The Definitive Road-Map for Happiness Seekers

Our Founding Fathers knew how intoxicating the feeling of happiness is.

It is such a desired state of mind that they included the pursuit of it as one of three unalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence. We want to be alive, we want to be free, and we want to be happy.

According to the writers of the Declaration, life and freedom are inherent rights. But happiness isn’t guaranteed — only the pursuit of it. Most of us spend far more time pursuing it than we do actually feeling it.

hap·pi·ness

noun

1. the quality or state of being happy;

2. good fortune; pleasure; contentment; joy.

Of course it’s very difficult to feel happy all of the time.

Circumstances occur in life that undermine our happiness. Our moods and health can diminish our happiness. Other people can say or do things that can evaporate our happy mood. Often these things are out of our control.

Part of our happiness levels are determined by genetics. According to psychologist and happiness researcher,  Sonja Lyubomirsky, 40% of our levels of happiness are genetic. Some of us or more predisposed to being naturally happy than others.

And only 10% of our happiness levels result from our life circumstances — our lifestyle, finances, appearance, etc.  (I find this a stunning percentage since we spend about 90% of our time pursuing happiness through these circumstances!)

There is a diminishing point of return with happiness and life circumstances. Once we have our basic needs met and a handful of our wants, attaining better life circumstances doesn’t measurably improve happiness.

So that leaves 40% that is in our complete control. That’s a pretty big chunk.

Assuming that you aren’t one of the lucky people genetically predisposed to a happy disposition, you still can impact 50% or more of your happiness levels. If you do have happy genes, you could potentially have a smile of joy on your face nearly all the time!

Most of us are looking for happiness in all the wrong places — even when we know better. We spend far to much time pursuing happiness in the areas that reap only 10% of the rewards.

Think about how much time you spend on . . .

  • improving your appearance
  • dreaming about or buying new things
  • trying to make more money
  • attempting to gain power or control
  • trying to make people like or approve of you
  • short term pleasurable experiences

In her book, The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want, Dr. Lyubomirsky reveals the data from her years of research on what makes people happy — at least in that controllable 40% area. She discovered 12 strategies that consistently prove to increase happiness if practiced habitually.

Here’s her road-map for increasing your levels of happiness from her book The How of Happiness:

1. Counting your blessings:  Expressing gratitude for what you have (either privately – through contemplation or journaling – or to a close other) or conveying your appreciation to one or more individuals whom you’ve never properly thanked. (CHAP 4)

2. Cultivating optimism: Keeping a journal in which you imagine and write about the best possible future for yourself, or practicing to look at the bright side of every situation. (CHAP 4)

3. Avoiding overthinking and social comparison:  Using strategies (such as distraction) to cut down on how often you dwell on your problems and compare yourself to others. (CHAP 4)

4. Practicing acts of kindness:  Doing good things for others, whether friends or strangers, either directly or anonymously, either spontaneously or planned. (CHAP 5)

5. Nurturing Relationships:  Picking a relationship in need of strengthening, and investing time and energy in healing, cultivating, affirming, and enjoying it. (CHAP 5)

6. Doing more activities that truly engage you:  Increasing the number of experiences at home and work in which you “lose” yourself, which are challenging and absorbing. (CHAP 7)

7. Replaying and savoring life’s joys:  Paying close attention, taking delight, and going over life’s momentary pleasures and wonders – through thinking, writing, drawing, or sharing with another. (CHAP 7)

8. Committing to your goals:  Picking one, two, or three significant goals that are meaningful to you and devoting time and effort to pursuing them. (CHAP 8 )

9. Developing strategies for coping:  Practicing ways to endure or surmount a recent stress, hardship, or trauma. (CHAP 6)

10. Learning to forgive: Keeping a journal or writing a letter in which you work on letting go of anger and resentment towards one or more individuals who have hurt or wronged you. (CHAP 6)

11. Practicing religion and spirituality: Becoming more involved in your church, temple, or mosque, or reading and pondering spiritually-themed books. (CHAP 9)

12. Taking care of your body:  Engaging in physical activity, meditating, and smiling and laughing. (CHAP 9)

In addition to these recommendations from Dr. Lyubomirsky, here are some idea-provoking questions that have evolved in my coaching work with clients:

  • Think about activities and situations in the past in which you felt profoundly happy. How can you replicate those in your life right now?
  • What current activities or circumstances in your life are diminishing your happiness? What specific actions can you take to lessen or remove those from your life?
  • What is your genetic predisposition to feeling happy? If you are not predisposed to a happy personality, what actions or thoughts are currently reinforcing unhappiness in your life? How can you change those?
  • If you could re-create your life right now, filling it with the activities and relationships that foster happiness for you, what would that life look like? Write a new life story for yourself, even if it seems far-fetched. What are some specific actions you can take now to get you closer to that vision?
  • How are you filling your life with time-wasters or “neutral” activities that don’t foster happiness? What strategies from Dr. Lyubomirsky’s list could you use to replace these time-wasters?

You are alive and free and have the unalienable right to pursue happiness.

Fortunately your pursuit doesn’t have to be a blind chase or misdirected mission, trying to find happiness in all the wrong places.

Science and research have shown us a proven road-map on the path to happiness. If you follow that map, you can drop the pursuit and start to enjoy the authentic fruits of a happy life!

