Why you need to stop obsessing over how happy you are

Shana Lebowitz

Trying to be happy is tricky.

The more you fixate on your happiness or force yourself to be happy in the present moment, the worse you may feel.

Yet new research suggests you don't have to sit around waiting for Pharrell to spontaneously appear.

The key is structuring your days in advance to include activities that are likely to make you happy.

The technical term is "prioritizing positivity."

For the study, researchers at the University of California at San Francisco and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill recruited 235 participants and measured: how much they valued being happy, how much they prioritized positivity, and their overall well-being.

Perhaps surprisingly, results showed that valuing happiness was linked to lower well-being, while prioritizing positivity was associated with greater well-being.

People who placed a high value on happiness (for example, strongly agreeing with the statement, "If I don't feel happy, maybe there is something wrong with me") were more likely to exhibit negative aspects of well-being, such as negative emotions and depression.

On the other hand, people who planned for positivity (for example, strongly agreeing with the statement, "A priority for me is experiencing happiness in everyday life") were more inclined to experience beneficial aspects of well-being, such as positive emotions and satisfaction with life.

To schedule your days to maximize happiness, study co-author Lahnna I. Catalino told Scientific American you should "reflect on the activities that bring you contentment or joy and make time for these events in your daily life. For some people, this could mean regularly setting aside time for gardening and cooking; for others, it could mean making time to connect with good friends."

Ultimately, this research suggests that you are at least somewhat in control of how happy you feel. Instead of waiting for pre-packaged happiness to materialize before you and freaking out when it doesn't, be proactive and schedule experiences you know you enjoy.

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