No matter our age, being happy creates more happiness–making a better world for all of us.
Sunshine. Hugs. Good coffee. The things that make us happy are as unique as our souls. But as difficult as happiness may be to describe, its effects are quite tangible.
For example, a Psychological Bulletin review of 200 studies linked happiness with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Marriage and family therapist Dr. Jane Greer agrees. “Discontent can result in diseases,” she warns. “Your positivity keeps your immune system strong and healthy.”
However, happiness could have bigger ramifications beyond just our own health. Happy people “affect others in such a positive manner,” says yogi Cameron Alborzian, who argues that happy people create more happy people—thus shaping a better world for us all.
Unsurprisingly, we experience happiness differently depending on our life stage. “As we age, we must evolve,” says human behaviour expert Patrick Wanis. “Our needs change and so does our perspective in life.”
Ah, the simple life. For babies, happiness is rooted in the basics. “Babies are happiest when their needs are being met,” says Esther Adler, a licensed mental health counsellor. “This includes physical needs and emotional needs, [such as] interacting and playing with your baby.”
For parents and caregivers, building a nurturing environment is key to raising happy infants. But also be aware of your own emotions. “Our brains are social organs—mirror neurons are at play, and we carry the emotions of others,” says Don MacMannis, child psychologist and music director for an award-winning children’s television show. “The emotional state and … levels of happiness in caregivers tie right into the same of a young child.”
“A child’s happiness in the early years is largely affected by levels of stress and happiness in the home,” continues MacMannis. “Kids are happiest in families where there is love and warmth, but also firmness and structure.”
Similarly, Adler says that young children are happy when they’re given the freedom to explore, are provided unconditional love, and have people around them who build their self-esteem.
As kids grow up, MacMannis reports that happiness levels are “increasingly defined by success and failure at learning new tasks—academically, socially, and emotionally—and by their relationships with other kids.”
Attempts to impress peers, get into university, or land a good job can really weigh on an adolescent’s happiness. Having the support of family and friends, and being encouraged to exercise and eat well, can help during these stressful times, suggests the Canadian Mental Health Association.
“No child can be happy all the time,” says MacMannis, “but kids can become happier with improved character, social, and emotional skills.” He recommends that parents teach teens the emotional tools for living well, such as how to handle anger or manage stress.
“When we are younger, what brings us happiness is forging ahead,” says psychotherapist Christina Steinorth-Powell. For many young adults, she notes that some of their greatest joys come from reaching goals, such as buying their first home.
This shifts when we get older. “As we age, we realize that ‘stuff’ won’t make us happy,” says psychologist Samantha Madhosingh. “I think this is why many people go through a ‘midlife’ crisis. They realize that things don’t make you happy and begin to search for more meaning in their life.”
By this life stage, it’s also not uncommon for us to have experienced loss or a serious illness. “By the time middle age rolls around,” says Steinorth-Powell, “most of us have a better understanding of how fragile life really is, so what tends to bring us the most happiness is holding on to and appreciating what we have.”
This becomes even truer as we enter our golden years. “As seniors, we tend to be happy when we have good health, a close friend, a good relationship with our spouse, and a secure living environment,” says Steinorth-Powell. “Mention these types of things to a younger person and ask them if they would be happy with just these few things, and most would say yes, but they would want more—a bigger home, a better career, and to be more popular.
As we get older, we slowly learn to appreciate more of what we already have, and that in itself brings feelings of happiness.”
The secret to happiness
“No matter where you’re starting from, you can go to your next level of happiness,” says psychotherapist Jennifer Howard. According to Howard, it starts with recognizing that happiness comes from within, not from getting everything you want. “Having everything we want in any given moment is closer to addiction than it is to happiness,” she warns. “Remember, happiness is more than momentary gratification.”
Secrets to happiness
Creating more abundant, genuine happiness can be as simple as doing the following.
Multiple studies have shown that expressing gratitude increases happiness. “Taking a minute or two to say silent thank-yous from your heart is a wonderful and rapid way to boost your level of happiness,” says psychotherapist Jonathan Robinson.
Let go of what you can’t control
Research shows we have a greater sense of well-being when we accept what can’t be changed. “Practise acceptance of situations and people,” says Alborzian. “What is it that takes our joy away that leads to unhappiness? It is mainly our expectations that things should be different instead of accepting that they are the way they are for a reason.”
“It’s been shown that a small act of kindness toward a stranger is a powerful way to boost your sense of well-being,” says Robinson.
Volunteer or give to a good cause
Research has linked charitable giving with happiness in adults, as did a similar study with children. “Giving back helps us think outside of ourselves,” says Steinorth-Powell. “Rather than dwelling on all of our problems, we are reminded how good we actually have it.”
Be aware of life’s little joys
“The smaller elements of life cumulatively contribute to an overall feeling of happiness,” says Greer. A kiss from your child or a good heart-to-heart with a friend can do more for your happiness than you realize.