Image Credit: Seyyed Dela Llaha


  • UAE residents share their secrets to a happy life despite the pandemic-induced troubles
  • Long-running Harvard study, stretching over 80 years, offers insights into keys to happiness, well-being
  • Strong correlation found between happiness and gratefulness, forgiveness/letting go, and keeping close relationships

Dubai: Have you noticed that you can actually tell if someone is smiling behind those masks that we all wear in public? It turns out happiness is just a smile away — you cannot mask it.

Studies show some of the keys to happiness: sleep/rest, daily meditation, gratitude/gratefulness, healthy relationships and helping others. One such study, done by a Harvard team, has been running for more than 80 years. The study kicked off in 1938, during the Great Depression, a really bad time. During tough moments, the study says, it is important to have an “attitude of gratitude”.

In other words, the study points out, having a joyful heart is an inevitable result of a heart burning with thankfulness and love. Another key to well-being: the ability to let go, to forgive yourself and others. To never let anything so fill you with sorrow, especially in difficult moments, as to make you forget the joys of life.

What's the best attitude?

Yet, this is where it gets a little complicated. Positive psychology research shows that gratitude is strongly and consistently correlated with greater happiness. Gratitude — the quality of being thankful, or a readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness — is an inexpensive way to feel genuinely happy.

Why is gratitude the best attitude? Because, instead of the being gripped by negativity (and there are many around us), gratitude helps us feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve health, deal with adversity and build strong relationships, according to the study. Here’s why UAE residents can put on a happy face behind those facemasks.

Monique Elizabeth Wolmarans, South African, PR executive in Dubai

Despite the pandemic, I am happy that I am surrounded by my family and that technology has allowed me to stay in touch with friends and family abroad. I do have a ‘Thank You’ list. I am thankful for my family, the roof over my head, the bed that I sleep in, the food I eat, the car I drive and my dogs and cats.

Image Credit: Gulf News / Jay Hilotin

Vinita Hirani, 33, Indian, marketing and PR Manager, at Danube Group

Finding an equilibrium in life between work and family gives me a thrill that words cannot explain and makes me the happiest. I work and strive every day to make my purpose as an individual valuable to every single person I meet or interact with. So be it my work or family, it is my goal to not only be happy myself but pass on this infectious emotion to everyone around me.

Image Credit: Gulf News / Jay Hilotin

Anna Khan, Pakistani, fashion stylist, make-up artist and influencer

What makes me happy? Honestly, the Year 2020 has changed the whole definition of “happiness” for me. It’s purely self-created. I try to seek happiness inside of me. I now allow myself to be happy with little moments on the daily basis — like watering plants, putting red lipstick on, wearing my “power suit” even when I have no plans to step out. Celebrating small moments and being grateful brings true joy. Try it for yourself!

Having said that, I am a firm believer in making a conscious effort of taking care of both mind and body. No, I don’t mean a bowl of ice-cream. Though, yes, that also works. But I meant, long-term impact which can be achieved by physical activities. Lifting weights, running and training keeps me healthy, happy and active. I found my love towards an active lifestyle about seven years ago. It is all worth it, guys! It keeps me healthy, happy and motivated in every possible way.

Image Credit: Gulf News / Jay Hilotin
The only way and possibly the surest way to finding happiness is finding the obstacles that come in between you as a person and your happiness.

Sometimes when people are depressed, they put on a fake smile just to show they are perfect. That everything is OK. They don’t want others to know their emotional upheavals and that they are a weak person.

There is an emotional dissonance. This is a far more dangerous situation. Faking happiness leaves a person feeling good only for a little while.

In the long-term, your true happiness comes from dealing with your stress or the reason for your unhappiness. Find a solution to the problem. Then true happiness and contentment will come.

