For decades, the gurus of personal growth have promised to reveal the formula for happiness. But in the last few years, as well as books, both more and less serious, about the techniques and strategies for being happy, we also have scientific studies. If The University of Pennsylvania has established a degree course on happiness, The University of Edinburgh has gone further: the scholars A. Weiss and T. C. Bates, in their treatise “Happiness Is a Personal(ity) Thing”, have identified the factors that determine our happiness.
Happiness depends on:
That’s right, 40% of your happiness depends on the way in which you think about and face life. Unfortunately we cannot change our genes, and in this article I do not want to talk about how to improve your finances or become a master of interpersonal relationships; instead, I want to propose to you six scientific ways to make the most of that 40% of happiness that depends only on yourself:
1. Find a purpose in life
In Ancient Greece the concept of happiness was expressed by the term “eudaimonia” that can be literally translated as “being with a good demon”.* Mind you, the term “demon” (daimon) means a spirit guide, a destiny or… a purpose.
Doctor Martin Seligman, founder of Positive Psychology – a new branch of psychology that studies how to help people be accomplished, purposeful and happy – has recently stated that the one way to find true and lasting happiness is just that: identify our points of strength, our abilities, and use them to reach ambitious objectives. In my own small way I have formed a pretty clear idea about how to find purpose in my life.
2. Rediscover the simple pleasures of life
To find true happiness, you do not have to wait to reach your goals: you can have them every day.
One of the practical exercises used by scholars of Positive Psychology is the method of “redesigning the day”. This experiment requires that participants describe in detail the activities of their day. The following day, looking back over their diaries, the participants had to give a score to individual activities. At this point, the method of “redesigning the day” required that the participants replaced at least one hour of unpleasant activities with one hour dedicated to the small pleasures of life. The results of the study group demonstrated that this small change in everyday routine can have a notable impact on overall levels of happiness.
3. “Go with the flow”
I have taken advantage of the title of one of the most beautiful compositions by Giovanni Allevi, to tell you about the third scientific method for finding true happiness. The term “flow” was coined by the American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi for describing that state in which you are completely absorbed in the activities you are doing, so much so that you lose all sense of time.
Reaching such a state of total immersion can happen… singing, reading a book that you are passionate about, or working on a project that is important to you. Our happiness is directly connected to the capacity to more frequently experience these moments of complete immersion and the one way to do this is to identify what we are passionate about and place it at the center of our lives.
4. Choose your reactions
Doctor Tal Ben-Shahar is one of the greatest experts of Positive Psychology. One of his courses at Harvard University is dedicated to “reactions”. From his studies, it emerges that it is not external events that determine the state of wellness in individuals, but rather their capacity to react in the right way to such events.
In fact, if it is true that life is governed by causality and you cannot choose the events that happen to you, it is also true that you always have control of your reaction.
5. Learn to give
An interesting experiment at Harvard Business School has demonstrated that spending money on others makes us happier than spending it on ourselves. During the study at HBS, the group of participants were sub-divided into two categories: the first was asked to spend an amount of their own choice, on themselves; the second, on the other hand, was asked to spend an amount of their choice on another person. All the individuals in the second category recorded higher levels of happiness than the participants in the first category; furthermore, the individuals who had given more to others, also demonstrated more happiness.
Giving to others… and I am not talking only about money, but also time, commitment and love, is one of the most immediate gestures for being happy.
6. Stop saying, “If only…”
Do you keep saying that you would be happy if only… you got that promotion, won the lottery, met your true love etc? Okay… you have just condemned yourself to eternal unhappiness! Tying your happiness to future events creates dissatisfaction and is a mistake for at least two reasons: a) we tend to overestimate the impact of events on our lives; b) once a much-desired event has occurred, after a brief period of euphoria, our happiness levels will return to normal; it is the so-called “hedonistic adaptation” effect.
