What is happiness?
Most of us have an idea. You might say feeling satisfied with your life. I might say feeling loved. Scientists describe it as a general sense of well-being. I think most of us would agree with that.
What doesn’t make us happy?
Though it’s relatively easy to say what happiness is, it’s a little more difficult to say what makes us happy. According to research, the two most common ideas about what makes us happy are dead wrong. What are these three big factors that are actually non-factors?
In 1978, a groundbreaking study examined two groups in regards to happiness. The first group was made up of people who’d recently won over $50,000 in the lottery. The second of people who’d been in catastrophic accidents leaving them with partial or total paralysis.
They asked both groups about how much enjoyment they got out of simple, daily moments. These included talking with friends or getting a compliment. The lottery winners were no happier than the accident survivors. In fact, the paralyzed patients reported getting more joy out of these simple things.
In 2010, researchers studied the well-being responses of individuals who received salary increases. Turns out that didn’t make them much happier, either. In fact, once salaries get to about $75k per year, the well-being boost seems to completely disappear.
Another study found that models are actually less happy than the rest of us. Maybe it’s because there’s always someone more “beautiful.” Truth is, our ideas of beauty are constantly changing. That can mean a lot of frustration for those whose livelihoods depend on their good looks.
Success or Fortune.
Many of us have felt the disappointment that comes soon after a great accomplishment. I know two Ironman Triathletes who have told me the same story. After all that work and a great finish, the joy goes away pretty quickly.
Why is that? Psychologists call this phenomenon hedonic adaptation. Apparently, our brains get used to any new accomplishment, fortune (or misfortune) rather quickly. So, unfortunately, (or fortunately), those big things don’t have that much to do with our happiness either.
What does make us happy?
In her book, The How of Happiness, Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky defines happiness as,
“…the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.”
So it’s not about money or beauty or good fortune or success, but about well-being. It’s not about milestones positive or negative, but about the little things from day to day.
How to be happy on purpose
According to Dr. Lyubomirsky’s research, about 40 percent of our happiness is totally up to us. So we can actually do something to make ourselves happier. That’s really good news! But what do we do?
Here are 5 activities that can boost your happiness level right now.
1. Write Thankful Letters
Thankfulness is widely recognized as a secret to happiness. But sometimes it’s hard to remember to be thankful on purpose. So try these simple steps to get you practicing gratitude.
- Think of 3 people you can write to say “thank you.”
- Get out your calendar
- Write each of their names on a date at least a week apart.
- When the day comes, write the letter.
- Be specific, but it doesn’t have to be pages long.
- Send the letter, email, or message.
- Don’t worry about getting a response. Many people may not know how to respond, and that’s not the point anyway, is it? You have given them the tremendous gift of your thankfulness and nourished your own soul in the process.
2. Read Happy Words
Our “happiness center” is made up of the parts of our brain responsible for things like positive words and memories. Stimulating this part of the brain can give you an instant boost. Try this activity:
- Get some index cards–one for each day of the week, or of the month if you’re that ambitious.
- Write 5-7 positive words on each one, along with the day for that card. If you need help coming up with words, here’s a wonderful list!
- Each day, pick up that card at a specific time, i.e., breakfast, lunch, bedtime.
- Read the words OUT LOUD several times.
- If you want, see if you can memorize the list.
- You’ll be amazed how much it can boost your mood!
3. Compliment Yourself (and get some help, too)
Psychologists say that one of the keys to a sense of well-being is a positive self-view. Unfortunately, positive self-view is surprisingly uncommon. Most of us tend to forget our own best qualities. Here’s a simple exercise to help you remember yours.
- Once more, get some index cards
- Gather some close friends and family
- Explain that this is a happiness exercise and that you’re working to help yourself.
- Ask each of them to take a few cards and write their own name on the top of each one.
- You do this as well.
- Then all of you are to write one positive trait you possess on each card. (You’re writing about yourself–they’re writing about YOU!) To make it easier, use this list of positive character traits. Most of us go completely blank when we’re put on the spot!
- Scatter these cards around your house or your room, post them on mirrors or walls, stash them in your Bible or your favorite book.
- Read them to yourself regularly.
4. Tell Happy Stories
The part of our brain that remembers happy stories is also part of our “happiness center.” Get together with friends and family and talk over good times. Get younger family members together and tell them how you met your spouse or about your greatest adventures. Tell them about themselves. Whether we admit it or not, most of us love that! Remember, good memories only!
5. Plan to be Happy.
Schedule all of this. All these things work so much better when they become habits. So make a plan to keep doing these things. Set a time each day to read your compliment cards or your positive words. Once you’ve written your first three thankfulness letters, don’t stop! Schedule as many as you want!
Schedule visits with a friend or family member who’ll help you keep up with your plan. Truth is, just making the plan will increase your confidence that more happiness is possible. Then, when the time comes for each activity, you’ll receive a boost just knowing you’re doing something. You’ll have a mindset that you’re working to increase your happiness for the rest of your life.
If you, a friend, or loved one, has been diagnosed with a terminal or life-limiting illness, please do not hesitate to call Crown Hospice in Victoria, Texas today. We are here for you and your loved ones during this difficult time. Our trained and caring staff will answer any questions you have regarding hospice or palliative care. Please call us at (361) 575-5900 today.