verbal and physical, and do at least one every day. Even better than random acts of kindness are organized, purposeful, and systematic acts of kindness! “Happiness held is the seed”, according to John Harrigan, while “happiness shared is the flower.”

17. Manage stress

Stress is a normal and necessary part of life, allowing us to react and survive as individuals and as a species, but getting stressed out is unfortunate and unnecessary. We cannot eliminate stress, so we need to develop a better relationship with it, so that we can manage our stress, instead of allowing it to manage us. Resilience, sometimes referred to as grit, is an important antidote to stress and a critical path to happiness.

18. Meditate

A friend of mine in Thailand, who had been a monk for 17 years, says that he meditates to have a peaceful mind and having a peaceful mind makes him happy. Loads of studies support the benefits of meditation. There are many kinds of meditation and many ways to meditate: one could focus on the breath, on a mantra, on compassion for others, on smiling or laughing, even on kittens, and you can do it anywhere and in any position. I also engage in micro-meditation. Simply being in silence for a couple of minutes can be beneficial. However, the best meditative practice, as is often advised, is the one you will actually do.

Distinguished psychologist Daniel Goleman says that metta (lovingkindness) meditation, where one thinks positive thoughts for oneself and/or others, which can include repeating a positive mantra, has positive effects. “It turns out that the repetition of those phrases is psychoactive; it actually changes the brain and how you feel right from the get-go. We find, for example, that people who do this meditation… are kinder, they’re more likely to help someone in need, they’re more generous, and they’re happier. It turns out that the brain areas that help us or that make us want to help someone that we care about also connect with the circuitry for feeling good.”

19. Practice compassion

Practice compassion for others. Be sympathetic, wish them well, assume they have struggles, as we all do. Practicing compassion for others can reduce anger, resentment, and other negative thoughts and emotions, giving us more space to be happy. Indeed, the Dalai Lama says with his signature laugh, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

20. Practice self-compassion

Because you are a person in this world, you also need to have self-compassion, compassion for yourself. Too many of us are extremely and unnecessarily harsh on ourselves, yet part of having compassion is having self-compassion. We frequently pick on ourselves, physically and emotionally. If we spoke to our friends the way we sometimes speak to ourselves, they wouldn’t remain our friends. And if our friends regularly spoke to us the way we speak to ourselves, we wouldn’t be friends with them anymore, thinking that they are sadistic sociopaths. Be kind to yourself, the way you probably are to your friends and the way you would want other people to treat you. Self-compassion is about doing unto yourself as you would do unto those you love the most and not doing unto yourself as you would not want others to do unto you.

21. Do things for others
“Happiness cannot be pursued”, Holocaust survivor Dr. Viktor Frankl asserts, “it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself”. Another way to put it is that “The things you do for yourself are gone when you are gone”, says Kalu Ndukwe Kalu, “but the things you do for others remain as your legacy.” Serving others through volunteering is an excellent way not only to help, but also to create meaning and social change — and possibly feel the “helper’s high”, which can create a more joyful life. You can also donate some of your time, money, things, labor, skills, attention, or space to help others, which will improve your community and your level of happiness. “If you light a lamp for someone else”, the Buddha taught, “it will also brighten your path.” And as Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh says, “If you give and continue to give, you become richer and richer all the time, richer in terms of happiness and well-being.”

22. Think of others

Thinking of others is a great way to think and feel better about yourself. “Rather than dismissing or criticizing when you see a stranger”, advises Geoffrey James, “bring a kind thought or a positive idea into your mind.” Even if it remains in the realm of thought, simply thinking well of others will lead to happier thoughts in yourself. Some people do this when they hear sirens — ambulances, fire trucks, police cars, alarms — wishing the best for whoever needs it at that moment.

23. Banish envy, jealousy, and …

Envy and jealousy, like regret and worry, are worse than useless. Not only don’t they accomplish anything positive or constructive — but they are toxic feelings that sap our energy, increase our stress, and lead to unhappiness.

