Experts including comedian Ruby Wax, author Gretchen Rubin, and behavioural science professor Paul Dolan explain how to find happiness in everyday life.

Gretchen Rubin

Be kind to your body. Physical experience colours your emotional state. Don't battle through life with small discomforts that build up and cause you to suffer. Take care of your health and diet and get enough exercise and sleep, but also pay attention to ailments. If you have an aching shoulder, see a therapist; if high heels cause you pain, have the conviction to remove them from your life. Small nuisances around the body can get to us over time, and drag us down more than we realise.

Self-knowledge is essential for happiness. Spend time thinking about what's important to you. If you believe everything you read, shopping and going to nightclubs should make us happy - some people hate those things but go through the motions, trying to fit the model of what it is to be "fun".

Gretchen Rubin. Photo / Supplied
Gretchen Rubin. Photo / Supplied

They end up pretending to have fun, and being really uncomfortable. If your definition of fun is a night in with a face mask, do that, and know that it's okay.

Be flexible. Keeping promises you've made to yourself can become a burden if you do them because you "should". If you're a night owl struggling to be productive in the day because society says you have to go running before work, you're setting yourself up to feel a failure. Look at it another way. What has worked well in the past? What about changing your routine? Don't be bound by other people's template of satisfaction: figure out what works for you.


Create a shrine to your passions. Possessions that are invested with meaning have a role in a happier life. Gather things that you associate with something you love - sport, music, sewing - and display them thoughtfully. If you have all the things involved with that hobby in one place, you're more likely to engage with it. It also projects your identity in a tangible way, allowing others to get a better sense of who you really are. You'll feel "known", and that's good.

Invest in relationships. They all matter. Try to strengthen existing ones, and create new networks. We all get caught up in things we have to do and don't make enough time to forge and keep connections. Keep family traditions: show up. Throw a party and invite someone new. Start a book group with friends or talk to someone in a local cafe.

Gretchen Rubin is a blogger and the author of The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle and Generally Have More Fun.

Paul Dolan

Question how you evaluate what makes you happy. Ask someone about their day, and they'll complain about their job, their boss, the commute. Ask if they like working at their fancy company and they'll say they love it. We do this with many aspects of our lives - creating a narrative where we judge our day against the things we think should make us happy but that are falling short. What we think makes us happy is often in contrast to what actually does.

Pay attention. We think that by adding things to our lives (more money, more sex, a better relationship, etc) we will find happiness. The mistake we make is that when something good does come our way we do not pay attention to it for very long. We constantly make projections about how much happier we'd be if, say, we had a pay rise. If we paid attention to that good fortune if and when it came off, we might be happy, but the novelty soon wears off.

Happiness is not just about how you think about life overall, but your experiences during it. Much of what we know about how to be happy comes from studies that use big questions about how satisfied we are with life in general. In fact, we should be paying more attention to our experiences, moment by moment. These experiences can capture the richness of our daily lives, including the purpose and futility we feel as well as more "emotional" states of pleasure and pain.

Embrace "purpose". We spend too much time evaluating what we're doing ("How am I making an impact?") and not enough allowing ourselves to enjoy the flow of experience. It's important to recognise that an experience is worthwhile in itself. Last year I spent some weeks teaching my child times tables - the sense of purpose and feeling good didn't just come from reflecting on my role on completion of the task: it was fulfilling while it was happening.

Change what you do, not how you think. Happiness can be created by design. For example, we know that activities such as listening to music and new experiences can make us happy, but we still don't do them. Make it a habit to set aside time to do something you know makes you happy.


Paul Dolan is a professor of behavioural science at the London School of Economics and the author of Happiness by Design: Finding Pleasure and Purpose in Everyday Life.

Ruby Wax

Ruby Wax. Photo / Supplied
Ruby Wax. Photo / Supplied

Don't chase happiness. It's important to accept that it is usually fleeting. A lot of us spend our lives trying to repeat or recreate the moments when we were happiest. If you do get to experience real happiness, enjoy it, savour it, appreciate it for what it is rather than trying to extend it in a deliberate way. If you spend a lot of time trying to chase the circumstances that made you feel that way, you are bound to feel let down and will miss opportunities to appreciate - or even notice - the best parts of the present.

Keep your sense of humour. If you don't have a sense of humour about life, you can't pick yourself up. It's the best way to deal with pain or unfairness. When you're in the midst of something that feels like an assault, or are distraught, finding a glint of something funny helps. I don't mean cracking jokes, more "switching on" the comedy in life. Laughing, even to yourself, feels good physically - it's a relief and gives a hit of energy. If you can make others laugh, or laugh with them, everyone feels closer, less lonely.

