Stress and anxiety during difficult times can sometimes feel overwhelming, but it’s not impossible to fight those feelings and find joy.
Yahoo Life spoke with three happiness experts, and each revealed advice on where to look for silver linings, even when they appear to be nonexistent.
Acacia Parks, Ph.D, chief scientist at Happify Health, says the concept of “happiness” can be broken down into two different parts.
“The first is the emotional piece —it’s not always feeling ‘positive,’ but it’s feeling ‘positive’ more often than you feel ‘negative,’” she says.
“The second piece is cognitive — so it’s how you’re thinking about your life. If you look at your life, do you think that it’s ‘good?’” says Parks. “When we’re talking about increasing happiness, we’re trying to increase one or both of those two things.”
Mark D. Holder, Ph.D, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia, says there are physical benefits to maintaining higher levels of happiness.
“People that are happy tend to live 7.2 years longer,” says Holder. “They’re not just living 7.2 years longer, they’re getting 7.2 happy years longer in their life.”
Parks suggests “savoring” small, happy moments in your day to gradually increase your happiness.
“On a busy morning, I might be reading emails while I’m having my coffee, but coffee is my favorite part of the day and I miss it entirely if I’m reading emails,” she shares. “I’m drinking the coffee, but I’m not getting the enjoyment that I would have gotten from it if I just sat and had my coffee. ‘Savoring’ is all about just doing one thing at a time.”
Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project and host of the podcast Happier with Gretchen Rubin, says that our connection to others is a key part in maintaining our happiness.
“Ancient philosophers and contemporary scientists agree that the key to a happy life is relationships,” says Rubin.
“We need to have strong, intimate bonds with other people. We need to feel connected, we need to be able to get support — and just as important for happiness, we need to be able to give support,” she adds.
Since “happiness” can mean different things to different people, finding that joy can take many forms.
“There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution for happiness,” says Rubin. “Each of us has to figure out ‘what’s my nature? What are my values? What are my interests? What’s my temperament?’”
“Each of us has to figure out our own path,” says Rubin. “We each have to figure out happiness for ourselves.”
ACACIA PARKS: In the science of happiness, we think about happiness as having two parts. The first is the emotional piece. It's not always feeling positive, but it's feeling positive more often than you feel negative. And the second piece is cognitive. So it's how you're thinking about your life. If you look at your life, do you think that it's good? So when you put those two pieces together, the emotional piece and the cognitive piece, when we're talking about increasing happiness, we're trying to increase one or both of those two things.
MARK HOLDER: People who are happier live longer. And the effects of being happy are bigger than the effects of giving up smoking, your diet, or exercising. People that are happy tend to live 7.2 years longer. And remember, they're not just living 7.2 years longer, they're getting 7.2 happy years longer in their life.
ACACIA PARKS: I would encourage people to think about happiness not as like a thing that you achieve and then you're there, but as a daily set of behaviors that you use to cultivate positive emotion. Savoring is a really good set of skills that people can use in their daily lives to just take the things that they're already doing and actually enjoy them. On a busy morning, I might be reading emails while I'm having my coffee, but coffee is my favorite part of the day, and I miss it entirely if I'm reading emails. I'm still drinking the coffee, but I'm not getting the enjoyment that I would have gotten from it if I just sat and had my coffee. So savoring is all about just doing one thing at a time.
GRETCHEN RUBIN: When we're under really, really stressful times, when there's a lot of uncertainty and anxiety, the way there is now, ancient philosophers and contemporary scientists agree that the key to a happy life is relationships. We need to have strong intimate bonds with other people. We need to feel connected. We need to be able to get support. And just as important for happiness, we need to be able to give support.
MARK HOLDER: The extension of kindness, reaching out with an email or phone call and seeing how somebody else is doing, has some benefits. It probably increases the happiness of the person you're being nice to. That's worth something. The other thing it does is it increases your own happiness, as well.
GRETCHEN RUBIN: In a time when we feel like everything's out of control, there's so much uncertainty, it's like, well, I can't control the pandemic, but I can control this pile of papers on the floor of my home office.
ACACIA PARKS: You don't have to do anything new, you just have to pay attention to what's there. And that's what's missing for a lot of people, especially right now, because there's just so much negative to focus on.
GRETCHEN RUBIN: There is no one-size-fits-all solution for happiness. Each of us has to figure out, what's my nature? What are my values? What are my interests? What's my temperament? Each of us has to figure out our own path, because we have to take into account our own weaknesses, our own strengths, our own values. We each have to figure out happiness for ourselves.