7 Ways To Sustain Happiness & Stop It From Slipping Away

— Researched and reviewed by Dr. Sandip Roy.

Living a flourishing life involves holding onto happiness, but it often seems to slip through our fingers just when we think we’ve caught it.

Yes, it can be hard to sustain happiness at a consistent level in our fast-paced world, but it is possible if we use the science of positive psychology.

It starts with the idea that you need to actively seek happiness instead of waiting to stumble upon it.

So, let’s dive into these science-backed strategies, so you can stop your happiness from slipping away.

1. Exercise: The Happiness Hormone Booster

Exercise is a proven, powerful sustainer of happiness and well-being.

When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin—neurotransmitters that act as natural mood lifters.

  • Endorphins, popularly called the “feel-good” hormones, reduce stress and pain.
  • Dopamine is linked to the pleasure and reward system in the brain.
  • Serotonin regulates mood, emotion, and sleep.

Shawn Achor’s book, “The Happiness Advantage,” cites compelling research that underscores the long-term benefits of exercise on happiness.

Achor says you can rewire your brain for happiness by practicing 15 minutes of any fun cardio activity, like gardening or walking the dog, every day. Doing it for 30 days can change the neural pathways in your brain and turn you into a happier optimist.

And Tal Ben-Shahar says, “Not exercising is like a depressant.”

2. The Power of Sleep: More Than Just Rest

Sleep is more than just a period of rest; it’s a cornerstone of emotional well-being.

Lack of sleep doesn’t just make you groggy; it significantly impacts your mood and overall mental health.

Sleep deprivation can lead to irritability, stress, and even depression.

When you regularly skip sleeping the full 8 hours in a 24-hour day, it disrupts the balance of hormones and neurotransmitters in your body, which in turn affects your emotional stability.

The American Psychological Association has emphasized the critical role sleep plays in emotional states.

Research shows inadequate sleep can worsen existing mental health conditions and even contribute to the development of mood disorders.

Therefore, prioritizing sleep isn’t just about physical recovery; it’s a proactive step toward maintaining your happiness.

3. Commute and Happiness: The Closer, The Better

The daily commute is more than just a ride to work. How happy we are, depends partly on how we commute between home and work. 

Several studies have found lower happiness among long-distance commuters and among users of public transportation. The stress of traffic, the monotony of public transport, and the sheer time lost can take a toll on your emotional well-being.

Studies have found that remote workers are generally happier than their commuting counterparts.

Read this paper by Nicholas Bloom from the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR): How working from home works out.

Go Ahead, Tell Your Boss You Are Working From Home | Nicholas Bloom | TEDxStanford
Nicholas Bloom – TEDx Talk

Remote workers not only experience less stress but also report higher levels of overall well-being.

The elimination of a daily commute can play a big role in increasing and sustaining happiness, giving people more time for activities that bring joy and relaxation.

4. Social Connections: The Fabric of Happiness

Social connections aren’t just a nice-to-have; they’re the very fabric of happiness.

Spending quality time with friends and family isn’t just enjoyable; it’s essential for your emotional well-being. These connections offer emotional support, increase your sense of belonging, and can even boost your self-esteem.

Long-term studies underscore the importance of social ties on happiness.

The Harvard Study of Adult Development, one of the longest-running studies on human happiness, found that people who maintain strong social connections are not only happier but also live longer.

A 75 year old Harvard study revealed the most important factor in human happiness

The study emphasizes that the quality of our close relationships matters more than the quantity of people we count as our friends or relatives.

Having someone reliable reduces emotional pain, keeps your brain healthy, and promotes relaxation.

Authenticity, depth, and honesty within relationships are crucial. Being seen and understood who you truly are is a key to long-lasting fulfillment.

5. Nature and Well-being: The Green Effect

Happiness is greater in natural environments.

Nature isn’t just a happiness booster for outdoor activities, it also helps sustain happiness in a powerful way.

Spending even just 20 minutes outdoors can have a significant impact on your happiness. The fresh air, natural light, and tranquility of nature work together to elevate your mood and reduce stress.

Several studies back the positive effects of natural environments on emotional well-being.

This study found that people who spend time in natural settings report higher levels of happiness and lower levels of stress compared to those who stay indoors.

Even short nature breaks can serve as a happiness booster, making it a simple yet effective strategy for maintaining your emotional health.

6. Gratitude: The Unsung Hero of Happiness

Gratitude isn’t just a polite gesture; it’s a powerful sustainer of happiness.

