Chartered Occupational Psychologist, Consultant, Speaker and Writer

Two Great Ways To Be Happy (Or At Least, Happier)


Are you happy?

Do you want to be?

Happiness is the modern world’s holy grail, at least, it is in the Western world (there’s evidence that some cultures actually have a ‘fear’ of happiness).

But what is happiness? And how, practically, can you become happier?

And can you, as a friend suggests, ‘Choose Happiness’?

What is happiness?

Personally, I’m not even that keen on the word ‘happiness’. Perhaps because it’s over-used, a cliché, unsustainable.

A word I’ve always liked to aim for is ‘contentment’.

There’s something beautiful in the phrase ‘bone-deep contentment’ that conjures up images for me of autumn evenings by the fire, lying on the lap of a loved one, reading a book, with hot chocolate within reach…which immediately tells you something about what happiness might mean to me.

Do you have something – an experience, an activity, a person – that comes to mind when you think of happiness?

We can find contentment, happiness, harmony – all these different kinds of sparkle – in many varied areas and ways.

I have two favourite books that review the happiness research and make practical suggestions as to how you can improve your life. There’s a wonderful (but hard to get, sorry!) little book, The Rough Guide to Happiness, written by a psychologist, which gives you a run down on all the different theories of happiness out there. (Don’t worry, I’m not going to go through them all now.)

And then there’s The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Ruben, a delightful and engaging book about her year of happiness research and experiments. I highly recommend both of these if you just want to increase your happiness levels even a little bit.

But I’ll share just two models that I think are useful in increasing the amount of happiness in our day to day lives.

Seligman’s Five Aspects of Happiness (PERMA) Model

Martin Seligman’s positive psychology model suggests that there are five different aspects that can increase our happiness (see his book Flourish for more ):

1. Pleasure

This is the warm fire and the hot chocolate in my example above.

It’s about sensual gratification – delicious food, the touch of different fabrics on your skin, the crunch of autumn leaves, the smell of coffee.

As I write this, my little daily pleasure is swinging in my hammock on a breezy day in Thailand, watching the sea and the sky.

Pleasure can be what springs to mind for most of us when we think of what makes us happy, but it’s only part of the story.

2. Engagement

This is also known as ‘flow’, the concept most researched and written about by the wonderfully named Mihály Csíkszentmihályi.

Flow is a state of complete absorption in a task, where we are immersed, single-mindedly, in something that is both enjoyable and challenging. It’s a motivating and energising feeling, contributing to happiness, as when we’re in ‘flow’ we have a feeling of spontaneous joy.

I feel the most flow when I’m writing, but I can also feel it when I get stuck into a project where I’m creating anything – materials for a workshop or a course for example, or, when I tried out art classes, creating my little masterpieces definitely involved the feeling of flow.

3. Relationships

For introverts and extroverts alike, our relationships, our social connections, are a key part of how happy we are.

Studies seem to vary as to how many close relationships are best for maximum happiness (5-15), and how often you should connect with them (I recently read some research that fortnightly contact was the minimum, but I cannot for the life of me find the link – you’ll just have to trust me!), but investing time in the people we love and feel closest to seems to be a very core part of happiness.

And that goes for introverts too: you’re just more likely to enjoy seeing people individually than in large groups.

4. Meaning

Who am I? Why am I here?

People who feel that their life has some sort of meaning – supporting charitable causes, doing God’s work, helping others, developing themselves – are happier.  Meaning is created by seeing ourselves as part of something bigger – cosmic order, living a ‘good’ life – the list here is endless.

People who genuinely find in themselves the ‘thing they were meant to do,’ and do it (popularised by Joseph Campbell and his precept ‘Follow your Bliss’) are happier.

5. Accomplishments

This is about setting goals and achieving them.

Again, these goals will differ from person to person, but the idea is to set goals and move towards them, pursuing success, mastery and achievement. You might be learning an instrument, achieving a goal like writing a novel or getting promoted.

Or it might be smaller goals; for example, I write ‘morning pages’ (1000 words of free writing) about 28/30 days each month.

With all of these, a key aspect is that each of the five aspects differs for every one of us.

What brings me pleasure, engages me, the people with whom I create relationships, the meaning I have found in my own life, and the goals I set for myself are likely to be very different from yours. But starting to think about these five ideas, and making sure we actually have some coverage of each of them in our activities can really help increase happiness in our lives.

Mortifying ourselves and never seeking out pleasure, for example, is just as unhelpful as being so goal focused you forget to nurture the relationships around you.

