With two of my recent blogs focused on the idea of happiness and ways to achieve this desirable state, which is a continuous work in progress of course. March 20th, last month, came into focus as it was marked as being “World Happiness Day,” so that got me thinking that it would be good to dig a bit deeper with this topic.
The possibility of lasting happiness has been researched by experimental psychologist Sonia Lyubomirsky. She found that happiness, through materialism, wears off like the new car smell, that soon gets stale. Plus, as soon as you drive that new car out of the show room its value depreciates too! The short- term excitement associated with getting a new car, is a good analogy. Studies of twins and adoptees have shown that about 50% of each person’s happiness is determined from birth, this is called your genetic setpoint and this alone makes the happiness glass look half empty, because any upward swing in happiness seems doomed to fall back to your baseline setpoint. So, if you think of this as a pie: half the pie is the genetic setpoint, the smallest slice of the pie, 10% is circumstances and the remaining 40% – what is that? Well, that’s the stuff that we can control and crucially – change: our thoughts, beliefs, and outlook.
We think that more success, more money, more friends: accumulation and acquisition will lead to more happiness but once we have a lotto win, we won’t always be satisfied, in fact often we simply want it again and again, we want more. Happiness is the result of electrical chemicals and their reactions which help us determine what is good versus what is bad, these electrochemical reactions happen in the brain and then we are wired, so, when we feel happy, we want to repeat the sensation. But a happiness-hit is not everlasting, it’s a continuous pursuit and we have to practise it regularly until it becomes a new habit and more automatic.
Here are some ways to spread happiness:
- Say hi to your neighbours, offer to help an elderly person who lives nearby.
- Avoid gossiping, give people the benefit of the doubt instead of judging them harshly.
- Create a compassion habit and do one kind act today. Pay people authentic and genuine compliments – try to make your compliments specific so they connect better.
- Listen well, focus on hearing what people say rather than offering solutions. For more ideas about “listening” go to my website www.moneymagnet.global/listening
- Cultivate good manners, open doors, say thank you. Acknowledge other people, be grateful. Smile!
We all want to feel content and we spend a large part of our lives in pursuit of happiness. We look for work that fulfils us, partners we cherish, families that support and nurture us, and friends that make us laugh. Or do we? Perhaps surprisingly, our lifestyles and our actions often suggest that we do not strive for happiness above all but instead sacrifice feeling happy for other goals such as making money, gaining social status and avoiding negatives, such as discomfort or boredom. Today in the developed world at least, there is more potential for individual happiness than ever before. We have more freedom, more money and greater opportunities than our predecessors could even have dreamt of, so in theory we should be happier but for many of us it doesn’t feel like that. The fact is that modern-day living is stressful, we are increasingly connected by technology and yet disconnected from nature. [Check out my website page on “Inner Voice: No 8 – Connect with Nature.” for more on this topic.] Our friendships are becoming more widely stretched and more superficial as we chat online but not in person. Workplaces are increasingly controlled by multinational corporations making it more difficult to see the direct results, and the benefits of our labour in the way that our ancestors did. This has all led to a general sense of disconnection and sadly a decline in our mental health. Apparently more than three quarters of visits to the doctor now seem to be stress related in one way or another.
Happiness A, B, C.
We cannot exert control over all of our life circumstances, but psychologists believe that making small changes to our daily lives, our outlook and attitude can have a significant effect on our emotional well-being. Remember that 40% element that involves our daily activities and other factors that are under our control. So, you can manage that 40% and increase your happiness quota: here are some 10 happier habits you might like to play with:
- Surround yourself with other happy people.
- Prioritise activities that make you feel good – block out some time in your diary.
- Take responsibility for your own happiness and don’t blame others when things go wrong.
- Get enough sleep, eat well, and exercise regularly.
- Forgive yourself when you slip up. Think self-love and self-compassion.
- Take pleasure in the small, simple things.
- Don’t compare yourself to other people but welcome the success of others.
- Get out into nature regularly.
- Be resilient when setbacks hit. Cry – get it out – then get back on track.
- Give to others through kindness, compliments and donations.
- Connect with some of the activities that you used to enjoy as a child.
Look at a picture of yourself as child and ask, “Okay, let’s do something silly and fun, what do you have in mind?’’
That might be something like colouring or getting creative, having a water fight with friends. Tuning in and dancing to some rousing upbeat music. On a warm evening go outside lie on a blanket and gaze up at the stars. In summer-time buy yourself an ice cream, go feed the ducks on the pond. Bounce on a trampoline – have some tickle time – remember being tickled with a feather as a child – that light playful touch can trigger laughter. Go for skipping through some fields, whist blowing bubbles. Play hide and seek or hop-scotch. Experience awe when viewing some breath-taking spectacle, this gives us an instant lift and shifts your mental perspective: look at a picture of the Northern lights or a picture of dolphins leaping joyously out of the sea. Look for the silver lining in every cloud the sky.
Initial results with positive ‘Be Happy” interventions have been promising but sustaining them is tough, so instilling habits is ideal. Another key is the fit or how well the exercise or practice matches the person because if it feels contrived and you’re forcing it against your grain you’ll be less likely to do it anyway. However, the biggest factor may be getting over the idea that happiness is fixed and realising instead that sustained effort can boost it. One of the things that repeatedly came up in studies was that it’s not necessarily money that makes you happier, in fact in studies of rich people the levels of happiness were not greater, in fact when psychologists study what makes people happy they find that being kind to others makes people happier and people only need moments of compassion to build upon because there is the positive feedback loop: when you do a kind deed you become happier which makes it more likely that you’ll do another kind act like help your neighbour carry in their groceries or take your mum out for lunch. The central idea now is that practising compassion to be happy replaces the old material and accomplishment driven concept of getting more is better. The old energy and way of doing things was to strive for money and acquire things and take practical steps to get there, to obtain this or that – an endless shopping list, perhaps? Now times are shifting, and we’re about to become less materialistic and more aware of sustainability, giving something back rather than just taking.
