Can happiness be a goal?

The poet Burton Hills once wrote, “Happiness is not a destination, it’s a method of life.”

Most of us have disparate ideas and missions in our quest toward the meaning and quality of good living, but all of us would agree that happiness stands boldly at the top of the list of the things that we want in life.

Of the letters I receive from ordinary Americans, hundreds open with, “My life is in a rut,” “I’m stuck,” “jammed,” “stalled,” “on a treadmill,” “overextended,” “underappreciated,” “overwhelmed”…and “unhappy.”

Despite all that we have been told over the years, the ways to help us find the coveted state of happiness, “live every day as if it’s our last,” “live in the moment,” “stop and smell the roses,” “seek and you shall find,” few of us seem to have learned how to make those old adages operate in our daily lives.

If we were to actually believe that a phrase or a simple thought applied to our lives could move us toward significant positive change, we might refrain from ignoring it and actually try to make a change.

Now is your chance to put words into action.

Use the seven tips below, and the bonus tip, to help you move toward happiness.

CHANGE YOUR THINKING PATTERN: Instead of spending so much of your time thinking about all the things you don’t have that would make you happy, spend your time thinking of all the things you do have already that make you happy.

THINK ABOUT THE JOURNEY: As you map out what you want in life and how you’re going to get it, focus on the experiences you have getting there. It really is the journey of getting there that becomes the meat of your experience and holds the most happiness.

DO LESS, FEEL MORE: It’s not the accomplishment of our tasks that brings happiness, but the moments we experience while doing them. Focus on less tasking and more experiences.

LISTEN TO YOURSELF: Following your gut has been scientifically proven to make people feel happier. Listen to the pangs you get: Call the person who has been on your mind. Lend a hand when the spirit moves you. And make use of what is there to serve you, your intuition and your instincts. Listen to yourself and act on it.

USE POSITIVE THINKING: Those who see the glass as half empty have to turn it around and not only see the glass as half full, but love what’s in it. Anyone can find a way to be positive. The opposite, negativism, is a brutal habit to break. It takes commitment and discipline, but the results are life changing. We aren’t born skeptical, cynical and negative. We learned those traits, so go ahead and learn the other side!

ATTITUDE IS KEY: The only way to permanently increase your happiness is to have the right attitude. Our attitude is the guide to almost everything we experience. Check in with yourself to see if you have a positive, hopeful and open attitude across the board. Attitude is the true dictator of your responses, which lead to your feelings and, ultimately, your happiness. Even the slightest of shifts in attitude can bring significant results.

STAY IN THE MOMENT: We know this, we hear it, we even try to attempt it, but often we fail. If we’re so worried about what’s going to happen next, we will miss what is happening now. It is a simple-yet-profound concept. The English poet D.H. Lawrence summarized it nicely when he said, “I got the blues thinking of the future, so I left off and made some marmalade.” It’s amazing how it cheers one up to shred oranges and scrub the floor. Find your moments and stay in them.

EASE UP ON YOURSELF: Most of us know all too well that when life becomes the most difficult, we often think only of ourselves. The single easiest way to find immediate joy and happiness is to do something for someone else. What we gain in a true moment of doing something for someone else can have immeasurable impact on the part of us that seeks happiness. Go open a door for someone, offer your ear, your baked goods, your bicycle. Just do something that focuses on someone else, and then wait for the return.

And, one last thing, if you do nothing else, try to remember to smile. It’s the first thing we do when we feel happy. It’s been confirmed that the act of smiling increases feelings of genuine contentment. So go ahead and smile more than you have been, it takes nothing beyond the thought to do it!

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