24. Forgive

Forgiveness is important because it frees us from a huge burden, allowing us to be happy, despite whatever happened. Forgiveness allows us to let go of the anger, resentment, grudge, and disappointment without condoning the behavior or allowing it to continue with us. “Forgiveness does not change the past”, Paul Boese counsels, “but it does enlarge the future” by not letting past trauma steal our present and future happiness. Forgiving others is not for their benefit, but for ours and we deserve it. And forgiving ourselves is just as powerful and necessary.

25. Mindfulness

Mindfulness is heightened mental alertness, awareness of present experience with acceptance, without judgment, and with a focus on the here and now, wherever and whatever it is. When we successfully do so, we are not wallowing in the past nor worrying about the future. We are simply enjoying the gift of the present.

On one of my hikes, I noticed that Grizzly Creek was flowing along its course over rocks, boulders, trees, branches, and whatever else was in its path, yet the creek flowed regardless. It didn’t complain, it didn’t blame, it didn’t begrudge, it didn’t make excuses. It simply flowed. And when it was blocked one way, it went another. The creek quite often went around, but also beautifully over, creating little waterfalls whenever necessary. Obstacles, temperature, weather, scenery, wildlife, people — all no matter. The water not only did what it needed to do, it did what was easiest to do. Water never goes where it cannot, yet it always effortlessly goes where it can.

26. Capture “thin slices of joy”

Google’s former Happiness Guru Chade-Meng Tan recommends noticing small and mundane things that are nice or pleasant. According to Tan, there needs to be “a trigger, a routine, and a reward” to build a habit. “The trigger, he says, is the pleasant moment, the routine is the noticing of it, and the reward is the feeling of joy itself.” By doing so, we can capture a few seconds of happiness and by doing so often, the seconds can add up to a happier life. Achieving and celebrating small accomplishments adds more happiness to our lives. Samuel Taylor Coleridge realized that “The happiness of life is made up of minute fractions, the soon forgotten charities of a kiss, a smile, a kind look, a gentle word, a heartfelt compliment.” Maria Shriver refers to these phenomena as “yippee moments”. In a way, this is an old idea. Zeno, the founder of the ancient Greek philosophy of Stoicism, commented that “Well-being is realized by small steps, but is truly no small thing.” Some people call it baby steps. If you make it a habit to appreciate the little things, and especially if you savor them at the time, you will find that the little things in life become the big things in life.

27. Get exercise

Exercise gets your blood pumping to your heart and brain, releasing endorphins that can boost your mood, as well as your body. Any way you move your body is a good way: aerobics, dancing, sports, walking, running, biking, swimming, yoga, tai chi, qi gong, treadmill, elliptical, weight training, jumping, skipping, whatever.

28. Have sex at least once per week

Whether you need another excuse to have more sex or another reason to be happy, people who have sex at least once a week tend to be happier, so have at it. Two or three times a week is even better, and everyday might be best! Sex is good for physical health, mental health, spiritual health, and your relationships. Feminist Gloria Steinem recommended to graduating students in her 2017 Commencement Address to “have sex, fun, and laughter”. Hugs, kisses, and holding hands are also very beneficial and fun!

29. Enjoy your hobbies, do what you enjoy, pursue meaningful activities

Make time for the activities you enjoy, even if you are busy. Perhaps especially if you are busy. If necessary, build them into your schedule to make sure to get to do the things you enjoy. This relates to the Japanese concept of ikigai, a purpose in life, or the Costa Rican plan de vida, or reason for living, sometimes described as a reason to get up in the morning. Having a sense of purpose, a goal, or something you derive meaning from is associated with happiness. Pursue a purpose bigger than yourself. As Joan Baez once said, “Action is the antidote to despair.”

There is always room for more positive activities, in addition to trying to decrease negative activities. The best hobbies for happiness are projects and passions that are meaningful to you, those that you can make progress on, and those that can make a difference. Author and activist Rebecca Solnit recognizes that “Disconnection from a larger sense of purpose and agency, from community and civil society, and from hope are huge factors in unhappiness.”

