Is Happiness A Habit?
Strange as it may sound, research suggests that happiness can indeed be learned. Easy to say when the sun is shining and the birds are singing, but what about those days when everything seems grey? What will make you happy and how can you give yourself the lift you need?
Surprisingly what we think will make us happy rarely does. Research tells us that the thrill of acquiring material possessions or becoming a size 0, things that we erroneously believe will make us happy, usually don’t long term, leaving us with a feeling of ‘Is this all there is?’. A major US study found that the richest Americans earning over $10 million annually reported levels of personal happiness only slightly higher than their employees. So the answer isn’t money, a Black Friday offer on the hand bag or the car you’ve had your eye on.
Martin Seligman, the ‘father’ of positive psychology suggests keeping a ‘Gratitude Journal’. His influential research working with 70 severely depressed adults found that the keeping of a journal (and of course writing daily in it) produced impressive results. Weeks and months later, the gratitude journal had a significant impact upon the increased happiness of the research subjects whose depression had significantly decreased.
You may find yourself wondering if a journal is really going to cut the mustard for you on an off day. You may be onto something as longitudinal research with fraternal twins suggests that we may all have a ‘set point’ in terms of our happiness, which originates from our parents. For some, being happy just seems to come naturally whilst for others it takes work. The ‘set point’ is believed by some psychologists to be our baseline, a median point of happiness that we will always return to after highs and lows. Luckily, happiness isn’t something that you either have or you don’t, it’s something that you can develop.
Wherever your set point might be, there are a whole host of habits that you can adopt in an attempt to improve it. We know from extensive studies that the following actions will stand you in good stead in terms of increasing your level of happiness. When followed, each of these behaviours and approaches to life will nudge your level of happiness just a little further up the happy-o-meter.
• Make time to nurture relationships with your family & friends. Get the work/life balance right
• Express gratitude for what you have (a journal is the perfect way to do this, or running over your day in your head before you go to sleep, picking out what you are grateful for as you go along)
• Offer to help others, this will build your self esteem and help someone else at the same time (as well as strengthening your social network)
• Practice optimism when thinking about the future. Forget what everyone else is saying and focus on a positive future.
• Live in the present. Try to make sure that you are really in the moment wherever you are; at work, with friends, or just relaxing. Stop yourself from thinking about what’s on the ‘To do’ list, enjoy life and just be.
• Exercise. The latest neuropsychology tells us that exercise not only makes you look and feel better, it strengthens the neural pathways helping them to repair themselves as well as protecting you from the onset of dementia. Add this to the mixture of feel good endorphins that your brain releases into your body when you exercise and you’re onto a winner.
• Have lifelong goals & ambitions. Set yourself goals, what have you always wanted to do? How will you get there? Break it down into small steps and watch yourself grow. As Brian Tracy says ‘You can’t hit a target you can’t see’. Setting and achieving your goals will help you to build your self esteem, resilience and efficacy.
So now you’re armed. You know what to do to make happiness a habit and improve the level of joy in your life. Let us know how you get on!
If you’d like to know more about happiness, positive psychology or you just fancy a chat with us we’d love to hear from you. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or take a look at our half day, full day, bitesize, bespoke or conference sessions.