We all want to be happy, don’t we? As one of the eight key emotions, happiness is the one we most want to experience. In fact, many of us expend a lot of energy seeking it.

Or at least we think we do.

But, are the ways we reach for happiness actually helping us find it? This question is worth exploring as happiness is a crucial component of wellness and forms a foundation for a life that provides meaning.

What Does It Mean to Be Happy?


What most of us seek when we strive for happiness is more than just the brief emotional state that comes when good things happen. Let’s face it; life contains a mixture of good and bad. If we are dependent on our circumstances to provoke this essential emotion, there will be many times when it will seem out of reach.

We don’t just want to “feel” happy; we want to “be” happy. To be happy is a state of being where we can appreciate all the good things in life, even in the midst of unpleasantness.

Above all, being happy is a state of mind where we choose to notice and prioritize experiences or thoughts that bring joy and contentment.

How Negativity Bias Steals Happiness

Most of us are better at identifying and remembering emotions such as anger, sadness, or anxiety. The tendency to emphasize the negative in life over the positive is called “negativity bias.” And, it is a normal part of how the brain is wired. (1)

Focusing on the negative makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. In fact, people are designed to seek out pleasant experiences and avoid unpleasant ones. Our survival instincts have taught us to prioritize recognizing and remembering unpleasant experiences. These experiences are the ones that could literally kill us.

The result is that the brain emphasizes situations or emotions that are unpleasant. Though we rarely face actual danger in modern life, our evolutionary instincts remain the primary driver of our response to the world around us.

So, for example, when we hear something that upsets us, or we experience a negative interaction with another person, we are more likely to remember that situation at the end of the day. All the positive interactions can fade to the background.

In addition, negativity bias steals our happiness. And we’re often not consciously aware it is happening because it is such a seamless part of how our minds function. From the time we are born, this psychological process has been at work. And, it is an ingrained part of how we understand our world. (2)

Balancing the Happiness Equation


This habit of highlighting the bad over the good has wide-ranging implications.

In our work life, it can lead to discontent and stress. It becomes easy to allow the common irritations that are part of every working environment to overshadow the satisfaction we find in our work and all the little moments of success we experience.

In our personal life, everyday relationship conflicts can become overblown. And, past negative experiences can prevent future positive connections.

In our mental and emotional life, our personal failings or negative self-concepts can prevent us from experiencing peace of mind and self-acceptance. In general, people are very susceptible to negative self-talk. The bad things we tell ourselves about ourselves often become the narrative we live.

Just because our brains are inclined to focus more on the negative does not mean we are doomed to a life full of negativity. Our brains are capable of learning and changing. The ability to retrain our way of thinking provides an avenue to change how we perceive the world and how our experiences influence our response.

Techniques to Create Happiness

It is helpful to think of negativity bias as a habit. 

It is a habit you are essentially born with and one your brain utilizes in an effort to keep you safe. However, knowing that this habit is not generally useful in modern life, it’s time to build a better way of thinking. 

As with any other habit, when we cultivate a pause and choose a new response, we train our brains to choose the positive over the negative.

Notice the Good


Creating change requires us first to observe and notice. If we want to cultivate more happiness in our lives, it is essential to be aware of all the good around us. This sounds simplistic, but it is both critical and difficult.

When good things happen, make a note of it. The Be Well app is great for this as you can let it know when you are feeling happy and track moments of joy over time.

Instead of just experiencing happiness and then moving on with your day, truly dwell on the positivity and happy emotions that arise. Remember how your natural tendency is to dwell on and ruminate over something bad that happened? You need to do that same thing, but with positive situations instead.

Using the Be Well app to do gratitude meditation is a great way to focus the mind on the good things in life. Mindfully meditating on what you are thankful for will help retrain your brain to notice what makes you happy. Over time you can build a new habit of giving more mind space to the parts of life that bring you joy and peace.

As psychologist Rich Hansen says: “….be very thoughtful about what you think about all day long.” (3) We are not powerless against the forces of negativity bias. Instead, with intention and focus, we can allow the good to be more significant than the bad.

Practice Mindfulness

Being happy doesn’t mean that every moment of your day will be rainbows and sunshine. Life is hard and contains struggles. We can’t turn a blind eye to this reality.

However, just because life has its bad moments doesn’t mean we have to compound our suffering by wallowing. When bad things happen, how we respond is the biggest determinant of how much we suffer. “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is largely voluntary.” (4)

Mindfulness is the path to observing each situation, acting with wisdom, and then continuing on with acceptance. When we practice mindfulness, we live in each moment without judgment or attachment. When we are truly present with what is happening, life’s negatives are no more potent than the positives, and we can fully experience the good as well as the bad.

Being mindful allows us to experience pain without suffering and feel happiness amidst life’s challenges.

Choose Activities That Bring You Happiness


When faced with moments or days that feel especially negative, it is tempting to fall back on coping techniques that do not promote our happiness or well-being. For example, watching TV and snacking on sweets may dull the unpleasant emotions we are experiencing, but they are unlikely to contribute to our long-term happiness. 

If we want to be happy, we have to engage in activities that bring us joy.  This technique is especially helpful if you struggle to train your mind to notice the positives in life. The action of creating happiness can be just as powerful.

Open the Be Well app and play some of your favorite music. There are hundreds of uplifting tracks in the app that can boost your mood and remind you of what joy feels like. Or choose a Be Well yoga or fitness video that gets your body moving. Movement releases feel-good endorphins in the brain that make us happy. Other options are to call a friend, talk about happy memories, take a walk in nature, or just look around for beauty. 

Intentionally doing things that make you feel good AND are good for you is one way to bring more happiness to your life.

Do Something Kind for Someone Else

The people around us influence our happiness. So when we do things that promote the happiness of others, we receive the added benefit of increasing our own satisfaction.

Being generous and thoughtful makes us feel good. People who give to others report feeling higher levels of happiness and satisfaction. (5) Conversely, happier people are more likely to contribute positively to those around them, creating a feedback loop that enhances everyone’s well-being.

There are encouraging articles in the Be Well app that have good ideas for building healthy relationships, developing empathy for others, and giving back by volunteering.

Building a Life of Happiness


Incorporating these steps to happiness can lead to a life of contentment and meaning. Of course, hard times will still come. But, when you are not dependent on your moment-by-moment situation to find happiness, there will always be joy available to you. 

Your choice each day to choose the positive over the negative fills your internal well of happiness so you can be resilient in times of stress. It’s like putting things aside for a rainy day. 

Start saving now by choosing activities that cultivate joy and happiness.