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How to be happy

Words by Nathan Irvine and Dr. Vedrana Mladina

Don't worry, be happy

Even before COVID-19 came into our lives, staying positive and happy was a struggle for many. Modern life is full of invisible pressures and stresses that you don't even realise exist until you take a step back to look at it all.

But what actually is happiness and how can you measure it? We spoke to Dr. Vedrana Mladina, Associate Director of Counseling and Clinical Psychologist at NYU Abu Dhabi to find out how to identify and maintain being happy.

"From the outset, let’s make an important distinction. There is a difference between hedonic happiness - the experiences of pleasure and enjoyment - and eudaimonic happiness, which is achieved through experiences of meaning and purpose." Dr. Mladina says.

"The problem with hedonic happiness, which we often see promoted in society, is that it is never enough, and it is also attached to external circumstances that are subject to change." Dr. Mladina continues. "This is why social media can be so potentially damaging - we get attached to external validation. And we've seen how, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many of our external sources of pleasure were taken away, forcing us to rely on our own internal resources."

Here are some tips on how you can make yourself happier from Dr. Mladina.

Dr. Vedrana Mladina, Associate Director of Counseling and Clinical Psychologist at NYU Abu Dhabi

Find meaning

We need to focus on the longer-term goal of finding meaning, because a meaningful life is a good life – and sometimes a happy life. This will help you deal with the suffering that everyone will endure at some stage. So what is meaningful in your life? What are your values? How can you gain a sense of accomplishment, rather than achievement?

Stay connected

Taking care of your family is an obvious place to start. A famous Harvard study, which began in 1938 and is still ongoing, found good relationships to be a major predictor of a long life. We are hardwired for belonging and connectedness. For the same reason, acts of service, feeling useful in society, doing good work, are all important. What we do - our actions - eventually affects how we think and feel.

Give yourself a break

Learning to be more compassionate is also a vital skill. Self-compassion helps us be less judgmental of ourselves and therefore more tolerant of others and less competitive. The high-achieving mindset that is so prevalent today can be very limiting when external events derail those plans. The more rigid we are, the less helpful it is to our wellbeing. Compassion helps because it fosters an acceptance that we are not perfect.

Learn to adapt

You can only manage the kind of hardship and stress that we all face right now by being able to adapt to new circumstances. So we have to learn to accept what we cannot change, even if we do not like it. One helpful acronym to develop this skill, which some top athletes and business managers use, is ‘CIA’ (Control Influence Accept) stress management model. You focus only on what is controllable. You influence what is within your power to influence. And then you accept everything else for what it is.


From a young age, men are sometimes discouraged from being overly emotional. As a result they may not be equipped to articulate what their needs are because they are not familiar giving voice to their emotions. So, try to notice your emotions. Be open for communication and recognise that we ultimately all feel in the same way, and we have similar needs. Let's focus on what we have in common, and we will all find that we are more relatable and connected.

Be present

Mindfulness is essentially just being present in the moment, but it will help you implement the tools outlined above. We hear a lot about meditating, which is undoubtedly useful but is also very difficult for a lot of people given we have literally tens of thousands of thoughts going through our head per day. However, there are many other ways to be more present. You can practice mindful walking, observing the world around you with all your different senses. You can cook, paint, or even wash your hands in a mindful way. Just paying attention and being in the moment helps give your brain a rest and fosters a sense of inner peace.

This will help to focus on aligning your actions with your core values, and finding meaning in the smallest of things. Because that’s what a good life - and hopefully a happy life – ultimately consists of.

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