If you’re interested in learning more, you can watch Seligman’s Ted Talk (‘The New Era of Positive Psychology’) or buy the book, Flourish. He’s a pretty impressive psychologist (yes, I’m geeking out a bit here!).

Gretchen Rubin’s Four Stages of Happiness

Gretchen Rubin’s book bursts with lively and honest examples of her experiments in creating a happier life. It’s a great read, and I loved the whole book, but wanted to share one concept here, which is about how we experience moments of happiness.

Rather than happiness being a single event in time, she suggests that we can extend the happiness to be an experience with these four stages.

1. Anticipate with Pleasure

Look forward to events. My Mum’s not keen on surprises, and her reason is that she gets a lot of pleasure out of looking forward to events.

For happy experiences like a date with a romantic interest, or a holiday, anticipating the experience will extend the pleasure. In fact, for many of us, the planning of a party can be the most pleasurable part.

2. Savour the moment as we experience it

Although these events can pass in a flash, savouring the moment helps not only in the moment, but also when we’re remembering the experience (see 4).

Being mindful and present, paying attention to the experience, is a big part of extending happiness.

3. Express happiness (to ourself or others)

Sharing the happiness with those who’ll be receptive – ideally in real life, not just on social media – increases the amount of happiness we feel about an event.

4. Reflect on a happy memory

The happiness doesn’t have to finish there. Just think about wedding albums, and the way we often enjoy going back over photos from our past. We can also reflect on the experience, and the very act of reflecting can call up the happy feelings we felt in the moment.

With these four stages, we can amplify or minimise any happy event, depending on how much attention we give it.

So can you make yourself be happy? Do you really have a choice?

Sometimes, when we’re in the middle of a crisis, we can feel like there’s no choice in how we feel.

But have you ever had a row with someone, and then watched a film?

Been distracted by a comedy, laughing, even when you don’t feel like it?

Sometimes, I think, we want to wallow, and we listen to sad music. A friend was telling me about his sister who re-watches her favourite ‘weepies’ to engage with those emotions if she’s feeling sad.

I’m not, of course, talking about depression here, but I do think that sometimes we forget there is some level of choice around our feelings. Feelings are transitory, they do change – sometimes frequently.

When we focus on happiness, for example, by balancing the levels of PERMA in our lives, or reflecting back on a moment that created happiness in our past, we can tip the balance in favour of happiness.

A Personal Take

A close friend and I, both of us having had our ups and downs over the 10 years we’ve known each other, often finish our emails off with the final paragraph “Things making me happy:…”

It’s a beautiful practice, taking in gratitude and sharing the love. You might see it again here on the blog, as I’d love an opportunity for us all to regularly share what’s creating happiness in each of our lives – from the tiny to the huge.

So then. Things making me happy this month:

  • New albums from Passenger and Jason Mraz
  • Shoulder stand and Cobra pose in my yoga practice
  • Getting my site out into the world, connecting with inspiring new readers
  • Impromptu meetings over fragrant cappuccinos
  • Being ‘in flow’ on another project
  • Comfy sofas and armchairs
  • Listening to the rain on the conservatory roof
  • Being able to watch the leaves change in the UK


Even in our darkest moments, we can usually find, perhaps not sparkle, but a tiny glimmer of something positive. 

I would love to know what’s making you happy at the moment – please comment below. 

It will make a truly beautiful set of comments to read – and hopefully something that can bring that happiness to others in turn. If you’ve never written a comment on a website before, this is the place to start! 


Note: The book and music links I share will take you to Amazon, where you can purchase copies. By doing this, you help support me to share all the free articles and content on, as I make a very small commission on each product sold through these links. I only recommend products I think are useful and interesting – I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

24 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • Jennifer Kennedy October 14, 2014, 12:11 am

    I love this post and the break down of happiness. I especially love how you end your emails. It got me thinking about listing all of the things that make me happy — so on those days that I’m feeling down — I can refer back to my list. Sometimes when you’re in the moment, you don’t often think about what you can do to make yourself happy. So, I think this would help.

    I also agree with the idea of anticipation. A few months ago, I built a great habit of planning my weekend on a Wednesday so that I could actually look forward to something. This would help me out of my mid-week hump!

    Great ideas!!
    Jennifer Kennedy recently posted…20 Easy Peasy Tech Tools to Create Your E-CourseMy Profile

    • Ellen October 14, 2014, 9:19 am

      Thank you Jennifer. I think that a ‘happiness list’ to refer back to is a fabulous idea. And I definitely agree that in the (sad) moment it can be very tough to see what you can do to feel better, happier, so having a ‘go-to guide’ is a really good to tip.

