The #1 Unexpected Trick to Feeling Happy—Even When the Odds Are Stacked Against You

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These days, there's a lot of chatter about genuine contentment versus simply the appearance of happiness. "Instagram vs. reality" has even become a popular social media caption and theme, with some users poking fun at the curated aspect of the feeds we follow and post ourselves.

For many of us, it can be difficult to truly feel happy when various aspects of our lives are challenging, and/or when we're unable to get something we really want—such as a clean bill of health, a new car, deeper relationships with friends, an updated wardrobe, more affordable childcare or any other desire that's currently out of reach for whatever reason.

And sometimes, instead of being honest about how we're feeling (whether it's rooted in not wanting to complain or trying to keep up appearances), inauthenticity or toxic positivity takes its place. However, true happiness is rooted in something deeper than your circumstances—even though our society might disagree.

"Our society has lied to us about what happiness is and how we should pursue it. That’s the topic of my forthcoming book, New Happy," author and well-being expert Stephanie Harrison tells Parade.

New Happy: Getting Happiness Right in a World That's Got It Wrong, currently available for preorder with a May 14, 2024 release, shuts down common falsehoods about happiness—like having to be perfect, focusing on achievement and success, and doing it all solo.

After a 10-year journey of studying positive psychology, Harrison is here to share one unexpected trick to feeling happy, as well as other top recommendations for habits that make a difference in true contentment.

Related: How to Be Happier in 31 Days, According to Mental Health Experts

The #1 Unexpected Trick to Feeling Happy, According to Well-Being Expert Stephanie Harrison

Ready for the happiness hack that Harrison swears by? "The best way to increase your own personal happiness is to help someone else to be happy!" she tells Parade.

Surprised that this is the top trick? You're not alone.

"It always surprises people when I share this advice, largely because of the way that our society has misled us as to the sources of happiness," Harrison shares. "I call this Old Happy: the messages that we receive about what we need to do and who we need to be in order to find happiness, as well as the culture we have built that enforces them."

According to Harrison, these messages include:

  • "You need to improve and perfect yourself."

  • "You need to achieve more and more."

  • "You need to be completely independent and do everything on your own."

"Helping other people violates these Old Happy messages, and that’s why it’s surprising," she explains. "In fact, helping others is scientifically proven to benefit our well-being, it connects us to one another, and it’s how we find a greater purpose in life."

Related: 8 Scandinavian Secrets to Living a Happier Life

3 More Tips to Help You Feel Happier—Even When It's Hard

1. Savor the small positive moments in your day

"There are a lot of joyful moments in our day (of peace, of connection, of excitement and of beauty), but we often miss them," Harrison shares. "Make a note when something goes right and try to really allow any positive emotions to fill you up."

2. Celebrate growth

"Old Happy culture teaches us that it’s our end achievements that matter most for happiness, but what’s far more important is that we acknowledge our daily efforts," explains Harrison. "If you respond in a new way, stand up for your boundaries, try something new, or make progress towards a goal—celebrate it! It’s also wonderful to do the same for others; we all need recognition for our hard work."

Related: 11 Small Things That Happy, Healthy Couples Always Do, According to a Therapist

3. Get outside

"Some studies have found that spending just fifteen minutes in nature can lower your cortisol levels," Harrison says. "Reconnecting to nature also helps us to rediscover our interconnectedness with others and the world around us."

Next: Harvard Researchers Just Found This Simple Act To Be the Biggest Predictor of Happiness in Life

Expert Source

Stephanie Harrison<p>Courtesy Alex Johnston</p>
Stephanie Harrison

Courtesy Alex Johnston

Stephanie Harrison is the creator of the New Happy philosophy. Her work has been featured in publications such as CNBC, Fast Company, Forbes, and Harvard Business Review.

She is the founder of The New Happy, a company helping individuals, companies, and communities apply this philosophy in their lives. The New Happy’s art, newsletter, podcast, and programs reach millions of people around the world every month. She has a Masters Degree in positive psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. Previously, she was the Director of Learning at Thrive Global.