Be honest, do you know how happy you are?
We ALL want to BE happy and more importantly, if we could be granted one wish for our children, it would be to be happy.
I am not going to pretend that I am always the happiest person and have all the answers for you to achieve total bliss.
I am at a transition time in my life which has resulted in a lot of reflection and a look to the future. If I want to live a happier life what would I have to do? It doesn’t seem like the things that made me happy in the past make me happy anymore, what’s going on?
You are probably thinking, shouldn’t you have figured this out by now? Nope, happiness is elusive and ever-changing. It isn’t something we achieve in life and then just stay that way, but you know that too.
Take a second a write down 5 things you think make you happy. Done? Let’s find out if you are right.
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What if I told you that I found out that it’s true we can make our own happiness. Yes, I know you already know that, but do you know how?
To find out more, we are going to consider the following questions:
What is Happiness?
What Are Happiness Misconceptions?
How Happy Are You?
What Makes People Happy?
Can Happiness be Learned?
What is Happiness?
I really like this definition and description of happiness from Psychology Today.
More than simply positive mood, happiness is a state of well-being that encompasses living a good life—that is, with a sense of meaning and deep satisfaction.
A growing body of research also suggests that happiness can improve your physical health.
Attaining happiness is a global pursuit.
Researchers find that people from every corner of the world rate happiness more important than other desirable personal outcomes, such as having a meaningful life, becoming rich, and getting into heaven.
I came across an article that talks about a Happiness Class being offered at Yale University from Dr. Laurie Santos. The article really inspired me to take a closer look at what the course had to offer about happiness and then I discovered you can take the course online for FREE!!, so I signed up!
You can find the link to the article at the end of this article.
What Are Happiness Misconceptions?
Apparently, the United States is one of the most unhappy countries in the world and yet we are the most affluent. The things we think will make us happy have been shown to not result in long-term happiness.
What do you think you need to be happy, a newer car, a bigger house, a great body, more money, a perfect relationship? Wrong!!
The things we think should be making us happy aren’t, but we keep trying and keep making the same mistakes over and over.
“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
How much money do you think you need to be happy?
Many think if they had more money they would certainly be happier or at least live the life they believe will lead to happiness.
Truth is, and this won’t surprise you, humans always want more and it never makes them happier. If our salary is 30,000, we want 50, 000, and if we make 100,000, we think $250,000 would make us happier.
Economists Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton found when they studied 1,000 American households well-being does rise with income until you hit $75,000 after that happiness does not increase with higher income.
This does not include people of poverty who don’t have their basic needs met like shelter, safety, and food. More money can improve the quality of their lives and make them happier.
Wanting MORE and MORE
The hardest thing to find in life is happiness – money is only hard to find because it gets wasted trying to find happiness. Unknown
I have to bring up the example of Ebenezer Scrooge as a perfect example of someone who goes through his whole life thinking the key to happiness was more and more money, and we all know how that story turned out.
First, isn’t it too bad it took so long for the ghosts to appear to help him and second, isn’t it sad that some of us can’t learn what happiness really is without having to be visited by spirits?
As I read the research on pursuing happiness and took the course The Science of Wellbeing, I couldn’t help but think about a close relative on mine. Let’s call her Fern, hoping there are very few people reading this named, Fern
Fern has spent her entire life completely unhappy- miserable really.
It’s not that Fern doesn’t want to be happy but, she just never figured out what happiness was.
She spent her life wanting more and more and just as soon as she got what she thought would make her happy, there was something else to take its place, so she was never happy long. Fern wanted ‘stuff” just like Ebeneezer wanted money.
More money, bigger house, fancier car, etc. Unfortunately for her, it resulted in so many negative outcomes. She became a compulsive shopper spending thousands and thousands of dollars on “stuff” always believing stuff would bring satisfaction.
When “stuff” didn’t make Fern happy, she decided it wasn’t her fault that she had to live a horrible life, it was everyone else not working hard enough to make her happy. Can you imagine being married to her?
Consequently – she is now quite old and has never figured out what happiness really is. As I took the course The Science of Wellbeing, I honestly found out why Fern missed out on happiness so I will be referring back to her as we go along.
Of course, Fern isn’t alone in her suffering, people who choose to never be happy are always looking for elusive happiness in new relationships, more money, more belongings, etc.
You have the opportunity to Measure Your Baseline Happiness.
In the course, The Science of Wellbeing Dr. Santos required the students to take two online quizzes to see how happy they are right now.
Here are the links for the happiness quizzes and I highly recommend you take BOTH of the happiness inventories Dr. Santos asks her students to take. Both surveys will give you immediate interesting results.
If you aren’t “happy” with your results, don’t worry, you will have the opportunity to retake the assessments after you have hopefully changed some behaviors recommended from the course.
PERMA. (positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, accomplishments)
What Makes People Happy?
We value both time and money we never have enough of either, right?
In fact, 80% of working adults with and without children report wanting more time to spend with their loved ones.
Maybe we really need to start looking at these commodities in a new way.
Over your lifetime you the money you will make or have will fluctuate.
The amount of time you have does not fluctuate at all. You have a finite amount every day. You can’t accumulate more time and you cannot buy more time.
Time Affluence vs. Time Famine
The old saying “if you don’t plan your time, someone else will” is so very true, so be sure you take control of your time is spent.
