When only 50% of us revealed ourselves as “happy” (Living your dream life survey 2018) we started exploring all the elements of life that we nurture (or neglect), that form our daily routine, our social and emotional DNA. Right now as we complete the chapter, in the forthcoming book, about money, our research and interviews have taken us in this blog to look at whether there is a recipe, a guide for sustaining positive changes in our levels of happiness. And there may be, for some of us some very happy news. For others, well, not so much.
So to start, what is happiness? Well from a psychological point of view it is the exhibition of frequent positive affect and high, sustained and durable life satisfaction. Often measured and reported as subjective well-being, it also has as a component infrequent negative affect. But here’s the rub … it seems that 50% of our happiness is to a degree something set, in our DNA, our set point. 10% is due to our circumstances. Ever the optimist though … there is a whopping 40% that is determined by the intentional action we take. So … you can have an influence, you can manage and enhance it.
So what can you do?
Lyubomirsky, Tkach, and Sheldon (2004), had participants in a study perform five acts of kindness per week over the course of 6 weeks, either all five acts in 1 day or five acts spread over the week. These were behaviours that benefited other people or made others happy, usually at some cost to oneself (e.g., donating blood, helping a friend , visiting an elderly relative, or writing a thank-you note).* Participants who committed acts of kindness experienced a significant increase in well-being. Particularly impressive were the happiness levels of those who performed the acts of kindness in a single day. Overall message : BE NICE and perform random acts of kindness all the time!
The second thing you can do, according to research, is to begin practising grateful thinking on a regular basis, which can enhance concurrent well-being. Gratitude promotes the savouring of positive life experiences.
Overall what do experts say about sustaining happiness? The advice here is clear. If you want to pursue happiness seekers then find activities to engage your heart, mind, soul and body in that fit with your values and interests (see our previous blogs!!). And if you want to become a happiness zen master then when you are engaged in the activity attune your mental thoughts to the way the activity is making you feel, and vary your focus, attention, reflection on the activity. And above all other things avoid basing your happiness on the acquisition of particular circumstances or objects… that is money and what money brings.
Sheldon, Lyubormirsky and Schkade, 2005, Pursuing Happiness: The Architecture of Sustainable Change, Review of General Psychology, Vol 9 (2), pp. 111-131.