Find your tribe. When you feel really low, isolating yourself is the most damaging thing to do (but is usually all you feel capable of). Being sociable is much easier with like-minded people who you can be yourself with, who lift your spirits. People with drink addictions go to Alcoholics Anonymous, but most people have nowhere to go, so it's not easy. It could be a book club, or taking up fishing - find the people who like what you like.

Happiness is feeling good about who you are. We're all peacocks, and we need to figure out which colours to show. A lot of it comes from accomplishing something, any small challenge that helps you find some self-esteem. I practise mindfulness and that helps me. Don't go with the crowd, or what's expected. For me, sometimes it's about finding a quiet place where my brain can settle down, and not apologising for it; other times it's drinking martinis.

Sleep as much as you can. Sometimes it feels as if we're all in competition to see who can survive on two hours' sleep. People really underestimate the power of sleep. After a solid 12 hours, everything looks better. It's often the case that things consolidate and start to resolve themselves in your mind while you're sleeping; the brain puts things in filing cabinets for you, so you can actually enjoy more of life rather than being overwhelmed by it.

Ruby Wax is a comedian and the author of Sane New World: Taming the Mind.

Vanessa King

Give to and help others. Neuroscience shows that when we help others it activates the reward centre in our brain in the same way as receiving a gift does. It also means we're focusing on something other than the minutiae of our own lives, not dwelling on things that make us unhappy. Helping is a really good strategy for forming connections, which makes us happy. And the happier we are, the more likely we are to help others, and so it continues.

Ask for help. Reaching out for help or support is not just for when we're facing difficulties, but also when we are working towards things that are important to us. So we might ask a colleague or friend to be a sounding-board or to share their experience. This makes them feel valued, and boosts their wellbeing too. We also show our human side, our vulnerability, which helps build a connection - they're more likely to open up to us in return, building closer bonds.

Get started. As human beings we have a fundamental psychological need to feel a sense of mastery, of progress. But often, when we have something we'd like to achieve, we procrastinate. The more we put it off the more complex it becomes in the mind. Trick yourself into starting by spending a short time, even five minutes, doing something towards a goal. After the first step progress is easier, and each subsequent one moves us towards a sense of reward.

Use your natural strengths. Studies show that identifying our "signature" strengths and finding new ways to use them can have a lasting impact on our happiness. Our strengths come naturally to us, and are often energising, easy to learn and inherently enjoyable. Sometimes we don't recognise them as they're so natural and we tend to focus more on our weaknesses. Figure out at least two "signature" qualities you have (not things you've learnt), then try applying those more and in new ways.

Invest in experiences. We often choose to spend money on possessions rather than experiences because we think they'll last longer. Possessions can give a short-term boost but often we adapt to them quickly. You might really want a new handbag, but six months later do you have your eye on another? The boost from experiences lasts longer. You not only enjoy, say, a weekend away or learning something new at the time, but also enjoy the memory over and over.

Vanessa King is a business consultant on positive psychology and resilience and a board member of the charity Action for Happiness.

Matthieu Ricard

French Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard. Photo / AFP
French Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard. Photo / AFP

Understand that happiness comes from within. We often mistakenly pin all our hopes, fears and blame on external conditions that are out of our control. At the same time we vastly underestimate our power to control our own happiness. We should never underestimate the power of the mind to generate our happiness. Human beings can be miserable in paradise or feel a joy about living even in the most adverse of circumstances. The mind can be our best friend or our worst enemy.

Realise that happiness is not a given. It must be learnt and fostered. It's about dealing with thoughts and emotions, but also about being able to recognise and distinguish between negative, destructive ones and positive, constructive ones. Using meditation, you can train the mind to minimise the instinct towards hate or jealousy and cultivate positive emotions and thoughts. In turn, this gives us freedom, inner strength and a sense of balance.

Don't strive alone. You can't hope to build happiness in a bubble, and there is no such thing as successful or selfish happiness. We're all inter-connected, so can only build true happiness with others. Altruistic love is the most significant, fulfilling and useful state in which to exist. Nothing is more powerful than having good intentions for others.

Try to exist in a state of simplicity, where you can see what is important. For me, the heart of spirituality is about understanding the way the mind works, and the ability to let it rest and not be pulled in different directions by trivial things. Inside a calm state of mind you find a kind of inner simplicity.

It's a place where there are no inner conflicts, hopes or fears. It makes troubles seem smaller and allows the things that feel meaningful to float to the surface.

Learn to watch your stream of thoughts. Picture worries as birds flying across the sky, representing freedom, serenity and strength. The blue sky is always there. If you don't allow fears to multiply, the birds won't take over: you can still see the sky. You'll find they don't bother you that much. A state that doesn't entertain rumination leads away from depressive thoughts and cultivates happiness.

Matthieu Ricard is a Buddhist monk and the author of Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill.