These Four Steps Can Help You Increase Your Happiness

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Discover how to find joy in the small, everyday moments of life with this simple but powerful framework.

Discover how to find joy in the small, everyday moments of life with this simple but powerful framework.

It’s three weeks before we move and I’m restless. I spend time I should be working or doing other important tasks distracted, thinking about how great our new place will be, how it’s the start of a new adventure for us, itching to make it our own, and wishing that 21-day period could just hurry and be over already because I. Am. Ready.At that moment, I am feeling so impatient that if I could speed up time, I would skip the intervening three weeks of my life to get to the part where the magic happens. As the title of one of my daughter's books says, 'Waiting Is Not Easy!' But, while in this state of frustrated impatience, I’m overlooking the fact the thing that is driving me to distraction right now is actually an important component of enjoying the experience: anticipation.In her book, The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin outlines what she calls “The Four Stages of Happiness.” As Elisabeth Kubler-Ross described the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance), Gretchen suggests there are similar stages for experiencing and processing positive events in our lives too. According to her research, to maximise our happiness from an event or experience, we need to:

  1. Anticipate it

  2. Savour it as it unfolds

  3. Express happiness

  4. Recall a happy memory

This series of steps struck a chord with me. When I look back on times I’ve rushed to get to the good part, hurried a resolution (however positive), or been impatient for the good experience to happen already, it’s left me feeling flat afterwards—like somehow even though I’ve experienced the good, I’ve also missed something along the way.My impatience during the anticipation stage, my desire for the waiting to be over already, risks squashing any joy I might also experience from this. Then, savouring the experience as it unfolds… let’s just say this too is also a work in progress. I love having all my ducks in a row, knowing what I’m doing, where I’m going, and how I’m getting from A to B (shout out to my fellow Myers-Briggs J types!). Not knowing or having to wait on someone or something else to figure these things out is less likely to leave me feeling wild and free and more likely to leave me feeling grumpy and frustrated.But as I wrote about here, sometimes the best things come out of a change in plans, uncertainty, disruption, and situations with multiple possible outcomes. This is where I think the “as it unfolds” part of stage two is important. While I’m savouring the moment (...but only as long as it goes to plan and matches the vision in my head) I’m missing out on the opportunities for different kinds of joy, unanticipated happiness, and being present in the moment, rather than getting wrapped up in my thoughts about how things should be different.I've found stages three and four feel more natural. I love sharing joyful experiences with the people who are closest to me, and part of the joy I get from them is talking about how joyful they are! As a culture, we have this tendency to put a lid on our joy and to view unreserved expressions of enthusiasm as uncool or somehow untamed. Why?! I find joyful experiences that much richer when I’m around people who are expressing their enjoyment of and enthusiastic about the experience, and I try to be that person around others too. I’ve also found tools like gratitude journaling to be helpful for becoming more mindful and expressive of the joyful aspects of my life.The recall is also something that brings me happiness. Even small rituals like sitting down with my husband in the evening to trade videos and photos we’ve each taken of my daughter during the day increase my overall joy quota enormously. My monthly and yearly reviews are a precious opportunity to review the good things about last 30+ days. I also collect snippets of video most days to add to the 1 Second Everyday app, which allows you to create video montages of weeks, months, or years of memories.Everyone experiences happiness in different ways and I’m aware not everyone will fit with or relate to these stages or this kind of framework. But I share because I’ve found it helpful to think about these four stages and how I’m experiencing them in my life. Paying more attention to this has increased the level of joy and satisfaction I experience on a daily basis.The seeds for the most profound experiences of happiness don’t come from big life events. They are there, being planted in the small moments, routines, and rituals of my life each day.I hope it’s helpful for you too!How do you experience each of these four stages? Do you have any suggestions to share that have helped you enjoy and experience each stage more deeply? Leave a comment and share your thoughts!Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash