Are you happy? Is life a struggle or a joy? Or a mix of both? If you were to rate your happiness on a scale of 1 to 10 where would you be? A jubilant 10? A struggling ‘two’? Or a ‘things are are ok but I’d like them to be better’ six or seven?
Happiness isn’t a singular, global experience. We can be very happy in one area of our life, such as our career, but be dissatisfied with our relationships. Or quite content with family but anxious about our finances. Even when things are going swimmingly across all facets of our lives we can usually find areas that would benefit from a tweak here or there.
Human happiness has been studied for thousands of years starting with Confuscius and Buddha around 500 to 600 BC. Modern research into what makes us content and happy has really hit its straps in the last 25 years. When I started studying psychology in the early 1990s happiness and human wellbeing didn’t rate a mention. Today there are entire university degrees exploring what works when it comes to making life better.
Fast facts from the scientists:
- There's happiness and then there's happiness. Hedonism is 'pleasure seeking' happiness. It's the new shoes, the great night out or the rapture of a new love affair. It's fun, it's a high but it doesn't last. Real lasting happiness, or contentment as I like to think of it, is eudaimonism or 'human flourishing'. This is what the researchers focus on in happiness studies. Psychologists call it 'subjective wellbeing'.
- Money will buy happiness but only up to a point. Once you're clothed, fed and have a safe, secure place to live, the extra cash means nada.
- We get happier as we get older.
- We're happier when it's cold. 13.9 degrees is the temp at which Japanese students are happiest. I wonder if that's the same for Australians?
How to get happy
Happiness, like everything human is complex but it’s not immutable. We can control a big chunk of how content we are with life.
Psychologist and happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky reckons that about half of your happiness stems from your genes and childhood experiences. 10 per cent is external and a whopping 40 per cent is affected by your daily activities. So it's not just a case of being happy, it's a case of doing happy.
PERMA is the word
So what do you do to get happier?
The acronym PERMA describes the five things you should work on to increase your happiness, according to the happiness scientists.
Positive emotion. Make sure you're experiencing positive emotion (feelings) on a regular basis. Aside from making us feel good, research tells us that positive feelings aid our creativity, our optimism, our relationships and our physical health. Do what brings a smile to your dial, whether it's time with friends, a chocolate treat, a hobby or a laugh with the kids, and do it often.
Engagement. Believe it or not, the weekend you spend lying on the couch catching up on Game of Thrones or surfing the web doesn't make you happy. Humans need to engage in activities to feel content. Actively participating in something we enjoy gives us focus and momentum. If it's an activity that uses your strengths and allows you to be 'in the moment', all the better. Cooking, gardening, crocheting, running, playing music, playing sport, dancing or writing; whatever floats your boat. Video games will do it too!
Relationships. We are social animals and we need strong, meaningful connections in our lives. Work on your relationships with your partner, your kids, your family and your friends. Pay these relationships attention and don't let them languish. This is as easy as a date night, a one-on-one, fun activity with the kids or coffee and a chat with a friend. Do it regularly and do it often.
Meaning. The research tells us that people who dedicate time to something greater than themselves experience greater contentment in life. This can be a community group, a political group, a movement, a religious affiliation or a volunteer activity. Work out what you value, what's important and meaningful to you and get involved.
Accomplishment. Success is not everything but it turns out that a sense of achievement is important to our wellbeing. Strive for success. Have goals and ambitions and work towards them. World domination is not required, unless that's your thing. Little goals like learning to knit or mastering a technical challenge are just as beneficial as big goals.
I've set my goals to move my happiness rating up a notch or two on the ten-point happiness scale. Tell me, what are you going to do?
(Today I'm linking up with the lovely Jess from Essentially Jess for #IBOT. I Blog On Tuesdays.)