7 Ways To Sustain Happiness & Stop It From Slipping Away

— Reviewed by Dr. Sandip Roy.

Does happiness mean much if you can’t hold on to it?

A flourishing life involves sustained happiness, think many. But, is it a good idea to be happy all the time?

No. We are not supposed to feel happy (or positive) all the time. It would have made us extinct long ago.

What positive psychology tells us is that a happy life consists of a series of happy moments interspersed with many not-so-happy moments.

However, science suggests we can create happiness on purpose. It starts with the idea that we need to actively seek happiness instead of waiting to stumble upon it.

So these are some proven happiness-boosting activities that let you sustain your happiness when it seems to slip through your fingers.

1. Flexibility: The Key To Resilient Happiness

Flexibility is a very powerful skill for your happiness toolkit.

Flexibility indicates your ability to adapt your thoughts and behaviors to changing situations. People with more flexibility are more likely to be happy.

Research shows that psychological flexibility has strong links with emotional well-being.

  1. Klein & Jacobson (2023) found that people with greater variability in emotional highs and lows were happier and more satisfied across the daily assessments.
  2. Doorley & Goodman (2020) found that people with high levels of psychological flexibility experience less stress, better work-life balance, and overall higher levels of happiness.

How To Become More Psychologically Flexible

  • Practice feeling different emotions instead of avoiding them
    • When something upsets you, let yourself feel that emotion, then look at it in a new way.
  • Notice and accept your emotions as part of being human
    • Don’t try to ignore or get rid of emotions.
    • Allow yourself to feel them fully.
  • Get better at thinking in different, creative ways
    • Do puzzles and activities that make you think outside the box.
    • Intentionally approach problems from new angles.
    • Avoid getting stuck in one way of doing things.
  • Let yourself fully experience both good and bad feelings
  • Practice flexibility regularly
    • The more you practice adjusting emotionally and mentally, the more flexible you’ll become
  • View emotional reactions as normal, not something to be avoided
    • Embrace the full range of emotions instead of emotional avoidance

Overall, flexibility serves as a buffer against life’s ups and downs, letting you embrace change, accept difficult emotions, and try unusual ways to solve problems.

2. 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.

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

The Harvard Study of Adult Development, the longest-running study on human happiness, found that people who maintained strong social connections were happier and lived longer.

Quality matters more than quantity when it comes to people we count as friends or relatives, according to the researchers.

How To Be More Socially Connected

  • Make an effort to start conversations
    • Initiate chat with neighbors, coworkers, or people you encounter
    • Ask questions to keep conversations going
  • Get involved in group activities
    • Join a club, take a class, or participate in community events
    • Having shared interests makes it easier to connect
  • Nurture existing friendships
    • Schedule regular meet-ups or check-ins with friends
    • Make efforts to be an engaged, active listener
  • Be open, friendly, and approachable
    • Smile, make eye contact, and have an approachable demeanor
    • This makes others feel comfortable approaching you
  • Limit social media substitution
    • Online connections shouldn’t fully replace in-person socializing
    • Balance virtual and face-to-face interaction
  • Attend local events
    • Check out community calendars for interesting happenings
    • Going solo can help you meet new people
  • Follow up and follow through
    • After meeting someone, follow up to solidify the connection
    • Follow through on plans to show you’re reliable

Having someone you can rely on reduces emotional pain, keeps your brain healthy, and promotes relaxation.

3. 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 fun cardio activity, like gardening or walking the dog, each day. Doing it for 30 days can change the neural pathways in your brain and turn you into a happier optimist.

Stanford University researcher Kelly McGonigal says walking less than 5649 steps a day may induce or worsen symptoms of anxiety and depression, while also decreasing life satisfaction (The Joy of Movement, 2021).

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

How To Get Into An Exercise Habit

  • Start small
    • Begin with just 10–15 minutes of activity per day
    • Easy exercises are less challenging to sustain as a habit
  • Find activities you enjoy
    • Exercise doesn’t have to be at a gym or need a trainer
    • Discover physical pursuits you find fun, like dancing, hiking, sports
  • Schedule it in
    • Treat your workout time as a non-negotiable appointment
    • Put the preplanned activities in your calendar to reduce habit breaks
  • Find a workout buddy
    • Having someone to exercise with increases your accountability
    • You and your “exercise buddy” can motivate and encourage each other
  • Track your progress
    • Use an app or journal to log your workouts
    • Celebrating small wins helps reinforce the habit
  • Mix it up
    • Vary your routine to avoid boredom and plateaus
    • Try new activities to reignite your motivation
  • Be patient and consistent
    • Stay patient, as it takes time for a habit to become automatic
    • Stick with it, no matter how boring or “willpower-sucking” it gets
    • Get back to exercise after every lapse, whether it’s a day or a week

Download our guide: 10 Strategies To Make Exercise A Daily Habit.

4. The Power of Sleep: More Than Just Rest

As you get older, you realize that getting a good quality and quantity of sleep is a non-negotiable for your mental and physical health.

  • Lack of sleep not only makes you feel groggy and tired, but also leads to irritability, stress, and even depression over time.
  • Research shows that inadequate sleep can worsen existing mental health conditions and even contribute to the development of mood disorders.
  • Sleeping less than 8 hours a day unbalances your hormones and neurotransmitters, which then affects your emotional stability.

