Happiness - can you make it happen?
What would make you happier? A new job? More money? Improved health? Nicer holidays? Or something else? In fact, research shows us that this sort of detail has surprisingly little to do with how happy we believe we are.
Most of us probably don’t worry about defining happiness, we just assume we will know it when we see it, but researchers have to be a bit more detailed. Positive psychology researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky says happiness is 'joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.' Some researchers refer to it as 'subjective wellbeing' - in other words, if you think you are happy, you are.
However you measure happiness, it’s always going to be somewhat subjective. It's also a continuum, or sliding scale, rather than something that is 'on' or 'off'. You can be a little bit happy, or a lot.
What affects happiness?
Scientific research shows that what we believe would make a huge difference in our lives actually makes only a small difference because we tend to overlook the true sources of personal happiness and well-being.
As you can see from the chart, only 10% of the variations in happiness come from external circumstances like whether we are rich or poor, healthy or unhealthy, married or single and so on.
50% of the variations can be accounted for by our genetic make-up. This is sometimes referred to as the 'happiness set point'.
The other 40% is down to the actions we take and the choices we make on a daily basis. This means happiness is significantly influenced by factors within our control.
Making happiness happen
We accept that we have to take action to reach some of our goals. We follow a healthy diet to live longer and control our weight, go jogging or to the gym to keep fit, and work hard to gain qualifications to get the job we want. In the same way, becoming happier means committing to some changes which might be hard work, but which will pay dividends in the long run.
Benefits of happiness
Happier people are
- more sociable and energetic
- more charitable and co-operative
- better liked by others, have better social networks, emotional support systems, and relationships
- more creative in their thinking
- more productive in their jobs, better leaders and higher earners
- more resilient in the face of hardship
- physically healthier, with stronger immune systems
Start off by using this handy online tool http://www.positivityratio.com/single.php to measure how happy you are now. You need a baseline to start with. The author suggests using it every day for a couple of weeks to get a meaningful score. Then take the following actions, suggested by Lyubomirsky to increase happiness, and after a while, test again.
- 'awe narrative' - remembering a time when you felt awe and wonder
- 'best possible self' - imagine your life in a perfect future: Lyubomirsky suggests writing about how it would be, but you could equally well storyboard it with images if you prefer
- 'best possible self for relationships' - pretty much the same exercise, but focus on your relationships
- 'mental subtraction of positive events' - imagine life without the good bits and be thankful for them
- 'meaningful photos' - photograph and write about the things that are important to you
Other researchers have come up with other ideas, such as giving up grudges, practising kindness, and paying living more 'in the moment'. What they all have in common is asking you to focus on what is, or could be, good in your life, instead of what's difficult or negative.
Debbie Waller is a professional hypnotherapist, specialising in stress, anxiety and related issues. She also offers EMDR which is used for trauma, PTSD, phobias and OCD and publishes hypnotherapy-for-ibs.co.uk for those interested in using hypnotherapy to relieve the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
Debbie owns a multi-accredited hypnotherapy school, Yorkshire Hypnotherapy Training and offers further training for qualified therapists via CPD Expert. She is the author of Their Worlds, Your Words, editor and contributor to the online magazine Hypnotherapy Training & Practitioner, and co-author of The Hypnotherapy Handbook.
For more information on any of these services, phone 01977 678593.
Researcher & drafter on these blogs: Rachel Waller.