Perhaps your definition of happiness involves lots of quality time with loved ones. Maybe it includes a fulfilling career. Those small and big things may add joy to your life and enhance your emotional well-being. But happiness is also created on a daily basis through intentional thoughts and habits.
We’ve all heard stories of famous and uber-successful people who seem to have everything on the outside but feel miserable on the inside. You could have a dream job and financial freedom yet still feel dissatisfied. On the other hand, you could feel very satisfied with your life even when not everything appears to be perfect on paper.
A new study revealed that even though national economic growth is often associated with higher rates of well-being, that assumption may be wrong. Researchers set out to interview people in societies often included in global happiness surveys as well as in low-income communities.
Surprisingly, the people in places with the lowest level of monetization — think fishing communities in Bangladesh — reported feeling as happy as those in Scandinavian countries, often the highest-rated in the world when it comes to happiness levels.
This challenges a lot of our perceptions around happiness coming from external factors while also strengthening the idea that being happy is indeed an inside job.
And if you want to start building the foundation for a happier lifestyle, there are questions that you can ask yourself on a daily basis to nurture your feelings of satisfaction and create a better life.
From cultivating a more positive mindset to identifying the most fruitful actions to take, the following four happiness-boosting questions will enhance your contentment one day at a time.
1. What am I grateful for?
While it makes sense that feeling appreciation for all the things you do have (and that are so easy to take for granted) on a regular basis would turn you into a more content person over time, there’s actual science behind the relationship between gratitude and mental health.
Being grateful can literally change your brain, according to a study where researchers studied the effects of writing gratitude letters on people with mental health struggles. All participants in the study received counseling.
Some were instructed to write one letter of gratitude to another person every day for three weeks, others were told to journal about their deepest thoughts around negative experiences once a day for the same amount of time, and the rest stuck to counseling only.
The results? Those who wrote gratitude letters reported significantly better mental health four weeks and 12 weeks after the exercise ended.
You can change your quality of life with a pen and paper and a few minutes a day. Start asking yourself what you are grateful for daily and be amazed at the positive impact on your happiness.
2. What would bring me joy?
Between work stressors and projects, daily responsibilities at home and the emotional labor involved in making it all happen, it’s easy to forget about having fun.
But focusing on your enjoyment on a daily basis — even through very simple, small steps, can yield drastic results when it comes to your long-term happiness.
Every morning, ask yourself what would bring you joy. Perhaps you just wanna inject more laughter into your day by joking around while powering through tasks with coworkers. Maybe you’d love to book a nail appointment after work. Go on a short walk during your lunch break. Buy a new candle and take a bath.
Whatever it is, it doesn’t have to be big, expensive or take a lot of time. But striving for enjoyment every time you wake up and go about your routine will make you happier no matter what ends up happening during the day.
3. What is the one thing I can accomplish that’ll make everything easier?
If you reflect on a single thing that you could accomplish on a daily basis to help streamline all the other action items on your list, you’ll end up becoming a much more productive and less stressed human.
It’s so easy to get sucked up into the culture of being busy. But busy doesn’t mean impactful. And having a long to-do list can weigh on your mental well-being. Reflecting on the one thing that matters the most at work — or at home, or to get a project to completion — daily will remove a lot of unnecessary mental energy leaks from your life. And you’ll be that much happier.
4. How can I connect with others more deeply?
In one of the longest studies on happiness ever conducted (it started about 80 years ago), Harvard scientists uncovered the critical relationship between the quality of our relationships and overall health.
“When we gathered together everything we knew about them about at age 50, it wasn’t their middle-age cholesterol levels that predicted how they were going to grow old,” shared Waldinger, the director of the study, in a TED talk.
“It was how satisfied they were in their relationships. The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80.”
So, start asking yourself how you can connect with others more deeply to prioritize your relationships despite how jam-packed your schedule gets. That simple question can lead you to a much better life.