Are you curious which thoughts can help you be happy? There are a bunch of science-based cognitive strategies that can help you think happy thoughts and increase your happiness. We’ll cover them here.
Happy Thoughts: 21 Science-Based Ways to Be Happier
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What Are Happy Thoughts?
Happiness is often thought to consist of two parts: hedonia (e.g., pleasure, enjoyment, absence of distress) and eudaimonia (e.g., growth, meaning, purpose) (Huta & Waterman, 2014). And there are two primary ways to create these states—your thoughts and your behaviors. Here, we’ll focus on thoughts to be happy. Lots of research has explored how we can think happy thoughts and what the precise benefits are. In this article, we’ll talk about these strategies so that you can start using your thoughts to generate happiness.
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positivity, resilience, and mindfulness
1. I Accept the Things I Cannot Change
The more time we spend feeling upset about the circumstances in our life that we can not control, the less happy we are. On the flip side, acceptance is linked to positive well-being (Ranzijn & Luszcz, 1999). That’s why adopting this happy thought is a great first step towards happiness.
To strengthen these happy thoughts, you might consider trying mindfulness, which is thought to help promote self-awareness, other-awareness, self-acceptance, and other-acceptance. It can be beneficial because we focus on and accept our thoughts and sensations without judgment.
2. I Know Myself
You might not that realize that thinking this happy thought is important for happiness, but indeed it is. If we’re living our lives to please others or in ways that are not authentic, we’re likely to be less happy. In fact, authenticity is key to optimal functioning and well-being.
Researchers suggest that authenticity is achieved once basic needs are met (food, shelter, relationships, etc…) and then we can turn inward to understand ourselves. Inauthenticity occurs when we focus extensively on meeting other people’s expectations and demands (Goldman & Kernis, 2002). So a first step in achieving happiness is to “know ourselves” and then take action on what we know about ourselves.
3. I Know What I Need to Be Happy
Knowing our needs is another important step to happiness. That’s because if we don’t know what makes us happy, we’ll likely do all sorts of things we think will make us happy that don’t really make us happy. For example, many of us pursue acquiring the things we want—things like fancy homes, cars, or items—even though these things don’t really make us feel better. If we instead focus on meeting our psychological needs, needs like autonomy, competence, and relatedness (Vlachopoulos & Michailidou, 2006), our efforts are more likely to make us feel better.
Here’s how to start satisfying these needs:
Autonomy. Autonomy has to do with making our own decisions and choosing our directions in life.
Competence. Competence is the feeling that we are interacting effectively with our environment and using our strengths or capabilities.
Relatedness. Relatedness involves feeling connected, cared for, and a sense of belonging in one’s community.
Working towards these three psychological needs can help us become happier.
Video: How to think happy thoughts
4. I Am Valuable, Worthwhile Human Being
In my research, I found that the factor most closely linked to unhappiness was the extent to which someone “feels good about themselves”. Indeed, if we have low self-esteem and don’t like ourselves much, we might struggle to believe in our ability to achieve outcomes like happiness (Miller Smedema, Catalano, & Ebener, 2010; Tafarodi, & Swann, 2001). That’s why working on these happy thoughts may just be the most important thing we can do.
We can start by developing some self-compassion instead of being so mean to ourselves. We can also work on building greater confidence to take the risks that will teach us that we are indeed worthy human beings. We might also benefit from using positive affirmations, or words that remind us of the good things we believe, or want to believe, about ourselves. These are some strategies that can help you develop thoughts to be happier.
5. I Notice the Good Things in Life
Another way to boost our happiness with our thoughts is to focus our attention on the good things, the things that give us joy. When we deliberately train our attention to notice the good (and ignore the bad), we can improve our well-being. Here’s an exercise that may help you train your attention towards the good.
6. I Can Change How I Feel
The truth is we actually can change how we feel. One way to do this is with positive reappraisal, an emotion regulation strategy. Positive reappraisal involves thinking about how our present situation is not as bad as it might seem. For example, we might realize that we can actually learn a lot from the situation, even though it’s hard. Or, we might find that we’re grateful it’s no worse than it is. Positive reappraisal has been shown to contribute to positive outcomes (Troy, Wilhelm, Shallcross, & Mauss, 2010). By learning to shift our thoughts with positive reappraisal, we shift our emotions too.
7. I Can Improve My Relationships
Developing strong, supportive social connections is one of the best things we can do for both our physical and emotional health. In fact, relatedness (or our sense of being socially connected to others) is considered to be an essential need for human functioning, growth, and well-being (Van den Broeck et al., 2016). Social connections help us be more resilient in the face of stress and even improve our physical health (Holt-Lunstad, Robles, & Sbarra, 2017). So when seeking to have happy thoughts, it’s key to remember that you can develop new social connections and improve the ones you already have.