“The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance; the wise grows it under his feet.” - James Openheim
Advice on how to be happy used to be the purview of self-help gurus. However, over the past few years scientists and psychologists have begun to give serious study to the subject of happiness. Although they’ve discovered that about 50% of happiness is determined by a person’s genes, and another 8 to 10% by life’s circumstances–such as income, health, and marital status–, the remaining 40% is up for grabs. In addition, scientists have found several ways to create true happiness, six of which are explained below.
1. Find Meaning
The concept “eudaimonia” is a key term in ancient Greek moral philosophy which means striving toward excellence based on one’s unique talents and potential. Dr. Martin Seligman, founder of “Positive Psychology”—a new branch of psychology that studies what makes people feel fulfilled, engaged, and happy—argues that in order to create lasting happiness we should figure out our strengths and find ways to direct them toward achieving meaningful goals. In addition, Richard J. Davidson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison indicates that the positive emotions that accompany thoughts of having purpose in our lives is one of the most enduring components of well-being.
2. Increase Daily Pleasures
Adopt the belief that your happiness is something that you can design and have control over. One of the tools being used by proponents of “Positive Psychology” to measure happiness is the Day-Reconstruction Method. This method instructs participants to fill out a long diary and questionnaire detailing everything they do on a particular day. The next day, consulting the diary, they relive each activity and rate how they felt at the time.
By analyzing your life in this way you can make changes to tip joy in your favor. David Schkade, a psychologist and professor of management at the University of California San Diego, explains that if you transfer even an hour of your day from an activity you dislike, such as commuting or doing housework, to an activity that you enjoy, such as taking a walk, spending time with friends, and so on, you should see a significant improvement in your overall level of happiness.
3. Seek Flow Experiences
“Flow” is a term coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi to describe the state that is reached when you’re so completely absorbed in what you’re doing that you don’t notice the passage of time. That is, nothing else seems to matter: the person is totally unaware of their surroundings, and they’re enjoying the task and having fun engaging in it.
This complete immersion in an experience can occur under many different scenarios, such as when you’re singing in the church choir, dancing, playing bridge, reading a good book, writing, or while closing an important business deal. The flow state can be achieved by knowing what your strengths are, re-crafting your life to use these strengths as much as you possibly can, and becoming fully engaged in what you’re doing.
4. Cultivate a State of Mind Conducive to Happiness
Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar teaches a course at Harvard University on “Positive Psychology” which, at its height, was the university’s most popular offering. One of the tips he offers is to keep in mind that happiness is mostly dependent on our state of mind. That is, barring extreme circumstances, our level of well-being is determined on what we focus on and on how we choose to interpret events.
In addition, Rick Foster and Greg Hicks, co-authors of the book “How We Choose to Be Happy”, found that happiness is not the result of economic or social circumstances, but, rather, how each one of us chooses to react to those circumstances. Practices such as focusing on the bright-side, asking yourself “what can I learn from this?” when something goes wrong, and noticing what’s right, can all help in creating the frame of mind that is conducive to happiness.
5. Practice Acts of Kindness
Sonja Lyubomirsky, a social psychologist at the University of California, Riverside and author of “The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want”, explains that being kind to others—whether friends or strangers—triggers a cascade of positive feelings: it makes you feel compassionate and capable and gives you a greater sense of connection with others, both of which are happiness boosters.
Furthermore, an experiment on more than 630 Americans carried out by a team at the University of British Columbia and Harvard Business School found that the test subjects were measurably happier when they spent money on others. In fact, participants who were assigned to spend money on others experienced greater happiness than those assigned to spend money on themselves. The study also suggests that minor alterations in spending allocations—even as little as $5.00—may be enough to produce real gains in happiness on a given day.
6. Stop thinking “if only . . .”
Thinking that your life would improve dramatically if you got the promotion, won the lottery, got married, and so on, creates dissatisfaction with the present moment and is erroneous thinking on two accounts: first, we tend to overestimate the impact of events in our lives, and second, happiness levels tend to level off due to “hedonistic adaptation.”
Dan Gilbert, author of “Stumbling on Happiness”, explains that people are very poor at predicting how happy they’ll be under different circumstances. For example, most people think that if they made more money they would be a lot happier. However, while there is a big difference in the level of happiness between having no money and having your basic needs met, studies show that the increase in happiness between making $50,000.00 and $500,000.00 is not incredibly significant. At some point, you just stop getting happier from money.