Many (and I include myself) think that they will be happy when they have more money. But scientific studies show clearly that this is a false belief. There is a big difference between having no money at all and being able to satisfy basic needs. However, it is equally true that the rate of happiness remains practically unchanged if we earn $50,000 or $500,000 per year. Simply… over a minimum level of income, money has no impact on our happiness.
Try this little practical experiment: change “I will be happy if only…” into “I am happy now because…”.
And now you have no more excuses: you have to be happy… it is science!
A teacher stood in front of his philosophy class and with some objects in front of him. When the class had quietened down, he took a large empty mayonnaise jar and began to fill it with golf balls.
Then he asked the students if the jar was full and they replied that it was.
The teacher then took a jar of gravel and upturned its contents into the mayonnaise jar. He shook it slowly and the little stones positioned themselves in the empty spaces between the golf balls.
Again, he asked the students if the jar was full and they all agreed that it was.
So the teacher took a box of sand and upturned it, adding into the jar; obviously the sand spread throughout the jar.
He asked the students one more time if the jar was full and the students, laughing, responded with a unanimous ‘yes’.
‘Now,’ said the teacher, just as soon as the laughter had subsided, ‘I want you to consider this jar like your lives. The golf balls are the important things: your families, your children, your health, your friends and your passions. The things that, if all else was lost and only those remained, your life would continue to be full. The gravel are the other things that have importance, such as your job, home, car… The sand is all the rest: the little things.
‘If you put the sand in the jar first, there will be no space for the gravel and the golf balls. The same is true in life: if you spend all your time and energies on the little things, you will have no space left for the things that are important to you.
‘Pay attention to the things that are indispensable for your happiness: play with your children; enjoy your family and parents while they are there; take your partner out to dinner… and not only on special occasions! Dedicate yourself to what you love and to your passions; there will always be time for cleaning the house or arranging appointments. Take care of the golf balls first, the things that really count. Choose your priorities… The rest is only sand.’
I hope that you enjoyed this story. If you liked it, if it made you smile with awareness, try to go a little step further: apply it to your life. Not tomorrow, not at the start of the New Year: now.
To make the message of this story a reality in everyday life, try to follow these three points:
Identify your priorities. To understand what the golf balls are in your life, ask yourself a simple question: which things that I do during the day will have a significant impact on my life in five years’ time? Depending on your age, the answer might be: study; giving the most to your job; bringing about a business idea; educating your children; and so on. Take a piece of paper or use a text file to pour out what you think are the 10 priorities in your life. Now look for the three priorities without which your life would be meaningless. You have found your golf balls.
Eliminate the superfluous. Learn to simplify your life. Avoid the sand that enters into your days and obstructs the gears of your activities. You know very well what I’m talking about: aimlessly browsing the Internet for hours; watching idiotic programs on TV; playing nonstop on games consoles; and so on. Identify the useless activities that suck your time, and systematically eliminate them, freeing precious minutes for your priorities.
Learn to organize your days. The trick is the order in which you do things. The overwhelming majority of people begin their day with activities that make them feel good and busy: checking email; looking at the statistics for their blogs (ahem…); taking a stroll through Facebook; a little detour on news sites and… it is 11.00AM and they have done f*** all. Beginning your day with these activities means beginning to fill the mayonnaise jar with sand: there will be no space left for the golf balls! For one week try to break this vicious circle: start your days applying the secret of the first hour.
What do you think? Is is worth a try? Please share your experiences in the comments.
Life is choices. We make some good ones, and we make some bad ones. But that is life. We all want to be happy and some people always are happy. What do they do to achieve that happiness?
A choice of being happy can very often be a difficult choice. When we have those unhappy circumstances, we often will look to other people or events to assign blame. We can ignore these instigators and engage in choosing to be happy. It is not always easy. But with discipline and selection, you will find many happy days where you are playing a part in your own destiny. It is up to you to find that path and it doesn’t matter what is occurring in your immediate world. Your happiness level is yours and nothing can rob you of that.
