"There is only one way to happiness, and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will."
It is perhaps surprising to learn that our life circumstances - such as wealth or poverty, sickness or health, whether we're in a relationship or single - have relatively little influence on our happiness levels. In fact, research suggests that life circumstances contribute only 10% to our emotional wellbeing! A further 50% of our happiness is determined by a genetic 'set-point', a capacity for happiness that we inherit from our parents. This genetic set-point is resistant to change and for many of us improving life circumstances is difficult to achieve. So how can we work towards becoming happier people?
"Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions."
Well, the good news is that the remaining contributing factor that influences 40% of our happiness levels is intentional activity - that is the activities that we engage in on a daily basis that add value to our lives. This is very exciting because it tells us that we have the power to feel better and can choose simple but effective strategies to give us a 'happiness booster shot'!
So what are the strategies that can lead to a happier you? Read on for some ideas...
Choose 'flow' experiences.
"Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time."
Have you ever found yourself so completely absorbed in an activity that you've lost track of time or forgotten about all else? This is what Mikhail Csikszentmihalyi called 'flow', and it's inherently pleasurable and satisfying. Flow can be achieved in many ways - through hobbies, music, sport...you can even achieve flow in the workplace. One of the keys to increasing flow experiences is strong attentional skills that allow you to be in the moment and not get distracted by irrelevant thoughts or feelings. Practicing mindfulness daily can help you to strengthen your attentional 'muscle'.
"We tend to forget that happiness doesn't come as a result of getting something we don't have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have."
A simple but effective tool for improving mood is to start a 'gratitude diary' - use the diary to reflect on what you are grateful for at the end of the day, this could be the 'little' things e.g. the warm sun on your back as you walked to work, or the deeper, more significant aspects of your life e.g. family and friends. Allow time for reflecting on the wonders of the world, memories of pleasurable events from the past, things that make you smile.
Avoid comparisons to others
"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."
If you try hard enough, you will always be able to find someone who seems to be happier, smarter, wealthier, more successful than you. This inevitably leads to feeling 'less than'. Try to acknowledge your strengths and reflect on what you have done well.
Live to your values
"Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony."
Try to determine what is valuable and meaningful for you and choose activities or set goals that help you to live a 'life worth loving'. For example, if one of your key values is health, have a look at your lifestyle and plan to make a change such as exercising more or cutting down on eating take-away. Or if you value creativity perhaps set a goal of completing the photography course that you've always promised you would do but have never gotten around to signing up for.
Practice acts of kindness
"If you want happiness for an hour — take a nap.'
If you want happiness for a day — go fishing.
If you want happiness for a year — inherit a fortune.
If you want happiness for a lifetime — help someone else."
It feels inherently good to do something kind for others, whether this is someone that you know or a complete stranger. Offer to carry someone's shopping to their car or babysit your friend's children to allow them to go out on 'date night' with their partner. It doesn't matter how big or small, it really is the thought that counts!
Learn ways of coping with adversity
"Happy he who learns to bear what he cannot change."
Of course, life is full of challenges some small, some seemingly insurmountable. To promote
happiness try to find ways to solve problems, seek help and support from others if needed, allow your emotions to be expressed through journaling or creative activities, cope with negative emotions through distracting activities, try to find a positive out of a negative, try to practice forgiveness.
These are just a few ideas. For further reading, you might like to have a look at Sonja Lyubomyrski's book 'The How of Happiness' (2010) or Martin Seligman's 'Authentic Happiness' (2002).