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 but dissatisfied in another. 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.
- 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 how can you increase your happiness?
The acronym PERMA describes the five paths to increasing your happiness, according to science.
P is for Positive emotion. Ensure you experience positive feelings on a regular basis. That's not just happiness or joy. It might be curiosity, gratitude, awe, hope or satisfaction. Aside from making us feel good, research tells us that positive feelings aid our creativity, our optimism, our relationships and our physical health. Do more of what brings a smile to your dial, whether it's time with friends, a day outdoors, a hobby or a laugh with the kids, and do it often.
E is for 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!
R is for Relationships. We are social animals and we need strong, meaningful connections in our lives to keep well. Work on your relationships with your partner, your kids, your family and your friends. Pay these relationships attention. Don't let them languish. This might mean a date night, a fun activity with the kids or coffee and a chat with a friend. Do it regularly and do it often.
M is for 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 sports club, a religious affiliation or a volunteer activity. Work out what you value, what's important and meaningful to you and get involved.
A is for 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.
Remember, happiness is a process, not a destination