The 4 Key Secrets to a Happier Life According to an Expert

They may be more simple than you think.

By: Dominique Michelle Astorino

The pursuit of happiness… is there anything more valuable to the human experience? At the core of virtually all our desires, lies the desire to feel happy. Wealth, health, love… these are all things that ultimately make us happy. But happiness doesn’t have to be so hard to grasp, despite what the struggles of everyday life might lead us to think. 

If you’re searching for ways to feel happier, why not consult an expert in the very subject? Most therapists — be they LMFTs, PsyDs, PhDs, or MDs — spend their academic and professional careers in an effort to help the general population feel (and live) happier. 

One particular expert in this arena is clinical psychologist Kevin Gilliland, Psy.D, based in Dallas, Texas. He’s the author of two books that aim to help the reader feel better every day: Struggle Well, Live Well: 60 Ways to Navigate Life’s Good, Bad, and In-between, and Progress Not Perfection. And that’s on top of working with individuals and organizations on a daily basis, sharing (and researching) ways to feel more happiness in life. 

RELATED: The 10 Best Finnish Habits We Should Adopt From The Happiest Country in The World

Four Happiness Secrets, From the Expert

Ahead, Dr. Gilliland shares his personal advice — what he uses himself, and what he shares with patients and clients. 

Tip 1: Embrace the ‘Fight’

The human experience is inherently fraught with struggle, so you’ve gotta be prepared to put in a little work. As Dr. Gilliland puts it, “I fight to capture happiness every day.” The word fight itself implies that happiness doesn’t always come naturally… So if you’re struggling, understand that this is completely normal, and there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with you!

On that note, the concept or advice to simply “be happy,” can feel quite frustrating. Dr. Gilliland is here to confirm that he personally deals with this frustration as well. 

“I have to fight daily,” he says, “And yes, it is a fight, because personally, if I don’t go after it, my mind will hang on to all sorts of things that aren’t going to lead to happiness.” He points out that it’s extremely easy to fall into all sorts of mental traps that can lead to bad moods or a poor life outlook. Recognizing that happiness sometimes requires real effort is the first step to achieving it more regularly.

Tip 2: Release the Negative (Don’t Dwell!)

If you tend to ruminate, this one can be a challenge, but it’s one of his best tips. Dr. Gilliland also deals with this as an individual, so he can speak from a personal POV as well as give his professional insight. 

“Don’t hang on to your worst moment or worst day to judge [the quality of] your life,” he says. “Again, my mind seems to be able to do that without any effort, so I have to put forth the effort to have a short memory about things not going as planned or hoped.” It’s similar to Ted Lasso’s advice when things go awry… Have the 10-second memory of a goldfish!

This is a mindset practice, but try to catch yourself in any negative thought spirals. Do your best to actively release those feelings, and redirect your focus. It’s much easier said than done, but entirely achievable with practice. 

Tip 3: “Be Fair” 

“One of the enemies of happiness is being biased in a negative way,” says Dr. Gilliland. “Sure, some things happen that we all regret… or that wish went differently. So? Some things also went really well and good,” he points out. “Keep [those good moments in your mind] as well; don’t ignore them or dismiss them. We have to hang on to those moments like we seem to hang on to the not-so-happy moments. Be fair.”

This, again, is a shift in focus. And you must ask yourself, “Am I looking at my life in a fair way?”

You can have a loved one act as a referee, or unbiased outside source if you need some help with your perspective. “Try to have someone in your life who reminds you of the good things, the happy things… because we need those people in our life,” he adds. “And be that person in someone else’s life, because that helps the habit grow in our life.”

Tip 4: The Trifecta of Basics: Food, Movement, Sleep

So we’ve got three tips on mindset, now we have a three-pronged approach to your physical body, which in turn (as you well know by now) affects your emotional ‘body.’

Dr. Gilliland lives by a personal adage he shares with his patients, clients, and colleagues: “Food is fuel, movement is medicine, sleep is power.” 

Sometimes happiness is an existential struggle, and sometimes it’s just on the other side of chronic sleep deprivation. Or a nutritional deficiency. Or a lack of physical activity!

Just as it can be easy to fall into mental traps of negativity, it can also be painfully easy to neglect the basics of self-care. 

Take inventory. What’s your nutrition looking like these days? This doesn’t mean you have to start a ‘happiness diet,’ just take a look at what you’re eating, and identify if anything could be improved for your overall well-being. If you’re dealing with something more serious than a bout of blues (say, depression or anxiety), it could be worth getting a comprehensive micronutrient panel with your physician. 

Then, assess your movement routine. Are you getting out for walks and fresh air? When was the last time you worked out? Do you need to add in a new type of exercise to your routine? Fortunately, we’ve got you covered there… With thousands of workouts and various exercise categories and instructors, you can find what works best for you in the FitOn app

Finally, examine your sleep patterns. Tens of millions of Americans are chronically sleep deprived (at least one in three, according to the CDC… almost 85 million people). There’s a strong likelihood that if you’re reading this, and you too are an American adult, you’re working with a “sleep debt,” as Dr. Gilliland puts it. “No amount of medication or counseling can make up for a serious sleep deficit.”

Before trying to biohack your way to bliss (no need to jump in a cold plunge pool or put butter in your coffee just yet!), consider evaluating your basics, and seeing if you can improve on these fundamental components. 

Simple, But Not Always Easy

If all this still feels like a struggle, try your best to keep working toward your own personal joy. “In the end, happiness has to be protected and nurtured every day,” says Dr. Gilliland. Don’t give up. Yes, it’s easier said than done… but you can do this. Happiness is within reach.