ExplainerHow to be happy: 10 principles of happiness, and why being happy can let us live longer
- After decades of research, bestselling author Florian Langenscheidt has come up with 10 principles of happiness
- From enjoying small moments to learning to forgive and embracing friendship, these tips could help you live longer
Happiness is something we all strive for, especially in times like these. In spite of, or perhaps because of, the global pandemic and the turmoil in its wake, if ever there was a time to choose to be happy, it is now, says Florian Langenscheidt.
The German serial entrepreneur and bestselling author of 1,000 Glücksmomente (1,000 Moments to Be Happy About) and Alt Genug, um Glücklich zu Sein (Old Enough to Be Happy) says many of us have preconceived notions of what will ultimately lead to long-term happiness, be it a promotion, a bigger house or a luxury holiday. But happiness is more complicated, and much simpler, than a list of material desires, he says.
Langenscheidt’s “rare, strange obsession” with happiness started more than 40 years ago, while he was studying philosophy. He read heavily on the subject, but wondered, “Why was it so easy for some people to be happy, and so extremely difficult for others?”
The father of five, based in Berlin, founded an institute for applied research on happiness to find the elusive answers. He has taught at universities and written six books on the subject.
He believes that happiness is linked to physical health, and that it may promote longevity. An analysis of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing from University College London published in the BMJ journal in 2016 backs this up, showing that sustained happiness in older age is linked to a longer life.
Langenscheidt distilled his decades of research into these 10 principles of happiness.
1. Happiness is up to you
We like to say it’s our boss, it’s lack of money, it’s the weather, it’s our partner, or something else that makes it impossible to be happy. But in the end, we are in the driver’s seat when it comes to finding our way to happiness.
We can choose to be happy.
2. Stay alert for the small moments
We all have big goals and visions, but the texture of happiness is made up of intimate, rather unspectacular moments. These include gazing at a loved one’s smile, holding your child’s hand, walking beside a beautiful lake in the sunshine. Cherish them.
3. Happiness is your present, past and future
A lot of books say happiness is about “being in the now”. It is true we don’t know if we will be around tomorrow. But as human beings, what separates us from animals is how our experiences and memories form us.
The past is important and we can’t suppress it. And the other side is the future, with all our plans and visions. The happiest people are the ones who don’t neglect the moment, but know where they come from and where they want to go.
4. Be grateful
People who take everything for granted are usually unhappy. People who pause a few times throughout the day to think about how grateful they are for the gifts they’ve received, for their partner, their children, their job, are happy.
The opposite of gratitude is envy, which only brings unhappiness. Don’t think about what others have; that is destructive and doesn’t help at all.
We all make mistakes, so allow other people to make a few, too. Something Langenscheidt learned late in life, maybe too late, is the need to apologise and forgive.
“Each person around us is someone very special that cannot be replaced. If you can’t forgive, you lose so many people on the way through life.”
6. Make others happy
We boost our own happiness when we care about the happiness of others, as it gives our lives meaning. Those who are narcissistic are always less happy than those who put others’ happiness first.
7. See the positive beyond the negative
For example, while so many have died of Covid-19 and social distancing measures have turned our lives upside down, we have had an opportunity to gain a greater appreciation of our loved ones.
8. Accept disappointments
So accept the inevitable dark times to make the good times seem even brighter.
9. Embrace friendship and love
As Aristotle said: “A friend is one soul in two bodies.”
10. Live your own life
If you ask dying people what they would have done differently, the number one answer is, ‘I wish I had lived a life that was really mine’. From birth we are influenced by people – parents, the media, teachers – who impose their recommendations on us. When you live your own life you are much better at dealing with challenges brought up by your decisions.
It takes courage to find a new partner or change your career, but in the end, there is a high probability that it will boost your happiness.
While Langenscheidt believes these traits are common in happy people, everyone must find their own way.
“The path to happiness is as unique to every individual as your eyes, your smile, your humour. There are more than 7.5 billion paths to happiness in this world, it can come to us all differently.”