How to Find Lasting Happiness

Depending on who you ask, you can know you are "happy" when you are feeling "content," "fortunate," "pleasure," "joy," "delight" or some combination thereof. But if all it took to be happy was to match up the right feelings with the right definition, we would be a planet full of happy people.

Unfortunately, the statistics clearly show we aren't. Just 1 in 3 Americans currently admit to being "very happy." The rest of us, well, aren't happy - or at least we aren't happy yet.

So perhaps the key to finding lasting happiness isn't where we've been looking for it, but (as this post will highlight) there are still plenty of places left to look!

Tip #1: Understand Where Happiness Isn't Hiding

As one blogger shared, culture often tries to pass off what she calls "faux happiness" as the real deal. Emotional highs, jaw-dropping victories, unbelievable breakthroughs - this is the stuff of adrenaline rushes, but it is not happiness.

If we are lucky, happiness is whatever remains after the latest high wears off. It is who we were with, our gratitude for being there and most of all our ability to live without the constant infusion of additional "highs" (as any addict will attest) that speaks of true happiness.

Tip #2: Find happiness in tiny moments ... then string those moments together

Where many well-intentioned "happiness seekers" take a wrong turn is in attempting to find the "big secret happiness treasure." But what if happiness (or at least most happiness) isn't packaged like that?

What if it comes to us in tiny moments or in a string of small experiences we have as we go about our daily lives? In this case, it is no wonder happiness is so easy to overlook!

A great way to begin teaching yourself not to notice small bits of happiness as they appear during your day is to practice meditation. Meditation is an ancient discipline, but it doesn't have to be practiced that way. You don't need special clothes or incense or rituals to meditate. You need a bit of time, your own breath and a willingness to permit your mind to explore a less thought-rich and more immediately present mental state.

One of the easiest ways to begin meditating is to just incorporate it into your regular schedule. For example, you could set your alarm to go off 5 minutes earlier and use the five minutes of "snooze" time to take deep, steady, calming breaths. Morning is often the best time to meditate because when you wake up, your mind tends to be more clear and calm - not yet quite awake.

Whenever and for however long you choose to practice each day, if you just focus on your breathing, reminding your mind to focus with you, you will gradually begin to get the hang of how calming meditation can be and how it can help you stay alert to small bits of happiness as they meet up with you at different points during your day.

Tip #3: Take very good care of yourself

Think of the last time you skimped on sleep, ate junk food all day and then skipped your exercise session. We all do it sometimes, but it doesn't seem to ever make us feel very good.

The truth is, we feel better when we take better care of ourselves. When you have had good, restful sleep and enough of it, you feel calmer and your mind is more alert and focused. When you eat a healthy, moderate diet, you have the pleasure of knowing you are feeding your body good things as well as the pleasure of the occasional enjoyable indulgence.

When you make time to exercise and play, you reconnect to the wonder of all the things your strong, healthy, capable body can do and also a gratitude for how selflessly it serves you.

Taking good care of yourself has all kinds of wonderful side effects, but perhaps the best one of all is that it sets the stage for you to feel happy. It is hard to feel happy when you are sleep-deprived, hung over, stressed out, insecure about your body or appearance, guilty or ashamed. But when you are feeling calm, well-rested, focused, fit, healthy, energized and grateful, happiness can come right up to your door and knock!

Tip #4: Practice Gratitude

Speaking of gratitude, according to Harvard Health Publications, feeling grateful can also help you feel happier.

Whether you practice gratitude by always returning the shopping cart at the grocery store, by thanking your employees for doing their jobs or by counting your blessings at night before bed, your practice will pay off in a more positive, optimistic and happier outlook overall.

Harvard Health suggests prayer, meditation, thank-you notes, gratitude journals, counting blessings and offering mental thanks are all great ways to maintain a gratitude practice.

Tip #5: Forgive Others .... and Yourself

Health luminary the Mayo Clinic cites the power of forgiveness to let happiness back in the door in your life.

Forgiveness is so powerful, whether you are on the giving or receiving end, precisely because it is one of those human experiences all of us share in common. Everyone has had to forgive someone at some point in time. Everyone has also needed forgiveness.

The Mayo Clinic points out that forgiveness is not the same as forgetting. Attempting to force yourself to forget is a recipe for more unhappiness - for most people, it just isn't possible to totally forget. But forgiveness does give you the chance to reconnect to the essential humanity, the frailty and the imperfection we all share.

It is also important to understand that, for most people, the act of forgiving or being forgiven doesn't instantly lead to an experience of happiness. Rather, first it might lead to relief. Then that relief might evolve into gratitude. Then the gratitude may in turn lead to a release of guilt or shame. That release can in turn lead to better health and self-esteem, which can lead to happiness.

What is important to remember here is this: the underlying link between experiencing forgiveness and experiencing happiness, however you personally get there, is a clear one.

Tip #6: Stay connected

Ironically, in this culture where there are ever more ways to connect, for many of us, actually staying connected can feel harder and harder. So don't try to stay connected to everyone. Just make sure you remain connected to a few trusted souls (these can be pets as well as people) who nurture your soul and permit you to offer them the same in turn.

The happiness that can be found in connecting is an authentic one, and even better, it can open the door for one of the best gifts life has to offer - loving and being loved.

There are many paths to happiness, and no one path is better or more or less "right" than the next. What is important is to be open to trying new paths until you find one that can reliably offer you daily doses of happiness.