      Love your ‘hump-day’ management too. Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Kellie October 14, 2014, 5:41 pm

    I love that you and your friend finish an email with things that make me happy, it’s such a lovely idea.

    I totally agree that in even the darkest moments we can find glimmers of happiness, we just have to look carefully.

    Happy Tuesday Ellen :-)

    • Ellen October 14, 2014, 6:31 pm

      Thanks Kellie, it’s been great, and it really helps us finish emails on a positive note, no matter what difficulties we’re having. Some days the glimmers are harder to find, but there’s usually something. Happy Tuesday :-)

  • Christine October 14, 2014, 6:22 pm

    Hi Ellen
    Lovely post which I have to say I enjoyed reading. I often struggle with the word ‘happiness’ as I feel I have never truly experienced it, hence I always use (like you) ‘contentment’.
    As the dark and oppressive months start to kick in I tend to withdraw into both self and self inflicted isolation. I hate the winter months! After years of counselling therapy I am at least aware of this annual trait of mine. So, when I wake on the dark, cold mornings and before I leave the comfort of my warm bed, I try to think of at least one thing for which to be appreciative and thankful. Even the smallest blessing can keep me going throughout the day despite my having to remind myself often! I keep it simple mainly because I have a habit of setting myself up to fail with my self destructive nature. I find this works for me and I like to ‘check in’ with my feelings throughout the day too……just to make sure I’m remaining sane!
    Happy days Ellen.

    • Ellen October 14, 2014, 6:34 pm

      Thank you Christine, very glad you enjoyed the post.

      It’s a nice idea to find something to feel content about before you even start the day, I really like that. And using it as a kind of talisman to come back to is comforting too.

      Thanks for sharing, and have a happy week :-)

  • Sarah October 14, 2014, 9:21 pm

    Hi Ellen, I loved reading this post especially that you can always find happiness even in darker times. This is something that I live by. I think it stems from watching the 1960 film Polyanna numerous times with my mum when I was a child. The film used to really annoy me and I used to say to my mum ‘do we really have to watch this again?’ But now I am eternally grateful to my mummy for sitting and watching it with me, as the main message of the film is now ingrained in my core; that there is always something to be grateful for, every single day. This little belief has got me through some tough times and also made the good times even more sweet!

    So today I am happy as I anticipate the colder days drawing in, snuggling inside under a soft blanket with a hot cocoa, looking forward to Christmas and all the joy it brings to little faces, with the lights, smells and innocent excitement and magic.

    Also looking forward to your next post Ellen! Wishing you a happy Wednesday xxx

    • Ellen October 16, 2014, 7:24 pm

      Thanks Sarah, and as I think you are one of the most positive and optimistic people I know, the film obviously did the trick! And I think it’s a message that we’d all benefit from, even in the darkest times, though it can be a hard one to hold to when life feels bleak.

      Snuggling on the sofa with hot chocolate sounds good right now as Autumn draws in the nights in the UK, the leaves start to change and we dig out our thicker jumpers, coats and scarves!

      Have a happy week x

  • Vicki October 15, 2014, 1:00 am

    Hi Ellen! Thanks for the happiness reminders. I find that investing in others makes me very happy. Watching the sparkle in someone’s eye take shape as hope returns! Other things that make me happy are my morning coffee, being at peace with my life and knowing I’m doing the best job I can as a single mom. Also, that I am giving my children the tools to rise above some addictive family cycles.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Ellen October 16, 2014, 7:26 pm

      Thanks for your comment Vicki, and for sharing your happiness inspiration. I think you’re managing to cover most of the PERMA model there, with relationships, meaning, and even pleasure in your morning coffee (which I thoroughly agree with :-) )!

      Appreciate you sharing, have a happy Thursday x

  • Sayid Mansour October 16, 2014, 6:36 pm

    Thank you. This post made me a tad happier.
    Sayid Mansour recently posted… – The Immunity CourseMy Profile

    • Ellen October 16, 2014, 7:27 pm

      Thanks Sayid! You sharing a comment increase my happiness a little, so it’s a lovely virtuous cycle! Have a happy weekend :-)

  • El D October 16, 2014, 7:40 pm

    Thanks, Ellen. Always good to be reminded to count our blessings. My present happiness stems from a fabulous walk with a friend today where I saw a buzzard, a heron, five cormorants, four Egyptian Geese, a lapwing, a pheasant and, my first ever, a Great Spotted Woodpecker. And the icing on the cherry on the cake? The sun shone all day long despite the fact that it’s 16th October!