In order to have a happy life, you will need to make changes like removing all negativity including people who are always gloomy. This in itself is not easy, but a true necessity if you are going to make headway to positive days. This will also include avoiding choices that give you a negative feeling or cause you to go backward in your outlook on life. So make a list of those negative factors and work toward making choices that are good for you. Be brave. Discuss why you are eliminating those negative relationships. It won’t matter to that negative person! They are always in that mode anyway.
Some people make lemonade out of lemons. That is what you need to do. There is good in everything. But it is a cause of reflection and self-examination. Looking hard is sometimes difficult. Remember they are all learning experiences.
You can learn something new every day. If you are challenged to make that decision, just jump in with two feet and do it. Just look at the moment and evaluate. It may take a day or so to see it but you will.
If you want something to become a discipline, you need to practice it. You have to keep at it in order for it to become a part of your life. Positivity takes hold of your being so strengthen yourself and work at it. If you have a self-esteem issue, work on it. That can play into how you feel about your life. You may not like everything having to do with you, but you don’t have to accept it either. You might need to get some counseling, money well spent. Love yourself. If you need help, get it. Put affirmations on the mirror in the bathroom so you see them first thing when you charge into a new day.
Being positive and choosing that life will put pep into your step!
From the results of a study conducted at The University of Hertfordshire, it emerges that 78% of people give up on achieving their New Year’s resolutions. One of the reasons for this is resolutions that are too vague or generic, such as a diet or change of job, more likely to defeat than help. An authentic change is done with small goals; here is how to start.
LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS – Losing twenty pounds, promising yourself to start doing sport or change your life is not so simple. Once the initial enthusiasm has faded, it is easy to fall back into normal habits, so it can be helpful to reduce goals and think of desires that are really in agreement with our hearts. You want to lose weight? Clear your mind; often the numbers cause anxiety and increase frustration. Think of all the situations in which you feel in shape. From a walk on a good morning to repainting the walls or other DIY, there are a multitude of situations in which we burn energy.
FEED YOUR INSPIRATION – So many colors and cut-outs telling the story of yourself and cultivating enthusiasm: according to experts, keeping a scrapbook is therapeutic, helping with mental clarity and stimulating commitment. Seeing the progress made month after month will be invigorating. Give 15 minutes of time every day for browsing the newspaper or websites of interest. Reading enables you to find new connections and fuels your interests. No to gossip and people who complain; use the web for cultivating rapport and positive friendships.
THINK OF YOURSELF – How much time in a day do you dedicate to what you love? The true challenge is managing to find brief moments in which to break the routine. You can learn this with mindfulness meditation. Here is an exercise to repeat in any moment: stop! What do you feel? Listen to your deep sensations, breathe, free your mind, following the rhythm of your heart. When you are in the city, or in a meeting with colleagues, waiting for your children outside school: in any context you can decide to create a vacuum and give space to yourself, to what you feel. It will help you avoid anxiety.
GIVE VALUE TO TIME – There are always more hours to spend on the Internet. Use your awareness and begin to choose things that really interest you. Traps that rob time from the day are everywhere, from online games to chat. Create good habits that manage to bring a smile to your day and a way of living more intensely. The value of sincere friendships, the flavor of a coffee enjoyed with calm, half an hour just for yourself, a walk in the open air: happiness is made in everyday moments.
You can have all the tools to achieve your goals, but if you do not believe in yourself you will fail.
If you have low self esteem all efforts will be useless.
“The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved; loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves.”
I believe that the pursuit of happiness is a long journey, made of big choices in life, but also of small daily conquests.
Hands up who has never hummed “Do not worry, be happy”, the famous song written by Bobby McFerrin in 1988! A song that is still played frequently in radios around the world because it represents a celebration of everyday happiness, a natural antidote to stress that characterizes our busy and caotic lives.