The act of acknowledging and appreciating the good in your life can transform your emotional state.

Gratitude shifts your focus from what you lack to what you have, creating a sense of abundance and well-being.

Robert Emmons on the Story of Gratitude

Numerous studies have highlighted the positive impact of gratitude on happiness. This meta-analysis of our three studies revealed that gratitude exercises actually elicit a mixed emotional experience—one that simultaneously leads individuals to feel uplifted and indebted.

Those who regularly practice gratitude experience higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, and overall happiness.

Something as simple as keeping a gratitude journal can be a game-changer for sustaining your emotional well-being.

7. Flexibility: The Key to Resilient Happiness

Psychological flexibility is perhaps the most powerful skill for sustaining happiness in the face of life’s challenges.

Psychological flexibility is the ability to change your behavior to achieve your goals. It allows you to adapt your thoughts and behaviors to a wide range of situations.

Research on psychological flexibility has shown that it is strongly correlated with emotional well-being.

A study in the Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science shows that the most important factor for happy relationships boils down to just one characteristic—psychological flexibility.

A study published in the journal Social and Personality Psychology Compass found that individuals with high levels of psychological flexibility experience less stress, better work-life balance, and overall higher levels of happiness.

  1. A psychologically flexible person is open to accepting of both positive and negative experiences.
  2. They practice mindfulness, trying to stay aware of the present moment without judgment.
  3. They allow the experience of difficult thoughts without getting stuck in overthinking or rumination.
  4. When faced with difficulties, they maintain a broader perspective rather than getting lost in the problem.
  5. They continue to work toward important goals, even when faced with setbacks.
  6. They stay connected to their deeper values, like empathy and self-compassion, even under stress.

And then, there’s emotional flexibility:

  1. Emotional flexibility means embracing a wide range of emotions, from happiness to sadness, and allowing yourself to experience these different feelings throughout the same day.
  2. It is giving yourself the freedom to feel your emotions without any guilt or judgment.
  3. It also involves being present in your activities and thoughts, fully experiencing your current emotional state. Whether something is making you sad or happy, allow yourself to feel those emotions fully.
  4. While occasional sadness is natural, constant feelings of being down are a cause for concern, and you should reach out to a counselor.

 Overall, flexibility serves as a buffer against life’s ups and downs, making it a vital component in your happiness toolkit.

So, learn to adjust to life’s challenges by embracing change, accepting difficult emotions, and taking steps to solve problems.

It’s not about succeeding all the time, but rather about looking at the obstacle as the way. This sentiment was beautifully encapsulated by the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius more than 1800 years ago: “What stands in the way becomes the way.”

how to sustain happiness

Happiness slips away when you try to pursue happiness.

Happiness comes in tides – in ebbs and flows. Like other emotions. Once you realize this, you allow yourself to experience all emotions without desperately trying to hold on to one.

Further Reading

Positive psychology (read this introductory article) gives us some surprising facts on happiness, while common wisdom says otherwise. Here are two:

  1. Choosing meaningful experiences over material possessions leads to longer-lasting happiness.
  2. Embracing negative emotions, rather than running from them, can actually make you happier overall.

I’d suggest these books to learn more:

  • Authentic Happiness” by Martin Seligman – Written by the founder of positive psychology, this book explores how happiness can be achieved through meaning, pleasure, and engagement.
  • The How of Happiness” by Sonja Lyubomirsky – A practical guide to boosting your happiness, based on scientific research.
  • The Little Book of Gratitude!” by Robert Emmons – Focuses on the power of gratitude and its impact on our well-being.
  • Happier” by Tal Ben-Shahar – Offers a set of principles you can apply to your daily life to increase happiness.
  • Stumbling on Happiness” by Daniel Gilbert – Explores the complexities of human happiness and how our minds work when thinking about the future.
  • Positive Psychology in a Nutshell” by Ilona Boniwell – A concise overview of the key elements of positive psychology.
  • The Obstacle Is the Way” by Ryan Holiday – A modern take on Stoic philosophy, teaching how to turn trials into triumphs.

Final Words

Using these science-backed strategies in your daily life will help you handle life’s ups and downs with resilience, while helping you keep your joys from slipping away.

You can sustain your happiness, even in tough times, because scientifically, happiness is a choice.

But don’t just read this—take action. Choose to make happiness a deliberate effort rather than a random event.

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When it comes to mental well-being, you don't have to do it alone. Therapists can help you work through your trauma triggers and emotional patterns. Reaching out to a professional to feel better is a positive choice.