For example, someone with less confidence who is not happy meeting new people may fake happiness for a while during a party. But it’s only for that much time. The real happiness would come from (knowing) why the person is feeling low. If something can motivate the person to feel happy and actually accomplish it, then that is the real thing.
Image Credit: Gulf News / Jay Hilotin

Zarqa Sami, 29, Indian, business owner in Dubai

Changing careers has made me happiest. I wanted to do something that kept me busy but fulfilled and so I am preparing to launch my own organic skin care brand and my very own dessert store. This is giving me a sense of accomplishment which makes me so happy. In fact, You caught me in one of my happiest moments. It's my family — husband, parents, sister and her family and children — bring me immense joy. Just being around them makes me feel so good.

Image Credit: Gulf News / Jay Hilotin

Nancy Yu, 43, Filipina, a cabin crew

My baby boy brings me great joy. Before, it was my job or shopping for clothes that made me happy. But today, when I sleep at night and see my little boy next to me, it makes me happy, content. My husband and my children are my source of happiness. I also love my job. In times like these, having a job is great. So I am grateful and so happy to have it.

Image Credit: Gulf News / Jay Hilotin

Dima Habbouchi, 42, Lebanese, executive assistant

My children Jana (15) Adam (13) and Hania (11) bring me a great joy. Helping (my children) in their daily lives, shaping their character, setting goals, realising their dreams — these are things that make me happy.

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Fiza Shah, 32, an Indian expat a freelance make-up artist

Having a peaceful life, one with no complications and stress brings me the greatest satisfaction. I don’t look at work as something that gives me most happiness. I love what I do. But above all, just having a peaceful life is key in my life. The next thing that makes so happy is husband and our six-year-old son. I feel grateful to have them in my life. They bring a smile to my face everyday.

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Natasha Hatherall-Shawe, British, Founder and CEO, TishTash

I’ve found one of the best ways to be happy even in challenging times is to spread a little joy or kindness myself. Even when things are not going well and I don’t feel so great personally, I’ve found a lot of comfort doing something nice for someone who needed it or sending an unexpected treat or surprise to brighten someone’s day. Adding happiness and cheer to someone’s day leaves a lovely warm and fuzzy feeling and if you have the power to make even a small difference in someone else’s life – why not? I often wonder if we all did this and spread more kindness, what a different world it would be.

Image Credit: Gulf News / Jay Hilotin
10 ways to happiness
Image Credit: Vijith Pulikkal / Gulf News

10 pathways to happiness

1. Start each day with gratitude

Count your blessings. Even when it looks like bad things are happening. You can even make a list of what you’re thankful for. This can actually change your level of happiness. Each morning, when you wake up, take time (or have a mental list) of all the things for which you feel grateful for. And before you go to bed, you can keep a gratitude journal. If you write down 3 to 5 things that you felt grateful for that day and why — use your five senses to imagine these things vividly — this will rewire your brain, enabling it to pull all that goodness.  

2. Help others

A Chinese proverb states: “If you want to be happy for an hour, take a nap…If you want to be happy for a year, get married. If you want to be happy for life, help someone.” Do you give a part of your income to your favourite charity? Do you volunteer your time to help someone? Instead of spending money on yourself, you’ll feel happier giving to others. It’s counterintuitive — denying yourself — and focussing on someone else, help your own well-being. Giving allows you to receive more in return, including a harvest of happy hormones you get from the act.  

A study published in 2010 states: “People experienced happier moods when they gave more money away — but only if they had a choice about how much to give.” One report shows that philanthropy in America is valued at about $300 billion a year. That includes the vaccines now being distributed to less developed countries. That’s a lot of goodness to go around.

3. Laugh (it’s better than money)

Ever heard the saying “Laughter is the best medicine?" Deliberately find something that will make you laugh. Spend time each day laughing. Try to find happy things to laugh about. This helps you get an inner balance, a counterpoint to the toxic experiences or encounters you may have (especially on social media). Do yourself a favour by laughing and releasing happy hormones — oxytocin and endorphins. These hormones lift us up, as we share experiences with others. Even just making yourself smile will put you in a better place. Laughter releases these hormones which helps promote social bonding. Try getting together with friends (even if virtually) for a good dose of laughter. Happy hormones make social connections more natural, easier.

