Be happy: The number one trick to living your best life

Want to know the secret to living a truly fulfilling life? Here’s a hint: it’s not about you.

Want to live a meaningful life?

Forget flashy material possessions, and don’t expect it to be all good times and giggles.

A truly fulfilling existence is one where we have an impact and leave a positive mark on others’ lives, according to a University of Zurich study.

How to flourish in life

Dr Timothy Sharp, chief happiness officer at The Happiness Institute, says the research highlights some of the principal pillars of positive psychology – one being that meaning and purpose is important.

“What it also highlights is that when it comes to real happiness, real thriving and flourishing in life, it’s not just about me, me, me – it’s not just about achieving for myself,” Dr Sharp says.

“It shows that it’s great to set goals, and it’s great to achieve something, but it’s even better if those things have a positive impact on a wider audience or on your broader community, or even in the world at large.”

Help others to find fulfilment

Helping others is a key factor in feeling fulfilled says University of Melbourne professor of psychology Nick Haslam.

“Although a lot of messages you get are to maximise your income or rise up the corporate tree as fast as possible or acquire as many possessions as possible, the things that actually lead to lasting fulfilment are more things you did for others,” Prof Haslam says.

“The whole idea of a legacy is how you contributed something broader to society, rather than just to yourself.”

Prof Haslam says making a difference could involve any number of things from, say, writing a book, to volunteering in a community organisation.

“They’re (the Swiss researchers) not saying there’s any recipe for this,” he says.

The important thing, Prof Haslam says, is to help future generations in some way – or anyone beyond yourself – in a way that aligns with your values.

How doing your best can make a difference

Making a positive impact can be as straightforward as being a good person – for example being a kind and compassionate partner, child, friend or colleague, says Dr Sharp.

“As a parent myself I’m a bit biased, but in some ways being a positive parent is one of the most important things we can do because that sets up other positive people, who will then go and have their own positive influence.”

Either way, he says leaving a legacy doesn’t have to be about changing the world – maybe just your little corner of it.

How to identify your legacy

Dr Sharp says some trial and error can help you monitor what leads to fulfilment.

He suggests looking at your diary for everything you’ve done in the past few weeks – and what’s planned – and list the activities that will bring some sense of pleasure and satisfaction.

“Then think ‘how can you maximise those activities’?” Dr Sharp says.

Another helpful exercise is to think forward to a future age, and imagine what you’d like to have created for the benefit of others, says Prof Haslam.

“What kind of legacy would you want to be able to look back on and feel proud about yourself?”

Why you need to commit to your best life

Some activities that lead to fulfilment, such as completing that marathon or PhD, or overcoming adversity, will be “bloody hard work”, says Dr Sharp.

“But when you build up to and hopefully finish that race, that sense of accomplishment is really quite profound,” he says.

“Not everything needs to be fun and joy and giggles and laughs – there are things that require blood, sweat and tears but are worth it in the long run.”

Written by Larissa Ham.