“Happiness is not defined the same way by all people,” Dutton explains. “And you shouldn’t confuse it with excitement or joy. Those are ingredients for happiness, but they’re not [actually] happiness.”
If this sounds like a game of semantics, consider this: Happiness is an umbrella that includes contentment, excitement, joy and euphoria. All those feelings contribute to feeling happy, but none encapsulates happiness completely.
Instead, happiness stems from finding and living according to your sense of purpose. “It’s defined by what makes you get out of bed in the morning,” Dutton says.
5 steps to finding happiness
Between daily distractions and a general disconnect from our evolving sense of what we want in life, it can be easy to lose our way when it comes to finding happiness. Here’s a road map for rediscovering it.
1. What you think is what you end up believing
Likening mindset to an AI algorithm, Dutton says that one’s mindset is self-perpetuating. If on social media, you click on a couple of cat videos, the platform’s algorithm will keep on feeding you cat videos. Pretty soon, you’ll have a sense that all cats are capable of quirky, acrobatic feats.
The same goes for how you view yourself. If you consider yourself unlucky or somehow “less than,” you tend to find reinforcement in the external world. What was once a fear or opinion becomes validated, reinforced and perpetuated to where you eventually are the thing you don’t necessarily want to be.
Or, to put it another way, you are the gatekeeper of what you think and believe. Be discriminating about what you let into your mind.
2. Be your own cheerleader
Narcissism is never a good look, but confidence is. Unfortunately, a lot of people struggle to find the latter and end up erring on the side of low self-esteem.
“Negative self-talk is easy,” Dutton acknowledges. Any misstep — forgetting someone’s birthday or not doing well on an exam — can be cause for becoming your own worst detractor if you let it.
Instead, Dutton recommends checking in with yourself each morning and evening and engaging in a positive pep talk. This doesn’t have to be embarrassing or over the top but simply a moment to create a framework for the day and your accomplishments at the end of it.
For example, when you wake up, take a minute to think about what you’re looking forward to doing that day, whether it’s finishing your dissertation or just getting the kids to school on time. Then, before bed, think about something you’re grateful for, whether that’s good health or getting the laundry done.
This, in effect, rewires your mind to think and feel better. “Your brain starts thinking positively, and that positivity blossoms in [your] umbrella of happiness,” Dutton explains.