In addition, “hedonic adaptation” is the brain’s natural dimming effect. A new car won’t generate the same amount of pleasure a month after you’ve bought it than it did when it was brand new. You can become very happy when something novel occurs—such as starting a new relationship—but this feeling of happiness ebbs as you get used to the new situation. Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, try counting your blessings.
Pleasure is an important component of life, and decreasing the number of displeasing activities that you undertake, as well as increasing the activities that give you pleasure, will increase your happiness level. However, pleasure does not in and of itself provide happiness. By making your life more meaningful, becoming more engaged in what you do, giving and doing for others, counting your blessings, and focusing on what’s good in a given situation, your life will become progressively happier.
Written by Marelisa Fabrega who blogs at http://abundance-blog.marelisa-online.com.
12 Superb Ways to Be Happier
(”Enjoy”; courtesy of Sator Arepo)
1. Forget the myth that happiness is elusive and unattainable, and that it’s something that either happens or it doesn’t. Being happy is a choice.
2. Expand your understanding of health to include happiness. Here’s a quote from Deepak Chopra, one of the world’s foremost experts on the mind-body connection:
“Health is not just the absence of disease. It’s an inner joyfulness that should be ours all the time – a state of positive well-being.”
3. The term Gross National Happiness (GNH) was first expressed by the King of Bhutan, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, and it’s rooted in the Buddhist notion that the ultimate purpose of life is inner happiness. Wangchuck maintains that economic growth does not necessarily lead to contentment, so instead of merely focusing on Gross Domestic Product (GDP), he focuses on the four pillars of GNH: economic self-reliance, a pristine environment, the preservation and promotion of Bhutan’s culture, and good governance in the form of a democracy. Follow Bhutan’s lead: instead of simply calculating your net worth, start calculating your net happiness.
4. Living in the moment, which we aim to achieve through the practice of mindfulness, has been shown to be linked to positive emotions and physical well-being.
5. Research shows that meditation stimulates the left anterior temporal region of the brain, which is active during sensations of happiness and positive emotion.
6. Enrique Peñalosa, the former mayor of Bogota, Colombia (population 7 million), sought to create a city of joy–in terms of transportation and urban design–that supported social interaction and equity, and that honored the sacredness of people and the environment. During his tenure he created urban infrastructure and public space that gave priority to children and to those who don’t own an automobile. Here is a quote from Peñalosa:
“We had to build a city not for businesses or automobiles, but for children and thus for people. Instead of building highways, we restricted car use. We invested in high-quality sidewalks, pedestrian streets, parks, bicycle paths, libraries; we got rid of thousands of cluttering commercial signs and we planted trees. All our everyday efforts have one objective: happiness.”
Organize your space around the concept of creating happiness.
7. Let go of idea that happiness equals consumption. Positive psychology is affirming that once we meet our basic needs, the experience of authentic happiness has much more to do with intrinsic factors such as self acceptance, meaning, empathy and love.
8. Act in ways that are socially and environmentally responsible. You may take great pleasure in drinking your morning coffee, and this pleasure can be accompanied by feelings of satisfaction and happiness. However, if you’re not drinking fair trade coffee, that happiness is not sustainable.
9. Dan Baker, a clinical psychologist whose practice draws on the science of happiness, writes that the greatest barrier to individual happiness is fear. He concludes that all of our fear can be grouped into three basic fears:
2) Fear of not Having Enough, and;
3) Fear of not Being Enough.
He explains that as long as we are operating out of fear, rather than love, we will consistently pursue happiness in ways that are destructive for ourselves and others.
10. In the book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, McDonough and Braungart pose the following question; “What if humans designed products and systems that celebrate an abundance of human creativity, culture and productivity? That are so intelligent and safe, our species leaves an ecological footprint to delight in, not lament?” Ask yourself how you can apply this concept in your life.
