THE BLOG
12/12/2013 04:23 pm ET Updated Feb 09, 2014

Three Keys to Lifelong Happiness

There are myriad ways to ensure you are happy and those things differ for each person. But, there are some basic core lifelong behaviors and attitudes that will ensure you will feel a basic level of happiness for the entirety of your life. Three of these core concepts are being able to feel happy alone, having self-compassion and understanding the concept of synthetic happiness.

The Ability to Be Alone and not Feel Lonely.
Being alone is a positive state where we feel comfortable being and spending time with ourselves. Many people are alone and lead happy lives. Being alone can have its advantages. The creative person craves time alone. The process of writing, building, painting or any other creative process only occurs when we create a space to be in solitude. It is difficult to do meditation, affirmations or any self work unless you are alone and focus on yourself. And developing our spirituality also involves having private conversations and prayer.

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The feeling of being lonely is a negative state where one feels left out, disenfranchised, or excluded. There is a void that needs to be filled. It is important to develop the ability to be alone with yourself at a young age. Young people experience fluctuations in mood and have a need to be occupied. They are often bored and restless to the point of being unhappy for no apparent reason. When they are not sought after and included in all activities of their peers, their self-esteem takes a hit.

Their work, our work, is to get to a place where we are confortable in solitude and to understand its benefits on self growth. This means you have to be in a place where you like and even love yourself. You can start feeling comfortable being alone by developing activities to do when you are alone. These things could include writing, reading, painting, exercising, sewing, enrolling in a class to learn something new, meditating, or caring for a pet. The point is that you spend time with yourself in activities that you enjoy. You can also spend time alone reflecting or thinking about the happy times in your life, brainstorming a new idea or approach to a problem, or watching a great movie. Soon you will appreciate the calm and joy you can experience when you are just being with yourself.

The Ability to Have Self.
Compassion: Everyone has the desire to feel special. The problem is that by definition it's impossible for everyone to be above average at the same time. Although there are some ways in which we excel, there is always someone smarter, more attractive, and more successful. Most of us are incredibly hard on ourselves when we finally admit some flaw or shortcoming or we are not at our best. So what is the remedy? To stop judging and evaluating ourselves altogether and to have compassion for ourselves.

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Dr. Kristin Neff and her colleagues at the University of Texas have conducted research on self -compassion that shows that self-compassion is a powerful way to achieve emotional well-being and contentment, helping us avoid destructive patterns of fear, negativity, and isolation. When we soothe our agitated minds with self-compassion, we're better able to notice what's right as well as what's wrong, so that we can orient ourselves toward that which gives us joy.

As defined by Neff, self-compassion entails three core components. First, it requires self-kindness, that we be gentle and understanding with ourselves rather than harshly critical and judgmental. Second, it requires recognition of our common humanity, feeling connected with others in the experience of life rather than feeling isolated and alienated by our suffering. Third, it requires mindfulness -- that we hold our experience in balanced awareness, rather than ignoring our pain or exaggerating it. We must achieve and combine these three essential elements in order to be truly self-compassionate.

This means that the good feelings of self-compassion do not depend on being special and above average, or on meeting ideal goals. Instead, they come from caring about ourselves -- fragile and imperfect yet magnificent as we are. Rather than pitting ourselves against other people in an endless comparison game, we embrace what we share with others and feel more connected and whole in the process.

It does take work to break the self-criticizing habits of a lifetime. But at the end of the day, you are only being asked to relax, allow life to be as it is, and open your heart to yourself. It's easier than you might think, and it could change your life.

The Ability to Develop Synthetic Happiness.
Harvard psychologist Dr. Dan Gilbert says that you "synthesize" your happiness. This means that you have a "psychological immune system" that helps you change your views about your world, in order to feel better about the world in which you find yourself. Synthetic happiness is what we produce when we don't get what we want, and natural happiness is what we experience when we do. They have different origins, but they are not necessarily different in terms of how they feel. One is not obviously better than the other. Not only that, he also maintains that when we imagine what could make us happy, such as new clothes or winning the lottery our brains are invariably wrong in advising us that those things will make us happy. In fact, according to Gilbert, statistics show that paraplegics are just as happy as lottery winners one year after the event of either becoming injured or winning the lottery!

We tend to think that getting things such as a job, a new car, or a trip around the world is what will make us happy. However, according to Gilbert, studies have shown that we make ourselves happy by simply imagining that we are happy. So getting what we want doesn't actually have anything to do with being happy. Yes, a new house or a new spouse will make you happier, but not much and not for long. As it turns out, people are not very good at predicting what will make them happy and how long that happiness will last. They expect positive events to make them much happier than those events actually do.

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According to Gilbert, your prefrontal cortex works as an experience simulator, which means you can imagine an experience in your head before you try it out in real life. The problem is that your simulator works rather poorly. In reality, gaining or losing something turns out to have far less impact and duration than you expect them to have. After about three months, the event (or item) has virtually no impact on your happiness.

Additionally, according to Gilbert, your belief that being able to change your mind will increase your happiness turns out to be completely false. Your "psychological immune system" actually works best when you're totally stuck, when there's no turning back and making other choices, because that is when your mind can find a way to be happy with your reality. Too many choices just make people stressed and unable to be happy with the choice they eventually make.

I have synthesized happiness. I did not choose or want to be visually impaired, but when faced with my new reality I found that there's a whole new life on the other side. And I have found many things about my new life that are quite good. I have even found a few things that are better than what I had before. This does not mean I am lying to myself or delusional. I am and you will discover things you didn't know -- couldn't know until you were in that new life. You can look for things that make your new life better, you will find them, and they will make you happy.