People who have good sleep have fewer aches and fewer worries. They are also less likely to get triggered easily.

How To Get Good Sleep

  • Maintain a cool bedroom temperature (around 18 °C/64 °F)
    • Science shows cooler temps promote deeper sleep
  • Take a hot shower before bed
    • The temperature drop after can induce sleepiness
  • Use blackout blinds/curtains
    • Any light can disrupt your sleep cycles
  • Make sure the bedroom is well-ventilated
    • Monitor Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide levels, and reduce CO2 levels for better air quality
  • Find the right pillow for you
    • Proper neck/head support is key to relaxed shoulders and neck
  • Avoid food/drinks 2–3 hours before bed
    • Prevents bathroom wake-ups
  • Dim lights a few hours before bedtime
    • Helps prime your body for sleep
  • Limit alcohol/smoking before bed
    • It disrupts sleep quality and causes snoring

Be consistent with these for 15 days and you will dramatically improve your sleep.

5. Nature and Well-being: The Green Effect

Experts have noticed that spending even 20 minutes in the greenery can reduce our focus on stress and improve our mood.

Nature isn’t just a happiness booster, but also a happiness sustainer. If you let yourself be in nature daily, the fresh air, natural light, and peaceful natural sounds help you feel better overall.

Several studies back its positive effects 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.

How To Use Nature For Well-Being

  • Get outside daily
    • Even if just for a brief walk around the neighborhood
    • Exercise outdoors when possible—hiking, jogging, or yoga in a park or trail
    • Exposure to natural light, greenery, and fresh air is refreshing
  • Bring nature inside
    • Keep potted plants around your home and workplace
    • Just viewing nature scenes can reduce stress
  • Notice and appreciate green spaces
    • Pay mindful attention to trees, gardens, and landscapes
    • This cultivates an awareness of nature’s beauty
  • Take a forest bath
    • Practice the Japanese therapy of “forest bathing.
    • Immerse yourself in a wooded area using all senses
  • Start a garden
    • Gardening connects you to nature’s cycles
    • Growing plants provides a sense of grounding
  • Spend time near water
    • Beaches, lakes, and rivers have calming effects
    • The sight and sounds of water are restorative
  • Use nature imagery/sounds
    • Decorate with nature photos, use nature soundtracks
    • Simple reminders of the outdoor world

The idea is to find time for exposure to greenery and natural elements. Start with short nature breaks in your day to feel your overall sense of well-being rise over weeks.

Stop Your Happiness From Slipping Away-4

6. Gratitude: The Unsung Hero of Happiness

Gratitude (“being thankful”) isn’t just a polite gesture; it can increase your positive emotions, life-satisfaction, and overall happiness.

It shifts your focus from what you lack to what you have. Acknowledging and appreciating the good things in your life can uplift your mood and emotional state.

How To Be More Grateful In Life

  • Keep a gratitude journal
  • Express appreciation to others
    • Thank known and random people for their actions, big and small
    • A simple “I appreciate you” can brighten someone’s day
  • Savor life’s small pleasures
    • Pay attention and savor the simple joys, like a nice meal
    • Don’t forget to appreciate small things every day
  • Reflect on what you have
    • Take time to consider your privileges and comforts
    • Pause to appreciate things that you take for granted
  • Speak gratitude affirmations
    • Say self-affirmations like “I’m grateful for this moment”
    • Do more positive self-talk to rewire your brain over time
  • Help others
    • Volunteer to a worthwhile cause or perform acts of kindness regularly
    • See and empathize with others’ struggles to get new perspectives
  • Find the silver lining
    • When facing challenges, search for hidden opportunities
    • You can almost always find something to be grateful for
  • Unlock The Power of “Awe”
    • Lose yourself in the beauty and wonders of nature
    • Feel awestruck to promote your inner gratefulness
Robert Emmons on the Story of Gratitude
Robert Emmons — “Professor Gratitude”

Make gratitude a daily practice — it just takes a few seconds to close your eyes, remember someone or something, and say thanks.

7. Commuting & 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. 

Studies have found that long-distance commuters and users of public transportation have lower happiness levels. The stress of traffic, the monotony of public transport, and the sheer time loss seem to take a toll on their emotional well-being.

On the other side, many recent reports suggest remote workers are less stressed and generally happier than their commuting counterparts.

Nicholas Bloom from the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR), who wrote How working from home works out, often gets asked, “Should we get rid of our office?”

Further Reading: Science-backed Books On Happiness

  1. Happier” by Tal Ben-Shahar
  2. Authentic Happiness” by Martin Seligman
  3. Stumbling on Happiness” by Daniel Gilbert
  4. The How of Happiness” by Sonja Lyubomirsky
  5. Positive Psychology in a Nutshell” by Ilona Boniwell

Final Words

Finally, don’t pursue happiness.

Happiness slips away when you go after it. Rather, accept that happiness comes in tides – in ebbs and flows, like other emotions.

how to sustain happiness
Happiness comes in tides

Once you realize this, you give yourself permission to experience all emotions without desperately trying to hold on to one.

When you’re done reading, take action. Try a few ways above. Make happiness an intentional event, rather than a random one.

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