What does it take to feel happier? How come some people are happier than others? These are the questions that I’ve really been interested in and want to discuss today. For many years I’ve found that becoming happier seemed like such an esoteric topic. It was never taught in schools, nor was it taught by our parents. The information that I’d received from anyone I looked up to was that happiness would come when I got a certain job or if I achieved something of worth in the eyes of my peers.
Undeniably, getting a great job or getting peer recognition does cause a boost in happiness. The trouble is that the boost is temporary. And no one tells you that. We now have studies to demonstrate that winning the lottery increases your happiness by a couple of months to a year. After that, you will go back to the same levels of happiness pre-lottery. It’s just hard to imagine that you’d somehow be not always feel warm and fuzzy in your fancy house, but imagine yourself going to your favourite restaurant everyday. At some point, the joy you feel will experience diminishing returns and it will just feel… well… regular. This happens in relationships too. This is the process of hedonic adaptation i.e. happiness levels simply drift towards a personal mean over the long haul.
This sounds awesome, if you are generally a happy person. Less so, if you aren’t. So what if you are generally less happy – what does this mean? Researchers have found that you can actually increase your happiness ‘mean’ by gratitude and mindfulness.
Gratitude – In a study at University of Pennsylvania, they asked people to write 3 things they were grateful for on a regular basis. They found that compared to those in the control condition, those in the gratitude condition experienced up to 25% more happiness and with lessened feelings of depression. It’s about paying attention to the positives in your life and feeling that appreciation. Given that negative events tend to register more powerfully than positive ones, practicing gratitude is one of the most powerful ways you can counteract this ‘negativity bias’. Things are not perfect? Be grateful anyway. To some people, this may seem foreign, but it’s simply a matter of practice. The more you do it, the more it can paint the way you see things and you become grateful for the life you live.
Mindfulness – Sometimes you can be so caught up with your thoughts that you may forget to pay attention to the moment you are in, or even forget to breathe properly. One study by Matthew Killingsworth found that mind-wandering lead to negative feelings. With mobile phones and overloaded schedules, the increasing amount of distractions you have is actually causing you to be unhappy. How to counteract this? If you are eating, be present and pay attention to the flavours. If you are by a flower, be present and smell it. If you are with a friend, don’t constantly check your phone – check in on your friend. And remember to check in on yourself and breathe. Be present in the moment – it can amplify appreciation and get you connected to yourself and the world.
These are two simple and powerful tips to increase happiness in your life. That said, leading a happier life is a life-long effort. It’s not always easy – but keep your eyes on the prize and remember that you are what you focus on. Keep that focus on the good things in your life and on solutions. I will be updating the blog regularly with tips and tools you can use to increase happiness and help you achieve greater creativity, productivity, and life satisfaction. You can signup for Uplifter, a mobile app that provides daily positive journaling exercises to help lift your mood. www.uplifter.io