In psychology having a lot of time is referred to as “time affluence” and not having enough time is called “time famine”.
Too many of us live in a state of “time famine” all the time. The value of being a “workaholic” has really gotten out of hand.
It doesn’t matter what industry you are in or what company you work for, the idea of not having enough time for all the things that need to accomplished is pervasive.
People are attending online meetings in the early morning or evenings at the expense of rest and time with family.
There is no such thing as a real vacation or sick day anymore. If you are sick, you can still work from home by working online, answering emails, working on projects or presentations. –
As for vacation, a good example is last summer when we had a family vacation with our adult children and their spouses. An employer or co-worker contacted each of them more than once to complete a task while on vacation. Saying no was not an option., sound familiar?
Again, you need to plan your own time.
Do you even know what “time affluence” would feel like? What if you planned time every day that required you to do something just for you. According to Santos, time affluence takes practice like all of the happiness behaviors described in her course.
Can Happiness Be Learned?
Given your current life situation, can you change how happy you are? Yes, if you are willing to try and keep track of behaviors that are shown to increase happiness
According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychologist at the University of California, Riverside, and the author of The How of Happiness found It is true that up to 50% of your happiness may be inherited.
10% of your life situation affects how happy you are but the best news is that your thoughts, actions, behaviors make up 40% of your happiness. That means how happy you are is really in your control. – That makes me a bit nervous.
In Dr. Santos’ course on the Science of Wellbeing, she assigns homework each week by asking students to practice behaviors shown to affect happiness and record their findings.
“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”
Experiencing gratitude makes people happier and even healthier. Think about all the things in your life you are grateful for. It’s likely you have more to be grateful for than you ever imagined. Being grateful also helps us not take things for granted by helpings us recognize how much we appreciate our lives.
Savoring the Moment
I think of savoring the moment as mindfulness. Mindfulness is a way of paying attention to the present moment. We are more aware of our feelings and thoughts when we are mindful.
There is a lot of scientific evidence that being kind to others indeed brings us more happiness. Truthfully, it is a win-win, you are happier and so is the recipient. When we are kind to someone, it is very likely that person will be kind to someone else. Seems so easy, doesn’t it?
It is hard for me to admit when my husband is right and am not as right ( notice I didn’t say wrong). Social contact with not only friends and relatives but strangers add to our happiness and well-being. I usually think that people sitting beside me on a train, plain, or in a store don’t want to have a short conversation with me. I leave them alone. Not my husband, he strikes up a conversation with someone he doesn’t know all the time!! Turns out, he was right. Studies conducted by Nicholas Eply from the University of Chicago clearly show us that not only are happier when you strike up a conversation, but the other person is as well.
Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
The time we spend watching television and the time we spend on social media have a negative influence on our happiness. We compare ourselves to unrealistic expectations! Our lives seem more boring, we aren’t as attractive, we haven’t achieved enough, we aren’t socially interacting with real people, and the list goes one. The recommendation from Dr. Santos is to stay off of Facebook entirely is a very important step toward being happier.
Exercise is free and the benefits are many. The recommendation is 30 minutes of exercise daily three times a week., but read 10 Minutes of Exercise Really Works! to find how you can exercise at least 10 minutes a day with awesome benefits when 30 minutes won’t fit your schedule. This is about your well-being and exercise improves brain function along with all the other benefits
You sure don’t need to be told how awesome it is to go through a day after getting a good night’s sleep, and getting enough sleep is a wonderful way to improve your health and happiness.
The recommendation is 7-8 hours a night. Nothing new there, but are you a person to tells them self they only need 5 or 6 hours of sleep a night to function at full capacity? Give sleeping a little longer a try, and remember to record the sleep you get and evaluate how you feel and your productivity. You may already have a Fitbit or other device that help track your sleep for you.
You may also appreciate the tips for sleep in Can’t Sleep? Insomnia, You’re Not Alone.
Poor Fern and Ebeneezer
If you aren’t grateful for what you already have, what makes you think you would be happy with more. Roy T. Bennett
When I thought about how these behaviors applied to Fern’s life or Ebeneezer Scrooge, I immediately saw that these characteristics did not exist in their lives.
Honestly, for Fern kindness to others only occurred if the “other” person had something she wanted, and greedy people aren’t typically generous and kind.
Fern never expressed gratitude for anything in her life because she never had what she thought she wanted. There is a term for this kind of behavior- “miswanting”.
Miswanting is described as “the act of being mistaken about what and how much you will like something in the future”, a term coined by Tim Wilson and Dan Gilbert from Harvard University.
Think about what this information and what it can mean to parents with young children. Parents have the opportunity to practice behaviors and share beliefs that could influence how happy their children are as they grow!
Intentionally choosing behaviors that have been shown to increase your happiness is available to everyone and are free!
Please free to leave comments in the section below. I love to read them and I will be very grateful.
References & Resources
Gilbert & Wilson (2000). ”Miswanting: Some problems in the forecasting of future affective states.” In Thinking and feeling: The role of affect in social cognition. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. Pages 178-197.
Meyers (2013). Americans Most Unhappy People in the World. ABC13.
Robert Emmon, Thanks! The New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier (a nice introduction to the work on gratitude and happiness)
Epley & Schroeder (2014). Mistakenly seeking solitude. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143(5), 1980.