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Comments

  1. [email protected] says:

    You re definitely right about not being able to stay happy all the time, Barrie. I find that I have to constantly remind myself of all the reasons that I have to be happy about. It’s easy to get down on yourself when things aren’t how you want them to be but by counting your blessings it will make life easier and more fulfilling.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Dwayne,
      Yes, you have to bring those blessings to the forefront of your mind. It’s funny how easy it is to dwell on the few bad things when we have so many more good things. Happiness is a work in progress!

  2. Noch Noch | be me. be natural. says:

    avoid overthinking and social comparison – i do that ALL the time. need to get rid of that
    no wonder i’m not happy 🙁
    Noch Noch

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Noch,
      Oh that is a biggie. We could spend out lives in our minds thinking and worrying about what others think of us or how we match up. It is a total waste of time and mental energy. As Byron Katie says, “focus on your own business.” Don’t get caught up in other people’s business. You are the only person who has to approve of you!

  3. Hi Barrie,
    Haven’t commented in a while, but wanted to give you kudos for this post. Point #1 is the most important, but I’m actively working on 2, 6, and 12 as well. Over the last couple of years, I’ve learned to appreciate people while they are still here, because our time on Earth is brief. There will be stress, no doubt, but working on limiting that stress with what is suggested here is key to living your best life. And I have a teenager in the house, so as you know, the pendulum can swing back and forth at any time!

    Nice article, thanks…

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Joe,
      I agree totally. If we can remove the barriers to happiness, that is half the battle. Stress is a huge barrier. Of course we can’t remove our teenagers (at least not legally). But we can certainly try to minimize the stress they cause. 🙂

  4. Stay happy and give others happiness is not always possible.I think we think more about others than ourself .we spend a lot of time in think that how can we become happy than putting efforts to become happy. we should be thankfulto god for all that we have.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Sushma,
      No, it’s not always possible, but it’s possible to create more happiness in our lives by changing some of our thoughts and actions. I agree that gratitude is an excellent way to foster happiness! Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

  5. The forgiveness teaching, the strategizing for reaching goals, the avoidance of overthinking and social comparisons were especially helpful to me today! Thank you!

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      I’m so glad Rose. It is so great when something comes to us just at the right time!

  6. Hi Barrie,
    There’s a lot of ways to be Happy & much is written about it. It comes down to ‘choice’ in my book. When you choose to ‘be happy’ at that moment, new wonderful options come knocking at your door. Thankyou.
    be good to yourself
    David

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Yes,, you are right David. And making that choice often requires a change in our perspective about what fosters happiness. 🙂

  7. Paige | simple mindfulness says:

    I agree with David. So many things are out of our control, including what other people think of us and what other people (like those teenagers) do. As long as we hinge our happiness on things outside of our control, we’ll never be happy.

    Sometimes I wake up feeling kind of grumpy for no good reason. In the past I would let it go and carry that grumpiness throughout my day. I’ve learned to notice it early in the morning, ask myself if I would rather feel like this all day or change to something better. Whether I like it or not, I smile a great, big smile and hold it for about 30 seconds while I think about my day improving. It works every time to turn things around to a much happier state. It really is a choice.

    The more I try to control my 3 small children, the more frustrated we all get. The more I set general parameters and “go with the flow,” the happier we all are. This has definitely been a process. Sometimes I find myself starting to jump in to control and then I ask myself, “Is this really such a big deal?” Usually it’s not and I let it go. This also helps to reduce everyone’s stress.

    Everything on this list also contributes to a happier state. Thank you for sharing this with us Barrie!

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Paige,
      Children are often our greatest teachers because they require so much patience and sacrifice. Once you have them, you realize how very little control you have over people and circumstances. You are so smart to create “general parameters” and just go with the flow!

  8. We must be on the same frequency—because just yesterday, I was thinking about a cup as an analogy of life—what would I put into it. Things such as sunny days, the laughter of loved ones, etc. Once I was done listing what I would put into the cup—it hit me—“My Cup Runneth Over”. I had an Ah Ha moment because I realized “I have more than enough for my needs”. I need to stop looking for more and enjoy the abundance I am experiencing now.
    Another great post Barrie!

    • I like that analogy! Here’s a way to extend it one step further:

      If your cup is overflowing, it means you could give someone else whatever leaks out. Let someone else fill their cup a little more, because you can do just fine without it. In fact, you benefit from letting others drink from your cup, because then you don’t have a spill….not that having too much happiness is bad; my point is that sharing it with others can in fact make you even happier.

      Thanks Cris! I’ll have to remember that.

  9. I’m happy to find optimism in this list. I’m a fan of positive thinking and optimism is definitely one step forward to your happiness.

    Thanks for this post! I love it!

  10. Great stuff. Forgive, be grateful, consider the good of others, and get your body moving…. I need to remind myself of this every hour or so.

  11. Thanks for this post, Barrie. I have had a couple of your posts in my inbox for a week or so, meaning to come back to them and read again when I got the chance. Well here I am! I love how each of your jam-packed-with-useful-info posts link up to other posts with even more great material. 😀

    I’m generally pretty contented these days, although I did go through a tough patch a decade or so ago when I was trying to work out who I was, and where my life was going. Your post will be still a useful reminder to me, to “top up” the happiness levels every now and again, whenever I need it. I think the areas I need to work on are my goals (there’s always some excuse for putting off the huge ones) and maybe I could dedicate some more time to spirituality too. Thanks for the gentle nudge!