Being happy is good for you! There is strong evidence that happy people are more creative, healthy, productive, wealthy and successful, they live longer and they develop a greater number of significant, lasting relationships. There is even research that shows that this is a 2-way relationship; it isn’t only our success that creates happiness, our happiness creates success (so happy people are more likely to be successful rather then just successful people are more likely to be happy).
The pursuit of happiness however isn’t straightforward – the more we strive towards it the more difficult it can be to obtain. Just the perception of a wide gap between where we are now and where we want to be in terms of our happiness levels is enough to create unhappiness and discontentment.
We cannot achieve happiness by trying to avoid negative experiences or thoughts. The more we try to avoid something the more significant it becomes (try telling yourself to stop thinking about chocolate – the more you try the more you think about it!).
Negative experiences are important. How can we appreciate the things that make us happy if we don’t experience the things that make us sad? It is through the bad things that happen to us that we often find the greatest life meaning and wisdom. Without sadness we would not appreciate our happiness.
Psychologists suggest that the optimal ratio of positive to negative experiences is 3 positive events for every negative event. A negative event has a greater impact on us so we need to counteract it with 3 positive events.
The extent to which we experience happiness isn’t predetermined.
It is estimated that 50% of our capacity to experience happiness is genetic (dependent on our genes), 10% is environmental (our life circumstances) and 40% is within our control. It is that 40% that we can directly influence.
We all have our own ‘happiness spectrum’, a scale that is normal for us. Some of us might be more naturally happy than other people. Events such as marriage, a promotion, winning the lottery might provide a boost to our levels of happiness but they will eventually return back to the ‘normal for us’ state (psychologists call this hedonic adaption).
Research has shown that there are things that we can be doing every day to influence that 40% of happiness that is in our control, things that can help us to sustainably boast our happiness levels to the top of our ‘normal for us’ spectrum and reduce the risk of hedonic adaption; simple cognitive and behavioural exercises that can reliably improve our levels of happiness.
It is fairly easy to temporarily boost happiness levels (doing things that we enjoy such as feeling the sun on our face, eating chocolate, having sex), these things are important, but what we are focusing on is achieving a sustainable, long-term boost to our happiness levels.
Examples of happiness-increasing activities include meditation, thinking optimistically, expressing gratitude, and acting kindly towards others.
Incorporating these elements into your everyday life can help you to sustainably boost your happiness. Try it for yourself. Over the next 8 weeks, once a week, spend 10 – 15 minutes writing down 3 – 5 things that you are grateful or thankful for. By just spending a few minutes a week counting your blessings and focusing on the big and small things that you are grateful about you can sustainably increase your levels of happiness.2 People recommend this post