We all want to be happy and for good reason. Happiness not only feels great, it is also has many physical and psychological benefits. Happy people live longer, are more resilient to stress and experience fewer psychological problems. They also report greater levels of satisfaction in their close relationships and in their working lives. It really pays to be happy (happy people tend to have higher incomes too).
In this post we will look at happiness in some detail to determine what it is, where it comes from and how we can increase the level of happiness we experience in our own lives.
What is happiness?
Happiness is the experience of feeling positive emotions (joy, inspiration, gratitude, love etc) on a regular basis. It also involves feeling an overall sense of satisfaction and meaning related to ourselves and our lives. So, happiness is not a fleeting emotion that results from short-term pleasure, but a deeper and more enduring inner condition.
Although happiness is a long-lasting state, it is not a constant one. In other words, we can’t be happy all the time. Happy people, like everyone else, suffer periods of distress. The difference is that they bounce back from adversity faster and have a propensity to enjoy life in spite of its inherent challenges.
When it comes to happiness, a healthy approach is one that works towards an increase in the amount of positive emotions we experience and a decrease in the negative. If we expect or aim for perfect happiness we will inevitably be disappointed.
The down periods we experience motivate us to grow (change and adapt), be productive and experience new things. When we look at it like this, we can appreciate why we evolved to experience such mental states.
Where does our happiness come from?
Research suggests that our happiness comes from three sources:
1. 50% of our happiness is genetic. This means that our baseline for happiness is inherited. If we win a new car or have our new car stolen we will typically return to our baseline level of happiness in time.
2. 10% of our happiness is due to our life circumstances. This includes our wealth and physical attractiveness for example. Goals, meaning and purpose are definitely important for our wellbeing but external conditions don’t matter as much as we might think.
3. 40% is due to the thoughts and activities we engage in on a regular basis. The greatest potential for increasing happiness lies here.
How can we increase happiness?
There is much we can do to increase our happiness, regardless of our genetic baseline. We can program our brains and even influence how our genes are expressed by practicing certain patterns of thinking and behaving. In the following weeks, we will explore some practical and evidence-based skills that can help us to do just that.
These skills will focus on the development of strong predictors of happiness such as realistic optimism, gratitude, self-esteem and moral strength.
The mental skills mentioned above take effort and persistence to develop. Fortunately, the benefits of practice can arise as soon as we get started. Increased levels of happiness makes us more resilient, likeable, productive, energetic, healthy and creative. The road to these rewards involves taking one small step at a time and that is what I will be encouraging you to do in the weeks that follow.
Until then, have a great week!