If you ask anyone what they want most in life, the common answer is usually "be happy". It's something we all want, yet for many of us, happiness is as mysterious as a black hole. Today's world can sometimes be a sad, depressing, chaotic place that's super hard to live in, but everyday we can intentionally choose happiness. And we can choose to spread happiness, love and light to everyone around us. So how does one cultivate happiness? How do we make ourselves and this cray-cray world a happier place?
First we need to define our personal idea of happiness. Let's do a 1 minute meditation, focusing on what makes you happy. Sit comfortably in a chair and close your eyes. Try to clear your mind and visualize what your version of happiness looks like. Now that you have a general definition of your happy, I want you to ask yourself this very important question. Would your personal idea of happiness still exist if you lost your job? Broke up with your partner? Got kicked out of your home? Or, would it crumble like an old, broke-down house? Life is full of ebbs and flows so happiness needs to be able to survive the emotional roller coaster of life. This is why it's important to take stock of our ideas around happiness because so often we think they're things that we own, someone we love, or the jobs we have and while these things do make us feel good, they're short lived bursts of happiness that won't sustain us long term.
Yep! You read that right! According to Psychology Today, 50% of happiness is genetic, which means there's a baseline that you'll always return to after life happens, whether it's a joyous or depressing event or situation. This might be a good explanation as to why some people always seem to be in a great mood while others seemed perpetually pissed off.
10% is your circumstances which explains why money, clothes, cars, dream jobs, or trophy wives won't sustain happiness. Need proof? Check out reality tv. The Real Housewives have all money, cars, and designer clothes their hearts desire, but seem to have little happiness. Our consumer culture tricks us into believing that having all these things are keys to eternal happiness...buy more, be more, spend more and you'll be happy. It's a lie! You may feel pleasure momentarily, but it's fleeting because as soon as you hit your target, you raise it again. Nothing you do or have will ever be enough to fill you with happiness permanently.
But that 40% though...that's where true, sustainable, renewable happiness lies. We may not be able to change our genetic baseline or our circumstances, but we have complete control over what we do to cultivate more happiness. According to Shawn Achor, a leading happiness and positivity expert, happiness is" the joy you feel moving toward your potential." That's a simple yet powerful statement because joy is something you can feel even when life is not pleasurable. No, that doesn't mean you don't get sad or feel angry and it's ok to feel those emotions but like pleasure, these are (or should be) fleeting emotions. True joy doesn't fade easily. So what can we do to bring more joy into our lives? It's actually not as complicated as you think!
1. Exercise at least 30 minutes a day. That could mean a leisurely walk, cleaning the house, running a 5k...it doesn't matter. Get that body moving, increase your heart rate, and feel those endorphin hormones flood your mind with good thoughts. Endorphins, which are structurally similar to the drug morphine, are considered natural painkillers because they activate opioid receptors in the brain that help minimize discomfort. Basically you can get high on life by getting your sweat on. If that's not a great reason to work out, I don't know what is!
2. Stop eating processed food. Did you know that processed food is actually linked to depression? Yep! A study published in Public Health Nutrition Journal revealed that consumers of fast food, compared to those who eat little or none, are 51% more likely to develop depression. Remember, our brains are built out of the food we eat. So feed it whole foods as often as possible, including healthy fats and plenty of water. The more efficiently our bodies operate, the happier we are.
3. Give more of yourself to others. Whether it's donating time at a charity or listening to a friend who needs you, when we give ourselves to other freely and happily, we cultivate more happiness for ourselves. Say what?! This intrigued me too. It's been scientifically proven that when people give to charities, it activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust, creating a “warm glow” effect. Scientists also believe that altruistic behavior releases endorphins in the brain, producing the positive feeling known as the “helper’s high.” We are hard wired to be compassionate, cooperative, community-orientated people. Commit yourself to one act of kindness a day and watch your happiness quotient increase.
4. Be grateful for everything you have. Having an attitude of gratitude can help you increase your self-confidence, cope with stressful situations, and savor positive experiences more. Try to make it a point to find 10 things you are grateful for every night. Just take 5 minutes before bed and write down things that happened during the day which you're grateful for. It can be that traffic wasn't as bad as it was the day before or your boss recognized you for your hard work or what you learned from a stressful situation. Find things you can be grateful for and you'll notice you will attract more of the good stuff in your life.
5. Live in the moment. As technology advances, we seem to be more disconnected and busier than ever. Part of living a joyful life is finding an activity you love to do just for the sake of doing it...gardening, surfing, swimming, writing, etc. When we do these things we get in a zone where life sort of falls away and all that's left is us doing what we love, being carefree, and living in the present. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls this "Flow". According to Csikszentmihalyi, “The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” Solutions to situations naturally arise as well as new creative ideas and insights when you live in the present, which is why meditation is so important. You gain clarity when you clear your mind and become still.
Here's the thing, happiness is truly a choice. We have the right to pursue happiness but we have to catch it ourselves. It's only through cooperation, love, being around friends and family, doing things we love just for fun, and giving ourselves to other people that we experience true, sustainable, and renewable happiness. So now, please take a moment to close your eyes again and visualize what happiness is to you. Is it still the same?