Most people have happiness as an ultimate life goal. Recently, I’ve had conversations with many people who question whether they are happy and want to increase their level of happiness. Hearing them talk about happiness, reinforces how misunderstood happiness can be, and how being more aware of the research on happiness can help individuals be more content with their lives and give them proven ways to increase their happiness.
Happiness, or subjective well-being, has been well researched in recent decades and its complexity is better understood. However, this complexity is rarely communicated in bite-size, publicly-consumable media. Too often, happiness is transmuted through media into the idea that one should always be happy. This is unfounded. Experiencing disparate emotions is part of the human condition. If you’re pursuing a big, meaningful goal, you’ll likely experience positive (excitement, fulfillment) and negative emotions (stress, fear, doubt and frustration). It is chronic unhappiness that is unhelpful to the individual. The important question is whether you are satisfied with how happy you are.
Why is happiness important anyway? Happiness has positive impacts on health and longevity (energy levels and immune systems), societal relationships, productivity and citizenship. Happier people have greater confidence and self-esteem, and have more rewarding relationships. Happy teams and companies are more productive and successful. Happy people improve our world: they contribute and help others.
So, let’s take a look at happiness. Happiness is a composite of three types of happiness. The three types of happiness identified in research include:
Frequent pleasant feelings
Infrequent negative feelings
High levels of happiness is achieved through the combination of these types of happiness. Otherwise stated, there is not a one key to happiness
Research shows that happiness is caused by external and internal factors. The external factors equate to 10% of the happiness equation. These include social resources (everyone needs some supportive social contact), societal factors (e.g. living in economically developed country in contrast to living in a war zone) as well as material resources.
Money/material resources does increase happiness, but only up to a certain level: in the satisfaction of basic material needs. So, it is possible but more difficult to be happy while living in ill health and poverty, and as we are probably all aware, one can be wealthy, living in excellent circumstances and depressed. Past a point, an increase in wealth does not equate to an increase in happiness. Rather, if you take a less enjoyable job, sacrifice relationships or health in the pursuit of money, you will experience a decrease in happiness. Living within your means, and keeping material aspirations in check, is a way of maintaining happiness.
Internal causes of happiness include temperament and outlook. Research shows that inborn temperament/genetics is 50% of your happiness equation. Studies with identical twins raised separately show that they have similar levels of subjective well being.
This leaves 40% that is within our daily control. If you want to be happier, you need to take intentional, concrete actions to improve your happiness. This means behaviour and mindset – positive and negative mental habits.
Let’s look at behaviour; maybe you need to make a change in your life to increase your life satisfaction, or increase the frequency of activities you find pleasurable and nurture those relationships that are positive, or decrease interactions that you find unpleasurable. These are all behaviours under your control.
So, what can you do to increase your happiness? There are many actions (both addressing behaviours and mindset) that are proven to increase happiness. Let’s take a quick look at an action you can take to improve your mindset- a HUGE factor that I’ll delve into more with time. One proven way (though shown to have different impacts depending on personality type) is to practice or express gratitude.
People who are consistently grateful have been found to be relatively happier, more energetic, and more hopeful and to report experiencing more frequent positive emotions…Furthermore, the more a person is inclined to gratitude, the less likely he or she is to be depressed, anxious, lonely, envious, or neurotic.” Sonja Lyubomirsky, The How Of Happiness
You can do this in different ways and at different points of your day. Two things to keep in mind: this will have a greater impact if you write it down and if you do it daily. I currently keep a Gratefulness Journal that follows the categories of People, Opportunities, Experiences, and Things (POET).
Two years ago, in a lowest of a low, a dear friend (to whom I will be forever grateful ) suggested I started practicing gratitude. I couldn’t find one thing to be grateful for. I have grown from there, and now I find myself overflowing with gratitude, and I can feel the warmth and joy that grows when I write them in my gratefulness journal every evening. The act of practicing gratitude has spread throughout my day and is one of the practices that has helped me build a foundation of happiness.