Just about everyone says that they want to be happy. And on many days, you probably are pretty happy. But on those days or weeks when you’re not, it is useful to think about how to make yourself happy.
And to do that you have to start by thinking about what happiness is.
Emotions (like happiness) relate to motivation. If you are not motivated to do anything, then you also won’t experience any strong emotions.
You have two broad types of motivations: approach and avoidance. Approach motivations are the ones that happen when there is something desirable that you want like a good meal, nice clothes or an attractive romantic interest. Avoidance motivations are the ones that happen when there is something undesirable that you want to avoid like a dangerous situation, a looming problem at work, or a person you don’t like being around.
The emotions you experience depend on the type of motivation that is engaged.
To see this, think about a simple situation in which there are two women at their OB/GYN, and both think they might be pregnant. One woman has been trying to have a child for many years, and really wants to be pregnant. For her, having a baby is an approach situation. The other woman is a college student without a steady boyfriend. She really hopes that she is not pregnant, and so for her having a baby is an avoidance situation.
If the first woman (who wants to have a baby) finds out she’s pregnant, then she will be happy and excited. If she finds out that she is not pregnant, then she will be sad or dejected. So, the emotions associated with approach are happiness and sadness.
If the second woman (who does not want to have a baby) finds out that she’s pregnant, then she will be stressed, anxious and fearful. If she finds out that she is not pregnant, then she will not be happy, she will be relieved. So, the emotions associated with avoidance are anxiety and relief.
That means that if you want to be happy, you need to engage your approach motivation.
If you find that you are stressed, the first thing you need to do is to reach a state of peace before you can try to engage your approach motivation. Close your eyes. Breathe deeply. Meditate for a bit. Take a shower. Go to the spa and get your hair washed and your face massaged. Disengage yourself from your environment for a bit and try to get away from the things that are hanging over you and causing stress.
Often, stress is caused by focusing on your responsibilities. The psychologist Tory Higgins shows that people who are focused on who they feel they ought to be engage avoidance motivation and are often stressed and anxious.
So, after you find your place of peace, try to shift your thoughts from the person you think you ought to be to the person you would like to be ideally. When you focus on your ideals, you are more likely to engage approach motivation.
Once you are thinking about your ideals, you have put yourself in a position where you can be happy. So, treat yourself well. Go to the gym and get in a workout. Have a good meal. Spend time with friends or with your romantic partner. Go see a funny movie. Go to the store and buy a new outfit. All of these activities will give you a little boost, and before you know it you’ll be feeling happy.
So, remember the recipe for being happy.
1) Find a way to remove any stress you’re feeling. Reach a state of relaxation and relief.
2) Focus on who you want to be ideally in order to engage your approach motivation.
3) Treat yourself well.
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