There are a approximately a million and one happiness hacks out there, but somehow manage to do them all and you still probably won't be truly happy. Why not?
Because, while meditation, gratitude, and nature have all been shown to boost your mood, real happiness, according to psychology, isn't feeling good day to day. That's nice, of course, and a worthy goal. But if you're interested in true flourishing, you should aim for meaning, not happiness, a mountain of psychological research shows.
True happiness, in other words, isn't just feeling good. It's knowing that you've lived with purpose and in accordance with your own ideals. When you look back on your life, that's the yardstick you're going to use to determine how 'happy' it was.
So if the usual happiness advice -- useful though it may be for improving everyday well being -- won't cut it when it comes to cultivating this deeper form of happiness, what will? Writer Dan Pedersen recently offered a short list on Medium that punches above its weight with science-backed ideas. Here are a few of them:
1. Start a new hobby or project.
Pederson suggests that one simple way to feel like your life has more meaning is to start a project or hobby you've been dreaming of but putting off. You don't need to make dramatic progress -- just a few minutes dedicated to getting the ball rolling is enough.
Other experts agree with him. Writing for BBC Future recently, psychologist Brian Little suggested that a good way to inject a greater sense of meaning into your life is to set aside some time to brainstorm all your current projects, from writing a book, to losing weight, to finally buying that pet iguana. Then, think through which are personal to you (rather than obligations or others' dreams for your life), joy-giving, and feasible and get started on one or two.
2. Do just one thing at a time.
If you feel your life lacks meaning, the problem could be that you aren't pursuing your goals with purpose. But often the issue is that you simply don't notice that's what you're doing. Caught up in everyday craziness, we frantically multitask our way through hectic days, failing to savor our accomplishments in the haze of our busyness.
Stop that, urges Pederson. "Do one thing at a time. Whatever is most important to do right now, do it. Let everything else wait. Don't even think about the next thing," he writes. Science suggests that intense focus can make even doing the dishes more fulfilling, and meditation teachers have long suggested simply savoring each activity as a quick, accessible way to practice mindfulness.
3. Prioritize people.
"Spend time with the people most important to you, not just the activities most important to you," advises Pederson. The longest running study of happiness suggests he's onto something. Again and again, the data points to the same conclusion: the biggest factor when it comes to happiness is our relationships with other people.
But as legendary Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen has pointed out, it's easy to lose site of this fact and spend all your time chasing worldly success. A job promotion or salary bump feels instantly rewarding, after all, while the full satisfaction of raising happy, stable kids only really becomes clear after 18 or more years when they turn into well-adjusted adults.