The promise of the 21st century was that technology would finally free us all to pursue our own interests. Computers, smartphones, artificial intelligence, and the like were supposed to unburden us from mindless tasks, so we had more time. That hasn’t been the case. If anything, most of us are busier than ever. Instead of freeing us, our tech keeps us tethered to our work, even outside the office. Is it any wonder so many people don’t know how to enjoy life these days?
The stresses of daily life can be overwhelming. From dictatorial bosses to difficult relationships to government bureaucracy, so much of existence can feel designed to steal your joy. That’s especially true when social media constantly pummels us with images of other people living a seemingly amazing life. While you’re stuck making a paltry wage, your ex-girlfriend from high school is scuba diving off the coast of Bali. It’s pretty hard to feel joyful under those circumstances, isn’t it?
Believe it or not, finding your sense of joy in life doesn’t have to be an uphill battle. You’ll have lousy days; heck, you might have lousy months or even years (cue the Friends theme song). The trick to enjoying life, though, is figuring out how to find happiness even when the circumstances aren’t ideal. Whether you’re busy, stressed out, or simply uninspired, there are things you can do to make life more pleasurable. Need a little more joy in your life? Read on.
How to Enjoy Life
I understand some people are struggling with terrible burdens. People dealing with severe mental health issues or extreme poverty can’t simply “enjoy life.” Too many writers offer pat answers and pretend like everyone is the same. I won’t do that. I get there are people who are facing truly horrendous situations. If that’s you, this article won’t have solutions for your toughest problems. Yet, even amidst awful hardships, there are steps you can take to find moments of joy.
This article is for anyone who wants to find greater contentment and joy in their personal life. Perhaps because of work or other stresses, your life satisfaction isn’t what you want it to be. Maybe your life is objectively good, but joy remains elusive. Whatever your situation, here are steps you can take to turn things around and find more happiness in your life.
Stop comparing yourself to others
The people who know how to enjoy life all have something in common: a positive outlook. They make a choice to find pleasure in their lives, and they don’t constantly long for something else. So many unsatisfied people spend too much of their time comparing their circumstances to the circumstances of others. That’s a recipe for unhappiness, particularly because we never really know what’s going on inside others. The external rarely reflects the internal.
The internet really drives that point home. You might scroll through social media and think those people constantly jetting off to exotic locales are living the life. In reality, though, many of those “influencers” are merely performing for their followers and subscribers. They post beautiful pictures to hide how miserable they really are. If social media depresses you, imagine the misery of influencers who always must be having the best time. Being happy is work.
Similarly, a lot of people think they’ll be happy if they just make more money. Obviously, the rich must know how to enjoy life, right? Well, research tells us otherwise. While increased wealth is correlated with increased happiness, there tends to be a plateau. Millionaires and billionaires, on average, aren’t happier than people who only make $100,000 a year. Of course, some rich people genuinely are happy. But many of them would be happy without the money, all the same.
That’s because the people who know how to enjoy life find pleasure in the simple things.
Focus on your well-being
Have you ever flown on a plane and listened to the safety instructions? They always say, in the case of an emergency, put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. That same concept applies in your day-to-day life. If you’re not taking care of yourself, you can’t give your best to anything you do. Whether it’s your job, your relationships, or even just your hobbies, if you’re personally depleted, you’ll be less effective.
Make time for your own well-being, whether you call it “having ‘me’ time” or “doing self-care.” If you have a job that offers vacation time, take it. Too many workers don’t take time off, often because their bosses make them feel guilty about it. Ignore the guilt trip; take the time. There’s a reason Europeans are consistently happier than Americans. European countries not only provide paid time off, they require that workers take the time. It’s a shame the US hasn’t caught on to this. A happy worker is a more productive worker.
Even if you don’t get paid time off, still take a vacation. You don’t have to go anywhere, just give yourself a break from work. Research has shown that an annual vacation greatly reduces stress and burnout. Giving yourself the freedom to not go to work, even if you really like your job, is an invaluable gift.
Your job pays the bills, but joy comes from living your life.
Foster Positive Relationships
Work is essential, but it is by no means everything. Outside of work, you need to try harder to be more sociable and engaged with people in your area. If you’re feeling isolated and depressed, get out more. I get that you might be an introvert (I am too), but that’s no excuse to cut people out of your life. And, no, the online strangers you play Call of Duty with don’t count. Even if you truly enjoy video games or streaming movies, those can’t be your only sources of pleasure.
