Lyubomisrsky (2008) found that 50% of our happiness is due purely to genetics, 40% to intentional coping methods to be happier and only 10% is due to life circumstances.
Hedonic adaptation teaches us, that the human tendency we all have is to return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes. We tend to over-estimate the happiness increase we will experience due to life circumstances (a new car, job, house, winning the lottery), but the fact is really happy events tend to wear off and we return to our normal levels of happiness very quickly. In fact, a study a few years ago found something amazing. That 2 years after either winning the lottery or becoming a paraplegic people reported the same levels of happiness. So if 40% of our overall happiness is based on intentional activity that we do, what do we need to be doing to maximize the happiness we feel in our lives? Below are my top 10 suggestions based on research in the field of positive psychology.
1. Make Physical Changes:
Almost anything you would do to become more physically healthy will make you happier, exercise, diet, avoiding alcohol, caffeine, getting vitamins, adequate sleep, etc.
Posture makes a big difference in our happiness as well, standing up straight, holding our head up and making eye contact make us happier.
2. Choose to Curb Worry:
“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength.” - Corrie Ten Boom
From a neurological standpoint, worry is an emotional habit that is reinforced because it provides temporary relief from brain inactivity. We have nothing to do about our problems so when we worry our brain literally feels better because it has something to do.
We can’t control the thoughts that pop into our head, but we can control whether we let the stick around. Stopping worry involves letting go control of things we cannot control. First we make the conscious realization and decision that we cannot control whatever thing it is that we are worrying about. Then we replace those thoughts with more healthy thoughts to keep our brain occupied. Everyone’s strategy should be something that will work for them.
3. Cultivate Optimism:
Happy people do activities and have thoughts and beliefs that support positive emotions, thoughts, caring, commitment, motivation and meaning.
Happy people identify automatic thoughts and judgements that are maladaptive and reframe them in positive ways
“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change”
Happy people are able to:
See their problems as temporary, impersonal and solvable
De-catastrophize an event – what are the implications? How likely is the worst-case scenario
Focus on how they can change in the future
Understand the power of words
Recall empowering times and positive memories.
Have positive hopes and expectations
4. Express Gratitude:
Happy people communicate their gratitude to their friends and love to their family in ways that strengthen bonds.
Counting Blessings – write down the good things that happened today
Savoring and appreciating – look around and make note of one or more things that you often take for granted.
Happy people accept their circumstances and their own and others limitations.
"When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves" Viktor E Frankl
Acceptance of Self - Happy people have compassion for their own suffering. Happy people tame their “inner-critic” and embrace who they really are.
Limitations – happy people accept their own and others limitations this reduces regret and rumination.
Acceptance of Others – happy people accept traits in others that are unlikely to change and experience self-healing through forgiveness.
Take seriously the healing power of humor and laughter to reduce stress and to elevate mood. Laughter is nature’s stress management tool, it is a homeostatic mechanism to reduce tension.
Lower blood pressure
Reduces stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.
Increases the response of tumor and disease killing cells such as Gamma-interferon and T-cells.
Defends against respiratory infections including reducing colds by increasing immunoglobulin in saliva.
Increases memory and learning/ Improved alertness, creativity and memory.
7. Articulate Your Best Possible Self
A few thoughts about narrative therapy – telling the story of your life in a way that empowers and visualizing the future as being bright and the realization of those important things you want out of life. If your life is defined by negative things then it begins to define who you are, how you see yourself and how others see you.
Envisioning and focusing on a positive future leads to:
Enhanced mood and well-being
Decrease in Doctor visits
Improved test performance
Why does it work?
Encourages optimism, self-esteem, long-term planning
Construct a clear narrative of what you want and how you might get it.
8. Connect with Others
Happy people actively cultivate interpersonal connections. Our friends and loved ones afford one of the greatest sources of happiness
Why is connection with others so important?
◦We are inherently social – we have a fundamental need for belonging.
◦Social relationships provide a buffer in times of trouble
◦Relationships with others removes self-focus
◦Encourages multiple roles, purpose and goals in life
◦Provides positive feedback
◦Changes and improves our self – image
9. Find Your Purpose
•There are health benefits of having life goals, values and higher meaning that engage the mind and promote the greater good
•Purpose is found through commitment to meaningful goals, work, religion, etc.
“Man is not driven by a drive for pleasure, as Freud said, nor a will to power as Adler said, but rather a will to meaning.” This is the basic motivational factor in being human. Frankl said, “We struggle for a life with meaning or we are frustrated in this drive for meaning and not finding a place for meaning we then flounder in their search for meaning and live a life of unhappiness and mental illness.”
10. Set Inspiring Goals
What do you want in life?
•Consider intrinsic and extrinsic goals.
•Short term and long term.
•Use goals to confront instead of avoid shortcomings
Why does it work?
•It gives life purpose and structure
•Increases sense of self, identity and self esteem
•It can be a coping mechanism to get through difficult times
“If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy, and inspires your hopes.”
Top 5 Deathbed Regrets - as reported in a study by Hospice
1. I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life that others expected me to live.
2. I wish I wouldn’t have worked so hard.
3. I wish I had the courage to express my true feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish I would have let myself be happier.
Don’t have any regrets about how you live your life, live the life you want to, the life that will make you most happy because you can feel good about the person you are becoming. Keep your focus on the things that are most important in life, let go of the worries and the things you cannot change. If your life narrative is a negative one change it, see yourself as a survivor as a victor over difficult things. Every individual has unlimited potential, if they can only tap into it.