I struggle with happiness. It didn’t happen overnight, but I think something went wrong along the way. If somebody asked me whether I’m happy right this instant, I know my answer.
Dr Sonja Lyubomirsky, an experimental social psychologist and professor of psychology based in the US, has been studying happiness for over 30 years. Her conclusion? Happiness comes down to choice, more often than not. So, we can choose to be happy?
In the book ‘Positive Emotion: Integrating the Light Sides and Dark Sides (2014)’, she summarises her findings along with researcher Dr Kristin Layous in a chapter titled ‘The How, Why, What, When, and Who of Happiness’. They write that mirroring the thoughts and behaviours of naturally happy people can in turn improve our own happiness – granted we put in the effort.
So I asked colleagues and readers alike with one question: What makes them happy? And answers work almost like a quick five-point guide to happiness…
Think about all the things that make you happy, whether it’s hanging out with friends or waking up early to catch the sun rise. If you do these enough, you might be on your way to developing a solid happiness strategy.
Over time, these activities become habits that our minds will retrieve in times of stress, preventing serious mental health issues from developing.
This sounds fairly simple because the brain is easy to train. American neuroscientist, psychologist and psychiatrist Dr Richard Davidson says it can take as little as two weeks for the brain to change once we start practising acts like kindness. This comes from his chapter on ‘Neuroscience of Happiness’ in the World Happiness Report of 2015, where he stresses that happiness is a skill that can be learned through training.
So, what’s your happiness regimen? Let’s hear it from eight expats in the UAE.
It’s how we look at life
People who are seldom seen without a toothy grin are not immune to problems plaguing you and me. Then, what’s their secret to happiness? Apparently, they’re simply better at accepting and letting go.
Habib said: “When people think of a happy life, they often visualise a life free of negative, painful and uncomfortable emotions. Yet realistically, happiness is developed through acceptance: the ability to view the bad and the good.”
When people think of a happy life, they often visualise a life free of negative, painful and uncomfortable emotions. Yet realistically, happiness is developed through acceptance: the ability to view the bad and the good.
“I don’t think negatively; I just let it go,” explained Anuja Yadav, Gulf News’ customer relationship advocate. A hot cup of fresh milk tea is a handy tool in that process.
“The situation will always get better. If you’re stuck in a negative situation, think about the positives – there has to be something. Sometimes, people’s minds are so preoccupied that they don’t have the time to think about their own happiness. At home [with my family], we don’t talk about others. We just spend the time by ourselves,” the 30-year-old Indian expat added.
It’s lending a helping hand
Esha Hans, a 32-year-old business development manager in Dubai, does a bit of tarot reading on the side. Whenever she knows she has helped someone, it always puts a spring in her step.
“When I help and give them advice, I feel happy. I mean, you know, at least I’ve made someone’s day. Happiness is universal, it’s everywhere, but we fail to see it. We just need to open our eyes and grab it. We can get happiness in whatever we do: watch a good movie, play with our pet or spend time with our partner,” she added.
We can get happiness in whatever we do: watch a good movie, play with our pet or spend time with our partner.
“Help others; add value to someone’s life,” agreed Sara Morsi, a positive psychology coach in Dubai, who advises her clients in the pursuit of happiness. For the 40-year-old expat, she found a helping hand on social media when one of her two sons was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Influencers who lived fearlessly with their illnesses were a beacon of hope for the mum.
It’s doing the things we like
Apparently, when people are engaged in an activity and feel challenged by it too, they’re happy. Think about a hobby that you enjoy, for instance. You do it because the experience itself is fun for you, to the point that time flies when you’re in the zone.
Our Executive Editor, Meher Murshed, is fiercely protective of his time set aside for swimming. He finds it to be meditative and ties into physical well-being.
“If you can be alone with yourself, sitting or walking with your thoughts and nothing else, then that’s when you know you’re truly happy,” he said.
If you can be alone with yourself, sitting or walking with your thoughts and nothing else, then that’s when you know you’re truly happy.
Happy people know their state of ‘flow’, a concept put forward by a Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. In his book ‘Flow: The Classic Work on How to Achieve Happiness’, Csikszentmihalyi says it all comes down to the quality of life experiences. This can be reading, spending time with others, playing tennis or even rock climbing – all activities that help us grow as individuals make us happy.
“None of these experiences may be pleasurable at the time they’re taking place, but afterward we think back on them and say, ‘That was really fun,’ and wish they would happen again,” he writes.
It’s spending time with loved ones
For some, coming home to their families topped the happiness rankings instantly. Hina Parashar, a 32-year-old banker in Dubai, didn’t realise what made her smile from within till she finally moved in with her husband.
“At the end of the day, I want my family to be with me. For the first year after our marriage, my husband and I couldn’t stay together because of his job, after that I needed him by the end of the day. When he’s happy, I’m happy – it’s when you know life is good,” said Hina.
At the end of the day, I want my family to be with me. When [my husband's] happy, I’m happy – it’s when you know life is good.
Another example comes from our senior web editor, Nilanjana Javed, who wouldn’t trade her Fridays for the world. Fridays are reserved for family movie nights, of course. It’s the one time the working couple and school-going children get to come together and catch up on new happenings.
“A lot of people say they’re happy when they go out for a girls’ brunch, but I’m not. Because I rather be home with my family. They’re my priority,” she added.
It’s looking after yourself
All that buzz around TLC (tender loving care) is completely valid. If you’ve recently worked a daily 30-minute walk or yoga after waking, then you probably know the lifestyle change is easier said than done.
Waking up and sleeping on time, remembering to breathe mindfully, eating at least three meals a day “provides you with a sense of security,” according to Habib.
I’ve been happier but I’m making progress. A good amount of self-care does it for me.
Hengameh Javaherian’s definition of happiness has changed over time. At 29, working in healthcare as a general doctor in Dubai, the Iranian expat describes her happiest days when she manages to sleep well, eat healthy and squeeze in some time for exercise.
“It’s a difficult life. I haven’t seen my family for the past two years because of the pandemic, but I’m happy where I am. I’ve been happier but I’m making progress. A good amount of self-care does it for me,” she told Gulf News.
It’s being in the here and now
Perhaps, being aware of all the little things that make our hearts light is the gentle reminder we need. Take a few minutes out of your day as you read this, make a mental note of your favourite mood boosters. Now ask yourself: What makes me happy?