Embracing happiness & optimism


How to be happy and optimistic.

Well, isn’t that the million dollar question!

In a guest post from speaker, educator and coach on thriving workplaces, Anna Glynn explores these two concepts – happiness and optimism – and talks through how we can try and accomplish both. Because after all, aren’t these the outcomes we’re all trying to achieve in life?

What is happiness?

What does it take to be happy? Truly happy? And what even is happiness?

Happiness is a topic that has been explored since the days of Artistotle, and is still being studied by many researchers around the world.

Although it can appear pretty simple at first, when you really think about it, happiness is quite complex.

It’s an incredibly subjective concept so what makes one person happy isn’t necessarily going to make the person beside you feel happy too. Often what comes to mind for many people when considering happiness is the hedonic version. Those things we do for in-the-moment pleasure like buying a new pair of shoes, eating chocolate, moving into the dream home, or indulging in the latest gadget. Yet any good feelings we gain from these types of indulgences are often short lived. And what tends to happen soon after is that we return to our ‘baseline’ or typical level of happiness. The ‘shiny and new’ feelings simply wear off, and we’re left looking for something to make us feel happy again. A bit like a hamster on a wheel, we’re constantly chasing things to live a ‘happy life’ without ever truly getting any closer to actually being happier.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t desire such pleasures; there’s benefits in experiencing the positive emotions that they conjure. But just know, they’re not going to bring the long-lasting happiness that perhaps you’re seeking.

On the other hand, the happiness we achieve when we pursue our purpose in life can be meaningful and fulfilling, and something that can be much longer lasting. This type of happiness refers to eudaimonism, which is about the actualisation of human potential. It’s focused on challenging oneself, achieving personal growth or contributing to something greater than you are. This typically takes longer to achieve but provides a much deeper sense of satisfaction than the hedonic version of happiness.

So which type of happiness should we be pursuing?

Both. It’s best to have a combination of these two types to achieve a greater level of happiness overall.

And the two aren’t mutually exclusive. So just as yin and yang describes how seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary to one another, the same could be said for hedonic and eudaimonic happiness. Both are just as worthy as each other and when combined, they are a force to be reckoned with!

There are many activities that you can do to increase your happiness. But not all suggestions will work for everyone all of the time. Because science only tells us what works for the majority of people, the majority of the time. So, the idea is for you to be a guinea pig and test some things out, including the activities suggested below, to see what works for you.

How can you be happier?

Practice acts of kindness

Happier people are kind towards others, which makes them feel good and the recipients feel good at the same time. And kindness is contagious so the more people witness kindness, the more inclined they are to spread it on.

Avoid over-thinking and social comparison

Those who are happier tend to use strategies to distract themselves from negative thoughts and reduce how often they ruminate on their problems, and have in place protection mechanisms to stop comparing themselves to others.

Commit to your goals

People who are happy put in effort and time to accomplish the goals that matter most to them no matter how big or small. And remember that often the pursuit of goals is just as enjoyable as achieving them!

What is optimism?

According to Simon Sinek, the global speaker and author, “optimism is not the denial of the current state. Optimism is the belief that the future is bright”. As Sinek suggests, optimism can be considered as a belief system, which means it relates to the way we think. And because our thoughts are incredibly powerful (especially our positive thoughts) they drive what we do and how we feel.

Optimists think that what’s to come will be better, so they tend to put more effort into the present and adopt a positive outlook. They also try harder when there are setbacks because of their initial belief that things will eventually improve. On the other hand, pessimists don’t tend to have favourable expectations about the future, so they put in less effort. And when there are bumps in the road, they’re more likely to give up because of their negative outlook, which is why they don’t achieve the benefits that come with being optimistic.

Optimism plays a critical role in how resilient we are and how we manage stress. Optimists tend to be more energetic, they have greater wellbeing, are physically healthier, and have better quality and longer-lasting relationships because they’re easier to be around so more people are drawn to them. They are more likely receive better academic grades at school and university, perform better at sports too, and earn more income later in life (depending on the job of course).

As you can see, there’s definitely a silver lining to adopting an optimistic and positive outlook.

Focus on what you can control.

The only things we can control are our thoughts, emotions and behaviours. As we can’t control everything else, especially those parts that are stressful, we need to try to push them to the side and forget about them. Instead we need to focus on all the things that we can control, which is what optimists tend to do.

Be more grateful

Optimists are more likely to be grateful for all that they have, as opposed to focusing on what they don’t have and the negative thoughts that could flow from this. A good way to practise expressing gratitude is spending time capturing what you’re thankful  for each day and why, and then repeat this exercise over time. Maybe start with a gratitude journal.

Use humour

Putting a smile on your own or someone else’s face is not just a distraction from a grim reality, but a strategy that optimists adopt to stay healthy in the face of it. It also gives people an invitation to have fun and generate more positive thoughts around them in their daily lives.

How are happiness and optimism related?

If we’re happier, are we more optimistic? Or if we’re optimistic, are we more happy? Is happiness the underpinning of optimism or is optimism an underpinning of happiness?

What we know is that happier people tend to be more optimistic and optimistic people tend to be happier. Optimism is deemed to be a set of thoughts that then impacts what we do and how we feel. Whereas happiness is related to our emotions and feelings.

When we’re optimistic, we tend to experience more positive emotions and think of things in a more positive light. The experience of positivity is one aspect of happiness, when discussed as subjective wellbeing. Subjective wellbeing is often thought of as the experience of frequent positivity (less negative thinking), and a positive evaluation of one’s life. In this way, this type of happiness is typically considered as a hedonic as opposed to a eudaimonic concept.

Additionally, optimists tend to have a more positive mindset and greater satisfaction with their lives, which relates to the other component of subjective wellbeing. So, the two concepts are related but they’re not the same.

To achieve greater wellbeing and move closer towards thriving, we need both happiness and optimism. And the good news is that we can learn to become both more optimistic and happier, by practising the evidence-backed practices previously outlined.

Can there be too much of a good thing?

Of course. Striving to be more optimistic and happier, although both great for our wellbeing, does come with a word of caution.

There is such thing as too much optimism. This relates to the ‘Polyanna Principle’ – hopefully you remember the red-haired freckle-faced girl who always looked on the bright side of life. Having what’s called an optimism bias, or being too Pollyanna-ish can cause people to have a false sense of security and underestimate potential risks to themselves. So, we want to be what’s called a realistic optimistic, someone with an optimistic outlook who looks forward to a positive future but is aware of the current reality and challenges that exist.

Additionally, those who constantly chase happiness can end up being less content with their lives. People who are always happy aren’t always in touch with reality, which may lead them to engage in risky behaviours. If we’re constantly striving for more positivity too, we may ignore or try and remove the negative emotions from our lives. Yet negativity is important, we need the dark to enjoy the light, and these can support us to grow and learn.

Pursuing greater happiness and optimism leads to many benefits and positive outcomes so they are extremely worthy pursuits. And the more we know about the topics, the more able and motivated we may be to achieving both!

For more information and articles from Anna you can visit her website or her LinkedIn.

Anna Glynn is a speaker, author and coach. With a decade of experience in the financial services sector including leadership roles, Anna has a solid track record of translating research into actionable strategies that empower people to be their best. Her first book, STRONG: How the best sales leaders engage, achieve, and thrive, was published in 2024. Anna's passion is to support people to achieve their goals, drive positive change and maximise their potential. You can find out more about here.

Anna Glynn

Scroll to Top