    • Ellen October 19, 2014, 12:01 pm

      Wow, that’s a fabulous walk! And sunshine definitely factors in my happiness. Though I love the Autumnal colours in the UK, so beautiful. Thanks for sharing your happiness :-)

  • Linda Watt November 17, 2014, 1:45 pm

    I have never commented online before this but felt compelled to do so.
    Iam at the very beginning of my journey of creating a ‘happier’ life for both myself and my daughter.
    Practical aspects such as deciding to stop drinking alcohol for a year and to stop having unhealthy relationships are part of my plan.
    I do feel that connecting with you and similiar like minded people are going to help me with my journey and look forward to writing my to do lists and creating a more sparkly life for my daughter and myself.
    x x

    • Ellen November 18, 2014, 3:27 am

      I feel very privileged you’ve commented on my blog Linda, thank you! Your first steps to happiness sound great, and remember to take things day by day as well as thinking about the whole year. Little habits really add up. Connecting with others is definitely helpful when you want to change things in your life, so I hope I, and others here can support you in your journey. And add a little sparkle! Ellen x

  • Lisa Vaughn June 4, 2015, 4:05 am

    Great post! Personally I struggle with #2…savoring the moment. Life is so hectic, I forget to give thought to moments of fun that can be found…with a little attention…throughout the day! My early morning prayer and devotion time is what puts me on track for a joy filled day!

    • Ellen June 6, 2015, 4:37 am

      Thanks for your comment Lisa. Yes, some kind of morning ritual, even for those who aren’t religious can be very helpful for a positive day – something as simple as a gratitude list, or I personally also write morning pages every day which helps to ground me. And you’re so right, there are so many moments that we miss during the day itself because our mind is elsewhere! Wishing you a happy week :-)

  • Tracy January 30, 2016, 10:39 pm

    Brilliant post Ellen! We are facing a fork in the road at the moment and trying to figure out which option would make us happier. Whenever I tend to think of happiness I think of “pleasure” but seeing the other four elements of what can bring contentment resonated with me and has made me think. I’ll be referring back to this over the coming week and emailing it to my hubby as we make this choice for our family. Thank you!
    Tracy recently posted…How I Survived the Emotional Rollercoaster of InfertilityMy Profile

    • Ellen February 3, 2016, 5:08 am

      Thanks Tracy, and yes, those decision points can be tricky. But once you’ve decided, go with it – and for most decisions, remember you can always change your mind later. Few things are forever…good luck and let me know how it goes!

  • Cathy Taughinbaugh March 7, 2016, 5:06 pm

    I love this article Ellen! You have laid out the recipe for happiness in a very doable fashion that makes sense.

    I do appreciate your discussion about when you are in a crisis, can you be really happy? It helped me greatly when I realized that we do choose our own happiness, yet sometimes people can feel overwhelmed by their grief. Knowing that there is a choice helped me find ways to bring happiness back into my life when I was struggling.

    I love this line, “Even in our darkest moments, we can usually find, perhaps not sparkle, but a tiny glimmer of something positive.”

    I also appreciate the idea for ending your emails, “Things making me happy:…” Gratitude is definitely one of the keys to happiness. Beautiful article!
    Cathy Taughinbaugh recently posted…11 Essential Tips To Finding The Right Treatment ProgramMy Profile

    • Ellen March 11, 2016, 2:26 pm

      Thanks Cathy, I agree, I think the issue around choosing happiness can be a real challenge, especially when we are having a dark time. And of course there are times when we really need outside help, whether that’s medication or counselling or therapy to support us to see the ‘bright side’. But for most of us, if we push ourselves to think of something small that brings us just a little joy, it can help us to nudge ourselves along to a better place.

  • Elle March 8, 2016, 2:36 am

    I absolutely love the idea of ending your emails to your friend with things that make you happy Ellen. It’s absolutely amazing that when we choose to notice the little happinesses in our day, we discover how many there are.

    It’s our natural state, I believe, and we’e covered it over with all the musts, shoulds, and to do’s. I think you’re right we need to tip the balance in favor of good old fashioned happiness…because….
    Elle recently posted…How to Love More And Be Loved BetterMy Profile

    • Ellen March 11, 2016, 2:27 pm

      Thanks Elle – and I so know what you mean about all the musts, shoulds and to dos. Sometimes I think my life is full of them! But turning our attention to happiness rather than them can help us get to that more natural, and easy, state of being :-)

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