Ask people what makes them happy and you’ll get a variety of answers.
John Boyd, a Sunnybrook veteran who recently celebrated his 105th birthday, describes what makes him happy. “I guess most of all, if I achieve a goal. The satisfaction of achieving; I can apply it to music and in so many ways.” He adds having a good relationship with family and friends is especially important for happiness. John’s feelings for his late wife, Gladys, still shine through today, “I was very happy falling in love with her. I can’t talk about those days without thinking about my love for her.”
For over 10 years, Tabor Kidane, a Sunnybrook parking attendant recognized for making a difference, has stood outside of the main entrance helping visitors, no matter the weather. He says, “People are always asking me, ‘Why are you always smiling?’ I say, ‘Why not?’”
Tabor believes that spirituality and prayer help him maintain a positive outlook. He also enjoys helping people. “When someone is down, you have to help bring them up.”
Sophie is 15 years old and has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. For her, happiness is, “Feeling content with who you are. It means living in the moment and enjoying it for what it is, no matter the circumstances. It means being in tune with your surroundings and as a result, noticing the beauty of the little things.”
In the last decade, there has been a major focus on positive psychology. “It’s looking at resilience and promoting positive well-being and emotions, rather than eliminating negative emotions,” explains Dr. Ari Zaretsky, Psychiatrist-in-Chief at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.
He says gratitude — recognizing and expressing a deep appreciation for someone or something — is an important part of positive psychology. Mindfulness is also another factor. “You are more mindful of your experience of sensations in the world, and taking in positive experiences though the five senses. Cultivating beautiful sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touch are associated with positive well-being, pleasure and happiness.” Some of the most important aspects of positive psychology emphasize not only positive emotions, but also engagement in the world, meaningful work, sustaining interpersonal relationships and social connections.
Dr. Zaretsky emphasizes that while positive thinking can be helpful, “It’s important not to expect that everyone should be happy all the time.” He adds, “People are entitled to negative mood states, which is a normal reaction in the face of loss and setback.”
Keep happiness in its own ‘account’
“It can seem like these negative feelings withdraw from one’s happiness reserves, like the happiness account is depleted,” he explains. “But, if we think of happiness as being separate from, rather than the opposite of, negative feelings, we may be more open to seeing opportunities for even momentary happiness during a sad day or week.”
Dr. Goldstein adds that maintaining flexible goals is important. “They help us to make decisions about priorities and to be purposeful in building meaning in our lives. And sometimes we have to modify our goals, or put them on hold, or reframe them. Remaining flexible with our goals, whether academic, personal or interpersonal, can help ensure they foster happiness.”
How to find happiness
Happiness can help benefit health and there are ways to find it every day.
Sophie says, “I find happiness from my friends and family as they are there for me during rough times,” She goes on to explain, “Trusting the journey and knowing that your support system (friends, family, doctors, therapists) have your back and truly want the best for you; that helps immensely.”
When finding happiness in love, John suggests learning more about the person you’re attracted to, “Find out more about them, and their family. What makes them tick? What makes them happy or unhappy? It’s so important.”
For Tabor, he says finding happiness everyday is simple. “I have never had a bad day.” He says it’s all about being human, “Love everybody, respect everybody.”
There are times when even the darkest days can lead to brighter moments, with some people finding happiness after trauma. Some examples are; if the traumatic event opens up new opportunities, or if it makes relationships more meaningful.
And Sunnybrook experts offer some other general tips to live a long, healthy and happy life which include:
- Healthy eating
- Getting a good night’s sleep