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.
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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