Does happiness feel elusive? Is happiness in your 40s possible? The answer for almost all of us is yes – at least sometimes, maybe often. You might feel like you’ve checked all the boxes but aren’t as happy as you’d hoped, you might wonder how anyone can be happy in the face of difficulty or you might feel like happiness is complicated. You might even wonder whether being happy is really all that important.
Happiness in your 40s is a high value investment
To many people happiness sounds fluffy. Sure they’d like to be happier but they aren’t sure that happiness is – on it’s own – a valuable commodity. What they are missing is that happiness is a cause of success, not a result. There is a significant body of research that supports the notion that experiencing positive emotions – both the momentary experience of happiness and living happy (having on balance more positive emotional experiences than negative ones) – has significant positive impacts on your physical health, your performance and your resilience.
Happier people live longer, have stronger immune systems, are better able to manage pain and generally experience fewer adverse health conditions. In addition, the experience of positive emotions – like happiness – broadens our approach to the world allowing us to think more expansively, solve problems more creatively and build relationships more easily and effectively. It’s not surprising then that the research suggests that happy people earn more, sell more and are more productive. Finally, happiness builds our resilience so that when the tough times comes, we are better able to weather the storm. In short, investing in living happy is one of the highest value investments you can make.
Happiness is not a destination, it’s an action
People often fall into the trap of believing that happiness will arrive as they meet their goals and continue to achieve. But the problem is that an unhappy journey rarely, if ever, results in a happy ending. The key to a happier life is finding happiness in the process. That means looking for – or intentionally incorporating – happiness (and other positive emotions) into your daily life.
To do this, however, you need to know where your happiness comes from – because it’s different for everyone. You can start by making a list of things that bring you positive emotions (like happiness, contentment, gratitude or even engagement). These can be big, small or anything in between. Once you’ve got a list, take one or two of your favorite items and ask yourself: what about this thing makes me happy? Keep asking that question until you’ve distilled it down into that is quick and accessible to you. For example, one of the things that makes me happiest is our annual beach vacations. I can’t escape to the beach from my land-locked home any time I want. But one of the things that enjoy most about the beach is the feel of the sun on my face. That is something that I can seek out any time the sun is shining. Having a list of the most basic sources of positive emotions is a powerful tool because you can deploy them – with intention – anytime you need a reset or an injection of positivity.
By any measure it’s been a challenging two years – global pandemic, war, social justice, changing job and home demands that came with working from home, and more. You might be wondering how can we even talk about happiness at times like these? The answer is pretty simple – happiness (and other positive emotions) can coexist with the tough stuff. You can experience happiness even during struggle. And you don’t need to bypass the tough stuff and experience only happiness.
The goal with living happier – and reaping it’s benefits – is to intentionally and authentically experience positive emotion whenever you can NOT to ignore the tough emotions that are a natural part of the human condition.
The next time you’re facing a difficult situation or a tough emotion, don’t fight it. You don’t need to force yourself out of it or through it. And while you are in it you can keep an eye out for the little kernels of positive emotion that might coexist with it – the friendly face, the helping hand, even the sunlight. Those positive kernels don’t need to outweigh or overcome the challenges, they just need to be included in the conversation. The key is to notice it all and savor the good where you can find it, even nestled in with the challenges.
Happiness in your 40s can be simple
Happiness doesn’t require radically changing your circumstances. In fact, the research suggests that more than anything your happiness is dependent on your thoughts and actions – something over which you can exercise at least a modicum of control. While you can take steps to make big changes in your life to yield a greater level of happiness those big steps are best made from a happier place so that you are architecting your happiness, rather than simply trying to escape your unhappiness. That happier place is built through your daily behaviors.
If you want to be happier starting today try this simple exercise: each day, record what made you smile. How you record this information isn’t particularly important, what made you smile doesn’t matter. What matters is that you had a positive emotional experience AND you noticed it. Because remember just the experience of a positive emotion broadens your perspective and builds your resilience. This is just one example of how simple it can really be to inject more happiness into your daily life.
Bottom line: Making a high value investment in your happiness can meaningfully benefit your health, success, and resilience. It simply requires intentional action (not radical transformation) which can happen even during challenging times and doesn’t need to be complicated.
Rebecca Morrison is a lawyer turned Happiness Coach and author of the best-selling book The Happiness Recipe: a Powerful Guide to Living What Matters. Becky works with successful but unsatisfied high-achievers to help them find their unique happiness recipe so they can live happier, lead happier and build happy businesses.
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