Another reason for revisiting happiness is that it is a desirable state, since it raises our vibration, and everything is energy after all. Philosophers, since the very dawn of time have sought the answer to that most fundamental of questions – Why are we here? The answers their deep thinking and varied hypotheses have come up with are as disparate as we, as individuals, are. Having read and studied many of these philosopher’s arguments, it has always seemed to me that there are some over-arching themes – we, as individuals, are meant overall to be happy. If we accept, as I do, that we are spiritual beings merely undertaking this human journey, then we intuitively know that this life is not the be-all and end-all of existence. This human experience is just one small journey on our spiritual travels.
At the onset I mentioned World Happiness Day, which was started in 2011 by philanthropist, activist, statesman and prominent United Nations special adviser Jayme Illien to inspire, mobilise and advance the cause of the “global happiness movement”. In 2011 the United Nations agreed to declare March 20th, each year as a special day designated to mark the importance of happiness to humanity. For this reason, alone, it should signify to us that happiness is a state that is beneficial to embrace, celebrate and ultimately to be sought by every human being.
We are meant to be happy! And yet, so few of us actually are. Just as a matter of interest, I decided to look at the happiness register that categorises countries each year by their level of happiness, just to see if there was a common thread that could tell us why some societies are intrinsically happier than others. The latest happiness register lists the top ten happiest countries in the world in 2018. They are as follows:
- New Zealand
It’s a fascinating list, isn’t it? The first thing, obviously, that jumps out at us is that the top four countries in the world when it comes to happiness, are all Nordic countries, in Scandinavia and with Sweden coming in at number nine, you could conclude that Scandinavia has got to be the place to live if you want to be happy. In fact, it seems that the US is in a period of happiness slippage as America is dropping down the league rankings. I have no doubt there are a hundred and one reasons why these tough, Nordic peoples appear to be the happiest human beings on the planet but with their long, cold, winters and their brief but beautiful summers, one thought does resonate with me. Given the nature of their location, and climate, they, as a people, have by necessity come to rely on themselves and their immediate families for their joy and their happiness. In the Scandi countries they have deep respect for family time, they work productively yet have famously generous paternity leave – fully-paid 9 months off for mothers and 3 months for fathers – compare that with 12 weeks unpaid leave in the US. Plus, they believe that it’s important to take holidays and they use their 25 days off – whereas in the US the average 16 days often get banked and lost. Also, in contrast are the attitudes to health and well-being. Scandinavians to an extent are obsessed with being outdoors and have some incredible scenery on the doorstep, the saying goes there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes. The Swedes for instance have a mantra of moderation: LAGOM (Just the right amount), whereas the US is more geared towards extremes than the concept of balance which is central to many Scandinavians.
You could certainly argue, looking at the top ten countries on the list, that wealth and prosperity plays a big part in this happiness – but if that was the case, why isn’t the United States or even the oil-rich Gulf States on the top of that list. The US actually ranks at No. 18, and Saudi Arabia comes in at No. 33. Wealth also doesn’t explain why a relatively poor country like Costa Rica came in at 13th on the list or Mexico and Chile at 24th and 25th respectively. Certainly, the top ten countries on the list are all western, progressive, liberal democracies, which may go some way to telling us that this is the political flavour under which happiness can flourish well. They, in the main, have very generous social programs, and employment is very pro-family.
Arguably, it may have a lot to do with these “Happy Nations” having a high genetic set point, plus how they manage the stuff they can control. They have excellent education, healthcare systems, high average income levels, but they also take personal responsibility for staying in good shape, pulling their weight in society and being appreciative. The Danes have a concept of social bonding and belonging which they call HYGGE (Coziness and comfortable conviviality).
In other words, they CHOOSE to be happy. Or perhaps happiness is a by-product of their contribution to building and maintaining a well-functioning society.
Canada, New Zealand and Australia, as Commonwealth colonies, have always had a reputation for “punching above their weight” in world affairs. I think the same isolationism experienced by the Scandinavians and the need to prove themselves on the world stage, especially to their ex-colonial masters be it in global conflict, in sport, or in technological innovation, is what has propelled these countries both to be self-sufficient and innately happy, as a people. The Netherlands, of course, is a country born of the sea. The Dutch people have had to struggle for survival from the relentless encroachment of their land, by the sea (which is only being exacerbated by climate change) as well as aggression from neighbours. Again, this collective self-sufficiency shines through, whilst relying on themselves but having a sense of community and cohesion at the same time, the “Happy Nations” are plugging into the bio-feedback loop.
If the Americans really want to live the American Dream, they could move to Denmark perhaps?
Just for a moment, stop and imagine (as John Lennon would have said) a world where every individual woke up in the morning and made a conscious decision to be happy, that day. What a change that would make on the global stage. It’s not that difficult to do and I’ve given you some practical ideas on how to achieve that here and in the previous two articles. So, my final advice to you today – you guessed it:
CHOOSE TO BE HAPPY – today, tomorrow and every day from now on.
Make your happiness-fix your new must-have habit. Have fun!
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