4. Foster good relationships with family, friends

Happy people don’t spend large amounts of time alone. By spending time with people you like and love, you forge supportive relationships that help people feel better during times of stress. When you bond with others, even through “shared grief” — about life’s ups and downs — they become your support network and help bring more of the things that make people happy.

5. Retreat, have a “me time”

While it’s important to bond with family and friends, a “me time” is also necessary for balance. An appointment with yourself, to cultivate self-care, find peace and quiet within, goes a long way in recharging your inner batteries. Go on a sort of retreat. Meditate. Take some time away, to be alone. Experts say this can help do wonders for your mood and outlook. Utilise your “me time” to do things that give you an inner kick — your favourite hobby, exercise, or plain and simple relaxation. Listen to your favourite songs, do crocheting, origami, etc. Just do it, even if it means just siting in the sun (also good way to get natural Vitamin D).

6. Exercise

Nobody — but nobody — can do it for you. You can’t pay anyone, no matter how rich you are, to put your own muscles to good use. Avoiding exercise (or finding 1,001 reasons not to do it) is engaging in self-sabotage. It creates a lot of problems, including muscle atrophy. Research shows that a good exercise helps you body feel good in more ways than one: there’s physical exertion, a regular release of feel-good hormones and greater life satisfaction overall. The good news: it just takes as little as 30 minutes to gain the amazing benefits of exercise.

7. Volunteer your 3T's

When you give your time, talent, treasure — your focus shifts from your little world to a much bigger world. It changes your perspective. Perhaps your little problems are nothing compared to the much tougher life others may be going through. An act of compassion, lifting another person’s burden, helps you forge a “shared grief”, a common experience, which leads to deeper relationships. Such experiences help orient your mind to a much bigger purpose, keep you engaged, boost self-confidence as you begin to feel better about yourself and your place in this world.

6. Do what you love, don’t settle

Remember Apple founder Steve Jobs’ words: “You’ve got to find what you love. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle…”

9. Don’t bring up the past back — like a broken record

Mistakes are part of our DNA. A parent who expects a child to never get skinned knees and skid marks while playing outdoors (even indoors) is asking for the impossible. We all go through the pains of growing up, and the pains of growing old. To focus on the pains alone, and never on the joys, would be myopic. Try to avoid making big mistakes. Here’s the thing: nobody forces you to focus on the negatives of life. Nobody forces you to focus only the positive. But you have the choice. Choose the things that make you happy, without resorting to self harm. Forgive yourself, too, as well others. We all make mistakes. The point is to get up and move on.

10. Clean up, rest, clean up, rest — repeat

If your space is overrun with clutter, too many trinkets sitting in front of you, start tackling one small task at a time. At the end of a month, you would have complete with a massive de-cluttering drive. When tired, sleep. Don’t force yourself to do impossible tasks and deprive your brain of badly needed recharge time. Sleep deprivation is a form of torture. A good night of sleep gives your muscles and brain to tackle daily tasks in a more calm, alert way.

Image Credit: Gulf News / Jay Hilotin
During the Great Depression, scientists began tracking the health of 268 Harvard sophomores in what was known as "Harvard Study of Adult Development". The study started in 1938. It was designed as a “longitudinal" study — through which they hoped to reveal clues to leading healthy and happy lives.

The researchers got more than they wanted.

The research is still on-going — still following the surviving men for nearly 80 years. It’s become one of the world’s longest studies of adult life. But enough data on the subjects’ physical and mental health were been gathered to glean some preliminary conclusions.

Of the original 268 recruited as part of the Grant Study, only 19 are still alive, all in their mid-90s, according to the latest Harvard bulletin.

Among the original recruits were eventual President John F. Kennedy and longtime Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee. (Women weren’t in the original study because the College was still all male then.)

Over the years, researchers have studied the participants’ health trajectories and their broader lives, including their triumphs and failures in careers and marriage, and the finding have produced startling lessons, and not only for the researchers.

“The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health,” said Robert Waldinger, director of the study, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too. That, I think, is the revelation.”