You need to take a break from your home and build positive relationships in your personal life. Yes, that can mean romantic relationships, but I also mean platonic friendships. There’s nothing wrong with online relationships. Obviously, online dating can be great (though it can also be very hard). But romantic relationships that never enter the real world lack something vital. So are friendships that are completely online.
Actual, real-world human contact is invaluable. Humans need physical contact. I’m not just talking about sex. Platonic hugs and high-fives release the chemicals in our brains that make us happier and even improve physical health. I don’t care how good your favorite Twitch channel is, it can’t replace human contact.
Make the effort to meet people
Whether you love or hate your job, happiness is generally found off the clock. Spending time with good people is one way to enjoy life a whole lot more. Unfortunately, as you get older, it can be harder to meet people. This is especially true for men, research finds. Once men reach their 40s, close friendships decline dramatically. For many men, it starts even earlier in life.
There are differing reasons for why this is happening, but it doesn’t matter. The thing that matters is that you have a choice. Will you allow yourself to become isolated, or will you make the effort to find a social circle? The people who best know how to enjoy life are those who place a high value on their social relationships. You don’t need to have a hundred friends. But you should be putting in the effort to have two or three close friends. Even one is better than nothing.
If you are romantically involved, that might be the most important relationship in your life. But it’s vital that you not let it be your only relationship. Our culture tends to stereotype women as needy and possessive, but plenty of men become codependent in their relationships. It makes sense: You love your girlfriend or wife, why wouldn’t you want to spend all your time with her? But if you don’t have positive relationships outside your significant other, you have nowhere to turn when things get rocky. It’s also just healthier for romantic partners to spend time apart.
Kick negative people out of your life
Notice how I keep using the phrase “positive relationships”? That’s because not every friendship or relationship is healthy, even when you like the person. If you find yourself persistently unhappy in your life, consider the people who surround you. It’s worth asking yourself, “Does everyone in my life genuinely want the best for me?” Sometimes other people are unhappy in their lives, and they try to drag you down with them. Perhaps you’ve simply outgrown those friendships and relationships.
When you’re unhappy, it can feel good to spend time with other unhappy people. As the saying goes, misery loves company. However, misery also breeds misery. If you’re trying to learn how to enjoy life (you’re reading this, so presumably you are), stop wallowing in misery. Some friends are more of an anchor than a sail.
Beware the “joy killers,” those people who complain about everything and never have a positive thing to say. They may be funny; they may even be loyal. But if they’re not somebody who can recognize the good things in life, they’ll just kill your joy. Ending a friendship can be just as difficult as ending a romantic relationship; maybe even harder. All the same, if there are people in your life who are dragging you down, move on.
Make a Choice to Be Happy
It’s important to set aside time to take care of your own well-being and nurture positive relationships. Doing so will provide you with the strength and motivation to handle the hard times in life. Because there will be hard times. Likewise, having a core group of friends and a good mental health foundation will help you navigate life’s choppy seas. However, there’s one more secret to enjoying life. You also have to make a choice to be happy.
Believe in your own happiness
Happiness is, so often, a choice. I don’t mean that in the woo way embodied by “The Secret.” There’s a genre of self-help books that claim you just have to “envision” good things and good things will happen. That’s crap. Some people have great lives because they were born rich, and life gave them everything on a silver platter. Some people were born in squalor and, through no fault of their own, will never escape it. No amount of vision boards will change that.
And yet, there is a kernel of truth in the notion that our perspective can change our reality. Consider the story of the four-minute mile. For decades, runners had been chasing the seemingly impossible feat of running a mile in four minutes. Then, in 1954, a man named Roger Bannister did it. Within a few years, it became commonplace. Why? Because, before that barrier was broken, people believed it was impossible. After it was broken, runners knew for a fact it wasn’t.
There is value in making a choice to be happy. You won’t always be able to achieve that happiness. Sometimes the lemons life gives you will be too rotten to make lemonade. All the same, there are things you can do to maintain a positive outlook even in the worst of times. Many of these are small acts, but they can have a big effect if you keep at them. The trick is making them a habit so that, even when you feel completely defeated, you continue doing them.
Celebrate small wins
It might sound silly or even a little facile. But celebrating small wins can have a huge impact on your perspective in life. So much of our society is built around celebrating the biggest victories. We revere billionaire CEOs, Super Bowl champions, and Oscar winners. Yet, for every one of those, there are also-rans in the same field who lost but still achieved personal bests. If you can only be happy if you take the top prize, you’re going to have a miserable life.