30. Excite yourself!

Doing new and exciting activities is good for your happiness. Chase them, create them, plan them, anticipate them, and then reminisce about them: if it calls or excites you (and it’s safe enough), if it makes your heart sing, do more of it! We need to jump off our hedonic treadmills, think and break outside the boxes, get out of and expand our comfort zones: having peak experiences, experiencing awe, engaging in growth, finding new hobbies, exploring new places, meeting new people, learning new skills, etc. In addition to comfort and security, we need excitement. In the words of Helen Keller, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”

31. Surround yourself with happiness

Paint your walls yellow, put out photos that make you happy, expose yourself to art that makes you feel good, read books that make you think positively, listen to upbeat music, watch funny videos, browse happiness quotes, and be with cheerful people.

32. Have high hopes, but low expectations

Although it is good to have high hopes about the future, so we have positive things to aspire and look forward to, high expectations lead to disappointment and, therefore, unhappiness. Having low expectations, if you have to have expectations at all, means that our expectations will either be met or exceeded.

33. Get things done

Getting necessary tasks accomplished and getting organized is good for both productivity and happiness. Gretchen Rubin’s one-minute rule from her Happiness Project suggests that you do any task that can be finished in about one minute or so and then cross it off your list.

34. Break dependencies

Being dependent on anything — caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, drugs, sugar, certain foods or drinks, certain brands, certain people, TV, sports teams, social media, shopping, debt, weather, etc. — restricts your freedom and constrains your happiness. It’s OK to enjoy these types of things, but it’s not good for our happiness to be addicted to and dependent on our bad habits.

35. Get out in nature

Nature is natural medicine, connecting us with the world around us, while we breathe fresh air and stand in awe of our majestic surroundings. Being in nature can reduce stress, anxiety, and other forms of negative thinking, leading to more happiness. Take time to notice whatever nature is around you, whether it is trees, a forest, an ocean, urban green space, a park, or even a single leaf. Even short stints with the natural world, as little as 10–20 minutes, can improve mood and reduce anxiety.

36. Buy your way out of drudgery

If you don’t enjoy cleaning your home or doing laundry, pay someone else to do it and free up time for yourself. You’ll be creating a paid job for someone who needs it, while you get out of an unpleasant task, thereby increasing your happiness. This and other forms of time affluence make us richer in happiness. Especially when it comes to happiness, time is more valuable than money. You can also try to barter.

37. Avoid toxins

Toxins are toxic and toxic things are poisonous. Avoid toxic chemicals, toxic foods, toxic workplaces, toxic people, toxic relationships, toxic consumption, toxic habits, toxic activities, toxic stress, toxic anger, toxic news, toxic social media, toxic music, toxic TV, and toxic thoughts, all of which are bad for your health and happiness. Live clean!

38. Get enough sleep

Regularly getting enough sleep is vitally important for your brain and body to rejuvenate. Research shows that sleep is inextricably linked to our happiness, due to its relationships to stress, levels of depression, heart disease, diabetes, and so on.

39. Consider wabi-sabi

Wabi-sabi is the Japanese art and philosophy of imperfection. Recognizing that no one is perfect, and that no one has to be, can free us up to not only be who and what we are, but to be happy with who and what we are. Wabi-sabi encourages us to appreciate, embrace, and enjoy imperfections, both ours and others’.

40. Reconsider your bucket

It could be fun to have a bucket list, but it could also weigh you down and disappoint you. Although there is much we might like to read, try, see, and do, there is nothing we must. Ignore the imperative “must-do”, “must-have”, “must-go”, and so on. Your list is complete and accomplished simply by being alive and being your best you.

41. Be Stoic

Accept whatever comes and make peace with what does not. Nearly two thousand years ago, Stoic philosopher Epictetus encouraged us to recognize the fact that everything is temporary and that all things have their season, literally and figuratively. Everything — whether we want it, love it, or not — is fragile and fleeting. Feeling grief over the loss of someone or something is, to Epictetus, like “wishing for a fig in winter”. Doing so will only bring unhappiness, as we cannot have what we cannot have, no matter how much we might want it. Enjoy figs in fig season and enjoy other things in their seasons.

