Happiness is not a new topic but it’s one that does not want to go out of fashion. With the word being abused and overused like a favourite sweater that’s faded from being worn too many times, it’s not surprising that the word happiness has lost its bite and power. Luckily, we can re-charge it with fresh life, so let’s do that.
Why write about happiness NOW?
Two recent events have prompted me to summarise the most powerful facts about happiness: a) I recently found and joined a fast expanding non-profit happiness charity to help run happiness workshops and b) a few days ago a client insisted that lasting happiness was an illusion and did not exist, instead it should be contentment we should be working towards and he is not wrong at all. Most people are unaware of the two different types of happiness: the short-term, fleeting feeling of pleasure (hedonic well-being) that stems from external circumstances but never lasts long, so we need another fix. The other type of happiness, the one my client referred to, is the type of joy that results from a commitment to ‘living well’ (eudaimonic well-being), living authentically and aligned with one’s full potential and working towards increasing self-realisation.
Given happiness remains the top priority for most of us, it is only right to re-energise our grasp of it and refresh our memory of how we can truly get it (without wasting our effort). Among other, we will draw on professor Lyubormirsky’s research on happiness.
So why aren’t we happy already?
This is a legitimate question! Given how long humankind has been striving for happiness, you genuinely wonder what is holding us back. Surely by now, we should have figured it out and all be happy, no? Yes, we could be, but for no fault of our own we keep being misled by the myths suggested by movies and stories, only to repeat and amplify them in our own inner circles. So here are some of those myths:
- You can find happiness. – WRONG!
- Happiness lies in changing your circumstances. – WRONG!
- You are either born happy or you are not. – WRONG!
The first myth suggest that happiness is something outside yourself and requires a kind of search mission: a search for the right job, partner, house, ‘fill in the blank’. It keeps you forever searching because when you think you found it, it seems to slip through your fingers again. So, if it’s not out there, where is it then?
The truth is, we will find it or rather create it ourselves on the inside!
So, the whole time we may have been looking in the wrong place. True happiness is being created from the inside regardless of your outer circumstances. Now, granted, some circumstances may make it a bit easier to create happiness. We all know it’s easier to create happy feelings and positive thoughts when the sun shines, than when it’s grey and rainy. Yet, the key lies in our active choice of thoughts and actions about our situation and our ability to choose our perspective on our situation. As such we have more control over our own happiness then we might have thought. Can you think of someone who frequently puts a positive spin on something that others were just complaining about? Did you notice how that person was happier? And likewise, do you know somebody who claimed that if only there circumstances changed (new house, new partner, new job etc.) they would be happier, only to find themselves in the same emotional state as before? In her research Lyubormirsky concludes that as little as 10% of our happiness results from our circumstances!
The truth is, only a small percentage of our happiness depends on our circumstances.
Now that makes us curious what the other 90% might be then. She claims that 50% stem from our genetic disposition and even provides a short test to determine what your genetic starting point is via 4 self-assessment questions. Comparing your usual happiness level to those physcially around you, you probably have quite a good idea already whether you are genetically gifted with smiles or frowns. Rather than seeing your fate as fixed, consider this genetic disposition as your starting point.
The truth is, genetics determine a lot of our happiness, but the good news is we can change what we are given through actions and thoughts.
There is a whole additional 40% left, we can and should do a lot about: our intentional activity, what we do (action) and what we choose to think (thoughts). In other words, our happiness depends on our actions and our thoughts. That should be good news, as we have control over these, right? If you disagree, ask yourself if not you, then who controls your actions and thoughts? Then commit to take your power back.
Which kind of actions might we be talking about? These are; Actions that are aligned with your values and what matters most to you, actions that move you closer to fulfilling your potential, actions that contribute to something bigger than yourself. It could also be actions like a regular gratefulness habit focusing on what you have rather than what is still missing. Additionally, acts of kindness, actions that either built your competence/ mastery, increase your autonomy or help you connect and relate to others (the last three are based on Deci & Ryan’s self-determination theory). Don’t wait passively till happiness arrives on your door step: happy yourself! In case of doubt, or when you feel stuck, just do something, anything – as long as you take full responsibility for your actions. Just act! Nobody ever regretted having taken action, people only regret what they didn’t do.
The same applies to thoughts. So many of our thoughts seem to pass unnoticed, often subconsciously. Begin to notice your thoughts consciously. This gives you the opportunity to evaluate them. Notice which ones make you feel happy and which ones don’t. Experiment with adding more of the happy kind and eliminating some of the repetitive negative ones. You have the choice! Ah, you doubt you can choose your thoughts or your emotions? Well, try this: think of a time when you felt awful, depressed or frustrated. What was it like then, re-live that moment. Now think of a time when you felt full of joy, excited or enthusiastic. Did you think and feel different within the space of a few minutes? Who created that?
Then challenge yourself to find a positive in a perceived negative. The traffic jam becomes an opportunity to think or listen to a podcast. The cancelled appointment becomes a chance to call on a relative. The lost job becomes an opportunity to find something that pays more and/or finally find something more aligned with your values and your true self. It takes practice and re-learning the way we think, but it can be done!
So, let’s summarise our solution to feeling happier from today onwards:
Take action towards fulfilling your potential, living your purpose or finding out about it.
Start gratefulness or (self-)kindness actions and habits.
Actively choose your perspective and become more agile in your thinking, learning to re-frame until you become ‘fluent’ in creating empowering thoughts whenever you need them.
That’s why happiness should be a verb! Let’s finally start ‘happying ourselves’! If you would like me to help you master this skill of ‘happying yourself’ in a fun and effective way, don’t hesitate to get in touch for a 1:1 coaching package.
If only happiness was a verb, we’d all be happy now!