Simple Tips That Help Shape Your Happiness
I have found in my own life that I am the decisive element to experiencing more happiness in my life. I wasn’t always happy; there was a time I didn’t even know what made me happy. I was dealing with lots of life circumstances, including divorce, loss, and overwhelm, and it was a time I was developing my own inner strength and wisdom. I remember my sister coming to me and saying I was always sad.
I developed internal and external strategies that over time shifted my behavior and my brain. I want to share with you some research and facts about how much control we really do have over our own happiness, in addition to some science-backed moves to put you in a sunnier frame of mind.
Happiness has been studied and researched; there have been countless articles on the science of happiness.
Studies have shown happiness is the cornerstone of productivity, and that people with a skip in their step typically have better jobs, have more positive feedback and make more money. They are also more generous and healthier.
Does happiness cause these things to happen, or is the other way around?
A study published in 2010 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences looked at data gathered from surveys of 60K adults conducted over the course of 25 years and found that other factors play key roles in our happiness.
Life goals and choices have as much or more impact on life satisfaction.
Sonja Lyubomirsky, professor of psychology at the University of California Riverside and the author of The How of Happiness, took this study further and found that approximately 50% of our happiness is not biologically driven, and 10% is connected to life circumstances (your beauty or talent), which leaves 40% unaccounted for and up to us to shape.
Daniel Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard University and the author of Stumbling on Happiness, notes most of us don’t always know what makes us happy. This is due to a phenomenon called Hedonic Adaptation. This means that after an initial rush of something that makes us happy, we quickly adapt to whatever it is we think that makes us happy and take it for granted, at which point, it no longer brings contentment.
Example: If you step into a heated room on a very cold day, you feel relieved, but after 5 minutes, it is comfortable and no longer pleasurable. Money works this way as well; we think the more we have, the happier we will be. But that is not the case. David Myers, a professor of psychology at Hope College, found that there is little correlation between cash and contentment. The same holds true of a coveted job.
The secret to working with the 40% of happiness that is within our reach lies in non-material areas.
I can speak from experience – it was my yoga and meditation practice that I started developing during those rough times in my life that led me to my inner sanctuary of joy.
The 3 components research has found that help tip the happiness scale:
- Repeat behavior that has made you happy in the past: taking the scenic route home from work, remembering the fun trip you had with your friends, etc. Do more of that. For me, it was yoga and meditation: calming, soothing and relaxing.
- Immerse yourself in whatever your doing. (Psychologists call this a state of flow, which is getting caught up in something bigger than yourself while staying present in the moment). I decided to study yoga and meditation and immersed myself in it.
- Do something that serves the greater good, such as a meaningful job or volunteering.
I taught Kundalini Yoga to stressed out corporate clients. This was part of me serving the greater good. Happiness is different for everyone, so it is crucial that you find what makes YOU happy.
In the Time issue of “Mindfulness – The New Science of Health and Happiness,” the happiness research suggests these 8 tips that may help you find your happiness.
- Use the Power of Nostalgia – Dan Buettner, author of Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zone Way, which is a book about the happiest regions in the world, recommends land mining your home with photos and memorabilia, so you’re constantly reminded of your history, pictures of the fun trips you took, friends you have tight bonds with, etc. This helps you view yourself in a more positive light.
- Don’t Dwell Over Past Failures – Studies show that ruminators are more likely to be depressed because of the downward spiral of emotions.
- Spread the Wealth – Studies show giving away money makes you happier than spending it on yourself.
- Eat a Snack Around 2PM – Eric Braverman, a physician in New York and author of The Edge Effect, says that studies show at 2PM is when levels of serotonin, which is a brain chemical that regulates mood, can take a nose dive. Choose a snack that contains B6, B12 and folic acid.
- Move Your Body – Research suggests that during 30 minutes of exercise, the body increased the production of a protein called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, which has an antidepressant effect. Yoga also has additional calming and happy making effects on the brain and nervous system.
- Limit Your Options – When making choices, we tend to consider everything; this can be overwhelming and stress inducing. When paralyzed by indecision, narrow your options to a few choices.
- Find a Social Club – Find something that occupies 100% of your attention while you’re engaged in it. Research shows you will be more motivated and focused with feelings that promote happiness. Dan Buettner says that in Denmark (characterized as the most thriving country in the world when it comes to well being, according to a world Gallup Poll), a majority of the population reports belonging to a social club.
- Make Your Bed – People are happier when everyday tasks in their lives are completed because even small ways make your life more efficient and pleasant. Hanging a key hook in your entryway, moving all your banking online, curing your being late all the time – these can be behavioral or tactical tasks. Anything you feel you are tolerating in your life, delegate it, delete it or do it.
Each phase of our journey is about making conscious choices and being intentional about where to put our focus and energy. Making conscious choices about the 40% of your happiness that you have the ability to shape can drastically improve your life for the better.
The happier we are, the less stress we experience, the kinder we become to ourselves and each other, which makes our experience here so much richer.