One day, you may reach the top of your profession’s “mountain”; until then, enjoy the climb. Celebrate small wins. Appreciate what you have. It’s okay to be disappointed if you lose out on a promotion or you get a rejection. Disappointment can be a powerful motivator. I’m certainly not advocating that you become complacent and just accept losing. But, in every loss, there is a learning opportunity and a chance to improve. It’s up to you whether you make use of that opportunity.
Besides, life is rarely a zero-sum game. Most of us aren’t NBA players on the verge of getting knocked out of the playoffs. (And if you are, there’s always next season). In general, just because you didn’t get the top prize, that doesn’t mean you didn’t “win” something. Experience, constructive criticism, and a fresh perspective; are all trophies that life gives the people who didn’t win.
Consider what I do: writing. My profession is almost entirely rejections with the occasional acceptance. Those rejections can be disheartening, certainly. However, they can often clue me into what I can improve. Now, not every rejection is helpful. And I have felt like giving up plenty of times. But I haven’t. I keep going. It’s like Winston Churchill said, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” Sure, my enthusiasm dips at times, but I keep pressing on.
And from time to time, there are small victories, which I celebrate. I’d contend that the greatest successes, in all fields, are those people who know how to celebrate small wins. They recognize that life is a series of smaller tests and challenges that build to the biggest ones. Each victory along the way is a milestone that tells you you’re going in the right direction. Any mountain climber will tell you no one reaches the summit in one giant leap. It’s a step-by-step process.
Record happy moments
Another valuable habit is taking stock of the good times. In other words, record happy moments. You’ll often see people criticize others for taking a hundred photos on their phones, but I actually like it. There’s something to be said for capturing little snapshots of joy to hold onto. I’m not talking about an Instagram influencer taking a million selfies until they get the perfect pose. I mean pictures of you at a friend’s birthday party, or at work drinks, or wherever else you experience joy.
This is one place where I think technology truly can make our lives better. Scientific research has shown that our minds remember negative experiences better than positive ones. For whatever reason, we are better at recalling bad memories in more precise details than good memories. So, when you’re having a Dark Night of the Soul, your mind replays those bad moments. Which is why I like to record happy moments. When I’m depressed, it’s nice to have photographic proof that I didn’t always feel bummed out.
To be clear, a few happy photos or videos won’t cure depression. That’s not what this idea is about. It’s about developing the habit of acknowledging and appreciating your happiness. If you make a point of noticing when you’re happy, it won’t seem so distant when you’re struggling. It’s like the four-minute mile I mentioned earlier. If you can distinctly remember being happy, it will make reclaiming that happiness feel less daunting.
Learn How to Enjoy Life
It all comes back to the idea of choosing to be happy. There are a million different ways to live your life, and none of them are inherently wrong. You can work day in and day out and then spend money on expensive items and trips. You can go in the opposite direction and seek out enlightenment through a spiritual journey and personal development. You can attend bacchanals and wild parties, or stay home and work on jigsaw puzzles. There is no one path to joy.
If you’re doing what you want to do, though, yet you still don’t know how to enjoy life, look inside. The issue is you. There are miserable billionaires and absolutely joyful paupers. There are celebrities who look like they have it all but are really depressed. Then there are regular schmoes who have good friends and a happy relationship and don’t need anything else.
The common thread is each individual’s personal outlook and willingness to find joy. Too many people refuse to be happy until life showers them with enormous wealth and acclaim from their peers. Those are the same people, however, who, once they achieve all that wealth and acclaim, will still be unhappy. When your personal happiness is conditioned on everything being exactly right, joy will always be out of reach.
You will have bad days at work. You won’t be able to avoid every jerk. Even the best relationships will face speed bumps and periods of unrest. And the IRS is going to keep demanding that you pay your taxes. So, no, the world is never just going to suddenly turn into a utopia. If that’s what you’re waiting for to be happy, you are going to be waiting for a very long time.
Don’t keep putting off your joy. The first step is to stop comparing yourself to others and focus on your well-being. From there, foster positive relationships by building friendships with good people and ending relationships with negative people. Finally, make the choice to be happy. Celebrate small wins and record the happy moments in life. Do all of that, and you may just find that enjoying life is not only possible, it’s easy.