There is much research being done these days about happiness, but what exactly is it? What really makes you happy and is there a way to increase your happiness? I am currently studying the Edx online course The Science of Happiness and many of the ideas in this blog post have gone from what I have discovered on the course.
What is happiness?
Happiness is that feeling you get when life feels good, you have a big smile on your face and you have that warm fuzzy glow inside you. It’s feeling positive emotions such as peacefulness, a sense of wellbeing, joy and contentment. It’s also having an ability to deal with the difficulties life throws your way, to feel connected to people and to perceive the life you’re living as one that’s allowing you to be the best version of yourself. It would be very unusual for anyone to complain about feeling too happy. The only time this can happen is if you feel things are ‘too good to be true’ and are worried that they can only go downhill from here!
Different people feel happiness for different reasons. Whenever happiness occurs, whatever created it, people usually want to do more of it.
What things can prevent us from altering our happiness levels?
Wrongly predicting what makes us happy
Everyone makes predictions about how they will feel in the future. Often we can be poor judges of what will bring us happiness, causing us to look for it in the wrong places. This means that we can sometimes spend time doing things that don’t make us happy and don’t spend enough time on those things that do make us happy.
Overestimating particular events
Sometimes people have a tendency to overestimate how an event or experience in the future will affect our emotional well-being, both positive and negative. For instance, we often underestimate our ability to recover from difficult experiences, whereas in reality most people can recover from a tragedy relatively quickly and it doesn’t impact their long term happiness.
We can also have over positive feelings that certain events, such as getting promoted or winning the lottery, will boost our happiness more than they actually will.
This refers to your natural level of happiness that we are born with, the idea that some people may be programmed to be happier than others. There are different theories on what percentage of happiness this makes up, but the common view seems to be that is somewhere between 40% and 60% is in your genes.
Adapting to our circumstances
People can show a remarkable ability to adapt to changes in life circumstances or experiences very quickly. If something gives us great pleasure, for example moving into our dream home, we get used to it very quickly. Whilst it might initially bring us pleasure, we can often relatively quickly return to our usual levels of happiness as we get used to it and adapt.
Constantly striving for happiness
The people who strive to feel happy all of the time can sometimes set themselves up for disappointment. They may have very high expectations, which will not always be met. They can end up chasing happiness away.
Can you alter your happiness levels?
Although the points above show that there are some limitations to altering your happiness levels, it can be argued that it is different for each individual and there are some definitely some things you can do to impact how happy you feel. If, as Ken Sheldon argues, 50% of happiness lies in genetics and 10% in our circumstances, that leaves 40% that is under our control and within our power to change. We have this 40% to play with. We can explore some ideas on possible ways to make yourself happier.
1) Focusing on positive experiences
Deliberately organizing your day-to-day life so that it contains situations that naturally create positive emotions and experiences can help you to be happier. If you make time in your day to do the things you love, it should make you happier. If you seek out pleasant experiences as part of your life, its highly likely that by living those pleasant experiences, you will be happier. One way of focusing on this is by keeping a Happiness Journal. This is a notebook that is dedicated for making notes of all the things that have made you happy each day, it helps you to notice, remember, and savor the great moments you have, if you are more visual you can try the same idea with photos.
2) Connecting with people
Social connections are of high importance in the subject of happiness. If you surround yourself with positive people, they will help to increase your positivity levels. Everyone is different and needs different relationships in their life, but in general, if you have strong, meaningful relationships and have a good support network, rather than a large number of acquaintances or lots of time alone, it should make you happier. Loneliness can make you very unhappy.
Your own wellbeing can impact your happiness levels. If you exercise regularly, eat well, sleep for 7 – 8 hours a night and practise yoga and mindfulness meditation, all these things contribute towards your mental and physical wellbeing. The more you look after your wellbeing, the happier you can feel.
4) Having a sense of purpose & achievement
If you feel like you are here for a reason and contributing towards the universe it can help you feel like you have a purpose. Most people who feel like they have a clear purpose in life and know what and how they are contributing, often feel happier than those who feel a bit lost in their direction.
So from the summary it seems that there is a certain amount of happiness outside of our control, but there are some things we can do to alter our happiness levels. I’d love to hear your views about happiness in the comments below. What makes you feel happy and do you think you can alter your happiness levels and how?