Designing a Happy Life

Have you ever noticed what you think will make you happy really doesn’t make you happy?

Maybe you’ve recently reached a goal or fulfilled a dream. You finally published that book, married your first love, lost 20 pounds, or started a new business.

So why don’t you feel on top of the world?

Perhaps it’s because in reality selling books takes a lot of promoting, marriage is work, thinner people still have problems, and starting a business is stressful.

Searching HappinessSometimes goal-oriented, ambitious, thoughtful, and driven people are so busy reflecting on what makes a meaningful life and striving for happiness that they miss the whole point.

Other people are creatures of habit going through life on autopilot and don’t notice which daily activities actually make them feel good, bring them joy and feelings of pleasure, or give them a true sense of purpose.

That’s the theory of Paul Dolan, a professor at the London School of Economics, author of Happiness by Design, government well-being adviser, and one of the world’s leading happiness scholars. And yes, that’s a real job and a field of study.

“I think we should be paying attention to how we feel day-to-day and moment-to-moment,” Dolan said in an interview for Fast Company. “We do a lot of what we do because we’ve always done it, not because it is good for us or because we enjoy it.”

Do either one of those scenarios in the beginning of this article ring true for you? If so, how can you design a happy life?

Do a Happy Audit

Focusing too much on your happiness can backfire and actually make you feel unhappy. So, Dolan suggests in his book that you take one day a week or month to observe yourself and tune into what you are doing, who you are doing it with, and how it makes you feel. Of course, in our modern world, there are even free apps to help you do this as I pointed out in a previous blog.

Whether you use an app or a simple piece of paper, do a quick happiness audit and see what activities stress you out or make you angry and which activities bring you peace and contentment. Then design your life so it’s easier to do the things that make you happy.

In other words, create more happy moments in your life. Yes, it’s a simple and basic idea but it can work.

Making Happiness Easier

Sometimes, relatively small changes can make us happier.

In the past, I typically watched the news or read a newspaper in the morning, but in reality, the news depressed me. I started work by reading and answering emails, but it was a stressful way to begin the day. When I wrote for a long period of time, I began to sit and spin my wheels until my head hurt.

Just a few small changes and my life improves.

Now, I start my day by reading something inspirational and spiritual. I make it easier with an app on my phone. I listen to music as I begin to work. I make it easier with a playlist. I get up and take an afternoon walk which actually helps me think more creatively. I make it easier by keeping my walking shoes next to my desk.

You get my drift. If you love spending time with a friend, set up a regular monthly date so you don’t have to constantly schedule time to meet. If you want to eat healthier, fill your kitchen with fruits and vegetables. If you feel better when you exercise, choose a gym close to your house and put workout dates in your calendar.

Make happiness easier.

Bigger Changes

Other times, larger and harder changes are in order.

For example, maybe your job is making your life miserable, but the idea of changing careers is overwhelming.

Dolan has a good idea. Don’t ask yourself if you should take that new job. Instead, ask someone you are close to with good judgement. A friend or family member won’t likely be swayed by indecision and anxiety and can give you an honest answer. Try phrasing the question like this: “How do you think my day-to-day life will be in a couple of months if I take the new job?” A loved one you trust can provide an unbiased opinion and support.

Dolan says that it is worth confronting these realities because escaping unhappy situations can have an enormously positive impact on your mood and your health in the long term, even though the short term transition might be painful. The key, he says, is to be gentle with yourself and not rush into major life changes.

So happiness doesn’t have to be elusive or hard to achieve. Don’t overthink it. Instead, simply pay attention to those blissful moments and make the necessary changes to put more of those moments in your life.

“Listen more to your real feelings of happiness than to your reflections on how happy you think you are or ought to be,” Dolan writes in his book.

Most of us would benefit from that advice.

Image courtesy of iosphere at


Julie A. Gorges is the author of two young adult novels, Just Call Me Goody Two Shoes and Time to Cast Away and co-author of Residential Steel Design and Construction published by McGraw Hill. In addition, hundreds of her articles and short stories have been published in national and regional magazines, and she received three journalism awards from the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association while working as a newspaper reporter. Julie currently lives in southern California with her husband, Scott, and has two grown children and three grandchildren.

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7 Responses

  1. Julie, mastery of what I take in (mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually) is the name of the game these days. The vibration level of what I eat, read, watch impacts how I feel, what I think, and how I react. The vibration of the interactions I have and the people I choose to be around is critical as well.

    When I monitor my intake and when I’m intentional about how I choose to think, speak, and act, the world is a better place. For me and everyone whose path I cross.


  2. Oh, I meant to close with this: Garbage in, garbage out. Goodness in, goodness out.


  3. Thanks Julie for your post. I enjoyed the points you made about the happy audit and making happiness easier. It really is all about slowing down long enough to be mindful of how we are feeling in the moment and following the energy that takes us towards bliss and joy. We need to embrace the present moment as this is where we are now. Wonderful! Thank you again! -Stacey

  4. Ellen Thomas says:

    YES! More moments of happiness, Julie! Add to that believing that you deserve to be happy and fulfilled, and it makes it so much more attainable. By shifting the limiting beliefs that are blocking you from your joy, more happiness will easily and effortlessly flow into your life. 🙂

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