“People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
– Abraham Lincoln
If you were sad your whole life, existence would be absolutely futile. Happiness is therefore an important measure of how successful we are.
But what makes human beings happy? And how is it achieved?
Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, stated that while 60% of happiness is determined by our genetics and environment, the remaining 40% is up to us.
In his 2004 Ted Talk, Seligman described 3 different kinds of happy lives:
– The pleasant life, in which you fill your life with as many pleasures as you can.
– The life of engagement, where you find a life in your work, parenting, love and leisure.
– The meaning of life which “consists of knowing what your highest strengths are, and using them to belong to and in the service of something larger than you are.”
After exploring what accounts for ultimate satisfaction, Seligman was surprised.
The pursuit of happiness, research determined, has hardly any contribution to a lasting fulfilment. Instead, pleasure is “the whipped cream and the cherry” that adds a certain sweetness to satisfactory lives founded by the simultaneous pursuit of meaning and engagement.
It might sound like a big deal to tackle great concepts like meaning and engagement, but happy people often have habits you can introduce into your everyday life that may add to the bigger picture of bliss.
How many of these traits do you have?
1) They surround themselves with other happy people.
Joy is contagious. Researchers of the Framingham Heart Study who investigated the spread of happiness over 20 years found that those who are surrounded by happy people “are more likely to become happy in the future”. This is reason enough to dump the Debbie Downers and spend more time with uplifting people.
2)They smile when they mean it.
Even if you’re not feeling so jolly, thinking a happy thought – and then smiling about it – could up your happiness levels and make you more productive, according to a study published in the Academy of Management Journal. It’s important to be genuine with your grin: The study revealed that faking a smile while experiencing negative emotions could actually worsen your mood.
3) They cultivate resilience.
According to psychologist Peter Kramer, resilience, not happiness, is the opposite of depression: Happy people know how to bounce back from failure. Resilience is like a padding for the inevitable hardship human beings are bound to face. As the Japanese proverb goes, “Fall seven times and stand up eight.”
4) They appreciate simple pleasures.
A meticulously swirled ice cream cone. A cute boundlessly waggy dog. Happy people take the time to appreciate these easy-to-come-by pleasures. Finding meaning in the little things, and practicing gratitude for all that you do have is associated with a sense of overall gladness.
5) They let themselves lose track of time. (And sometimes they can’t help it.)
When you’re immersed in an activity that is simultaneously challenging, invigorating and meaningful, you experience a joyful state called “flow.” Happy people seek this sensation of getting “caught up” or “carried away,” which diminishes self-consciousness and promotes the feelings associated with success. As explained by Pursuit-of-happiness.org.
6)They nix the small talk for deeper conversation.
Nothing wrong with shootin’ the s**t every now and then, but sitting down to talk about what makes you tick is a prime practice for feeling good about life. A study published in Psychological Science found that those who take part in more substantive conversation and less trivial chit chat experienced more feelings of satisfaction.
7) They make a point to listen.
“When you listen you open up your ability to take in more knowledge versus blocking the world with your words or your distracting thoughts,”writes David Mezzappelle, author of Contagious Optimism. “You are also demonstrating confidence and respect for others. Knowledge and confidence is proof that you are secure and positive with yourself thus radiating positive energy.
8) They value a good mixtape.
Music is powerful. So powerful, in fact, that it could match up to the anxiety-reducing effects of massage therapy. Over a 3 month period, researchers from the Group Health Research Institute found that patients who simply listened to music had the same decreased anxiety symptoms as those who got 10 hour-long massages. Choosing the right tunes could be an important factor, however, as a happy or sad song can also affect the way we perceive the world.
9) They unplug.
Whether by meditating, taking a few deep breaths away from the screen or deliberately disconnecting from electronics, unplugging from our hyper-connected world has proven advantages when it comes to happiness.
10) They go outside.
Want to feel alive? Just a 20-minute dose of fresh air promotes a sense of vitality, according to several studies published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology. “Nature is fuel for the soul, ” says Richard Ryan Ph.D, the lead author of the studies. “Often when we feel depleted we reach for a cup of coffee, but research suggests a better way to get energized is to connect with nature.”
11) They spend some time on the pillow.
Waking up on the wrong side of the bed is not just a myth. When your running low on zzz’s you’re prone to experience lack of clarity, bad moods and poor judgement. “A good night’s sleep can really help a moody person decrease their anxiety,” Dr. Raymonde Jean, director of sleep medicine and associate director of critical care at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Centre told Health.com.
“You get more emotional stability with good sleep.”
12) They LOL.
You’ve heard it before: Laughter is the best medicine. In the case of The Blues, this may hold some truth. A good, old-fashioned chuckle releases happy brain chemicals that, other than providing the exuberant buzz we seek, make humans better equipped to tolerate both pain and stress.
There has been a substantial amount of research into the essence of happiness and we aren’t much closer to revealing the answers. The nature of the concept is extremely subjective and due to the diversity of genetics, behaviour and characteristics that make us human, trying to answer the question ‘what makes humans happy?’ is always going to be tough. It doesn’t mean we SHOULDN’T try to answer it though.
I believe its a more important question than a lot of the crap we’re taught in school anyways. Think about it. How much of the stuff that you’ve learnt in school has made any positive difference to any aspect of your life. For me, I reckon about 10%, absolute max, and that takes me up until I was 18. The science of pleasure is not really touched on anywhere, and surely recognising whether I’m happy or working to achieve complete happiness is more important than knowing the meaning of SIN COS and TAN.
The 12 point list isn’t definitive, and other important positive things like spirituality, charity and exercise can also benefit how happy you feel. After going through the list of 12 there should be at least one item on the list which you don’t do enough of so do more to make yourself content. Listen to your favourite song, take pleasure in people falling over in public or just smile, whatever it is, if it makes you feel good then go for it.
What makes me happy isn’t going to necessarily make you happy. But one thing we can all agree on is; this guy makes us all happy.