42. Let it go, let it flow

Whatever is weighing you down or holding you back, let it go! It might be grudges, regrets, abuse, addiction, negativity, meanness, insensitivity, self-doubt, worries, bad feelings, past pain, a failed relationship, resentment, trauma, loss, fear, old habits, dependence, or whatever else, but you don’t have to carry it with you anymore. Let it go, let it flow, and free yourself from the burden, so you can be happy.

43. Reframe

“When you change the way you look at things”, Wayne Dyer reveals, “the things you look at change.” Elizabeth Scott says that “Cognitive distortions, or patterns of faulty thinking, can impact our thoughts, behaviors, and experience of stress”, but that “a little cognitive restructuring can bring significant change”. Whether it is mental exercises, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), cognitive reappraisal, or some other method, reframing or rechanneling your thoughts into more realistic or positive directions can help tremendously. That’s positive neuroplasticity! Marcus Aurelius observed over 1900 years ago that “The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts”.

Attitude is everything. One simple trick is to just find life amusing, regardless of what is going on, and to be amused by the world’s inherent absurdity and ridiculosity — even to enjoy it! — instead of feeling frustrated, annoyed, worried, anxious, fearful, guilty, upset, angry, resentful, insulted, disrespected, envious, jealous, bored, confused, etc. Consider whatever happens as performance art or public theatre, something that is happening in front of you, yet not happening to you. Another trick is to feel excited instead of anxious, challenged instead of blocked, appreciative instead of desirous, grateful instead of dissed.

Henry Ford remarked that “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” And Wayne Dyer advised that “If you believe it will work out, you’ll see opportunities; if you believe that it won’t, you’ll see obstacles”.

Get some perspective. We cannot control other people and most phenomena; most things will not matter in the future; most things seem small from far enough away. But we do have power over ourselves, including our thoughts, feelings, and emotions. You cannot control other people, or any external phenomena, but you have the power to control yourself. What other people think, say, and do is their business; how you react and what you think, say, and do is your business. Remember, the more you find life funny, the more fun you will have.

44. Enjoy the process

It is natural to want certain results, but the process it takes to get there is the longer, more important, and more controllable portion of what we do. The road itself is the destination. Prioritizing process over product is a recipe for happiness.

45. Be
If you want to skip all the other steps, you can still be happy. It’s ultimately your choice! Leo Tolstoy once said that “If you want to be happy, be.” If you decide you want to be happy, you will be happy, because “happiness is an attitude” and it takes about the same energy to be happy as to be sad, miserable, or angry. Every moment is another opportunity for you to choose happiness and a joyful life.

Rick Hanson suggests that “No matter what is happening in the world around us, no matter what situation we’re stuck in, no matter how anguished we are for others, no matter how hopeless it seems and helpless we feel — we can always turn to joy, claim it, and welcome it.”

But we should remember, in the words of Guillaume Apollinaire, that “Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.” Perhaps “there is no way to happiness”, as Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh says, “happiness is the way.” Or, as Eleanor Roosevelt advised, “Happiness is not a goal…it’s a by-product of a life well lived.”

If these possible paths are not enough, feel free to forge your own. Elizabeth Barrett Browning mused about “the wisdom of cheerfulness”, while Rabbi Nachman of Breslov thought it a sin to be unhappy. Rabbi Nachman believed that “Joy is not merely incidental to your spiritual quest, it is vital … Use every ploy you can think of to bring yourself to joy”, adding “that you should even force yourself to be happy, if that’s what it takes”.

And in addition to the obvious benefit that being happier is better because you are happier, studies show that being happier is also healthier. Alexander Fanaroff, MD concludes that patients who “have better expectations for recovering have better long-term outcomes”, because “happy thoughts may lead to better long-term health”. Just the thought of that makes me happy!

Dan Brook, PhD happily teaches sociology at San Jose State University, where he organizes the annual Hands on Thailand program. Dan has written Brook’s Book and other freely available ebooks, as well as editing a non-profit vegetarian cookbook called Justice in the Kitchen.