11. Encourage your city’s major to adopt the “Slow City Manifesto”. In his book In Praise of Slow: How a Worldwide Movement Is Challenging the Cult of Speed, Carl Honoré explores the benefits of slowing down and describes the Slow City movement in his first chapter. He explains that many Italian cities have taken the Slow City pledge and are working to improve the quality of life of their citizens:
“The Citta Slow manifesto contains fifty-five pledges, such as cutting noise and traffic, increasing green spaces and pedestrian zones; backing local farmers and the shops, markets and restaurants that sell their produce; promoting technology that protects the environment; preserving local aesthetic and culinary traditions; and fostering a spirit of hospitality and neighbourliness.”
12. Call the “Laughter Yoga Hotline” and participate in a laughter yoga session in the privacy of your home (it’s free, but you may have to pay a long distance fee depending on your phone service plan).
How to Be Happy
Relax. Don’t take yourself too
seriously. Happiness is largely a
choice. Feel gratitude for all of
the good in your life. Smile.
Once you have enough to pay for
life’s basics think to yourself: “I’ve won.” Happiness is contagious: find
someone who is happy and stand close to them. Play. Create. Happiness
is attainable. Slow down and enjoy the scenery. Be spontaneous.
Happiness is perched on your windowsill, invite it in. Success is not the
key to happiness; happiness is the key to success. Surround yourself with
positive, life-affirming people. Make others happy. Have big dreams.
Enjoy the journey. Grab every single morsel of happiness which comes
your way. Be on the look out for moments of pleasure and wonder. Take
care of your body. Be happy right here, right now, while working
towards a better tomorrow. Forget about the Joneses. Forgive. Do for
others. Become absorbed in activities that cause you to enter the
“flow” state: that state where you forget yourself, lose track of time, and
stop worrying. Develop the habit of positive self-talk. Plant a beautiful
garden. Getsunlight and fresh air. Engage your mind in a puzzle:
jigsaw puzzles, sudokus, or crossword puzzles. Listen to music. Make
music. Quiet your mind chatter. Meditate. Practice yoga, tai chi, or
Qigong. Get a box of six Guatemalan worry dolls: before going to bed, tell
one worry to each doll and put them under your pillow; while you sleep,
the dolls will take your troubles away. Make smart money choices.
View difficulties as challenges to be overcome. Remember that it’s not a
good story if there aren’t any dragons. Get involved in a cause that’s
important to you. Have a cat or a dog; pet them often. Perform
random acts of kindness, anonymous or not. Surround yourself with
pleasant smells: jasmine, lavender, sandalwood . . . Put things in
perspective. Go for a brisk walk. Stretch. Go to a museum. Find a hobby
you love. Engage in pleasurable activities.
Spend discretionary income on
experiences, such as dining out
and travel, instead of purchasing
goods. Count your blessings.
Resolve to have a bad memory:
release the past. Be yourself,
however strange and weird that may be. Ask yourself: what can I do to
become happier? Read a good book. Climb on a tire swing. Be part of
something bigger than yourself. Embrace change. Simplify. Think big in
the long run, but think small in the short run. Remember the following
line from the film “American Beauty”: “. . . it’s hard to stay mad when
there’s so much beauty in the world.” Get rid of things that make
you unhappy. Make happiness a priority in your life. Do something
hedonistic: think afternoon at a spa or going out dancing. Be curious.
Engage in novel activities. Take on new skills. Learn new things. Think
back to when you’ve been happiest: what were you doing? Create
satisfying, meaningful connections with other people. Practice deep
breathing. Savor small authentic moments that bring you contentment.
Happiness is a state of mind. Have a small pleasure to look forward to
every day: coffee out on the patio, going through a favorite magazine,
visiting a beloved friend, baking cookies . . . Search for the sacred in the
ordinary. Do a cartwheel when nobody’s looking. Take George Eliot’s
declaration to heart: “It is never too late to be what you might have
been.” Laugh often. Ask for what you want. Hang a hammock; lie in it.
Find work you love. Let go of fear. Have courage. One of the greatest
gifts you can give to your loved ones is to let them see you living a happy
life. When you’re happy you give others permission to be happy as well.
Love. Entertain hope. Cope with difficult situations with ingenuity.
Spend time contemplating nature. Accept that sometimes you’ll be sad,
that’s just part of life. Make happiness the ultimate goal in your life. Fake
it until you make it: act happy. Create a serene environment. Resolve
to be a little bit happier today than you were yesterday. Tilt your head
back and let out a raucous peal of laughter . . .