ARTICLE: The Important 40% Of Happiness

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“Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action.” – Benjamin Disraeli

HappyI believe we are living in very exciting times when it comes to our understanding of what makes us truly happy in the long term. Up until relatively recently (well, about 10 years ago actually) the general perception of the personal development and self-growth movement was pretty much split down the middle. One half of the camp embraced the theory that “we are what we think” and that we can be powerful beyond measure if we so choose, while the other half would roll their eyes and barely be able to hide their distaste of that “fluffy clap trap!”.

I remember my own internal conflict around that time. While I was hooked on the idea that working on myself and my spiritual path would help me carve out an amazing future – and it has ;o) – at the same time there was another part of me that was just an out and out science guy. I was eager to do as I was told by many of the great philosophers and self-help gurus of the day, but I also wanted to know that there was a solid basis for why I should invest my trust in the principles I was learning.

Notions such as practicing daily gratitude and forgiveness intrigued me. Sure, it felt really good when I did them, but I was kind of left wondering whether I was actually becoming a happier person or if I was just experiencing momentary “nice” feelings.

Perhaps that is why I am such a devout advocate of the field of Positive Psychology; the now officially recognised science of how truly happy people get to be truly happy. Thanks to the work of its founder, Dr. Martin Seligman (and many others since), not only can we continue to put faith into the long trusted principles of personal development and spiritual self-care, but now there is an abundance of empirical evidence to support the fact those principles really do bolster our long term happiness.

Here is one of the most interesting things I’ve learned about the nature of happiness (look for Dr Sonja Lyubomirsky’s brilliant book “The How of Happiness”). Having investigated extensively under strict scientific conditions, psychologists are able to confidently determine that the happiness we experience in our lives is made up of:

50% Genetic “Set Point”
Through clever testing (far too clever to go into here!!) it has been realised that half of all the happiness we feel is due to a natural default level that is different for each of us. This means that unless something absolutely horrific happens to us we will always return to at least our in-build baseline level of happiness after our lives are shaken up in some way (for good or for bad). It would appear this is why some people are better able to pick themselves up after a fall than others. It may also explain why some people seem not to get as excited about exciting events as we think they should!

10% Circumstances
Staggeringly, only 1/10th of our experience of happiness is due to the conditions of our life circumstances. I can almost feel the resistance from some of you as you read this!! (I know it jarred with me at first). It seems completely counterintuitive but, if you are used to living by moderate means, coming into a lot of money will only bring a temporary boost to your happiness at best. If you have always enjoyed good health, a dose of long term illness will not necessarily make you miserable. Leaving a dead end job for a seemingly better one is, more often than not, not all it’s cracked up to be. This is because is it in our nature to adapt to the circumstances of our environment extremely quickly. It is called “hedonic adaption”. Remember a time when you were really excited about buying something new; maybe a car, an item of clothing, or even your house. Now remember how quickly that object felt like any other natural detail of your life.

40% Intentional Activity
Intentional activities are the things that we make a conscious decision to engage ourselves in. Depending on what those activities are we will either experience elevated levels of authentic happiness or simply hang out around our default set point. What the research has uncovered is that the world’s happiest people are those who capitalise on this 40% by routinely doing things that nurture their spirit and help them view their life in a positive way. By making it a habit of immersing themselves in the kind of activities that act a reminder of what is really important to them (see the suggestions in the homework section below), they literally train their neurology to “just be happy”.

We may not be able to control our genetic set point, and changing our life circumstances is only likely to shift our happiness up or down by 10%, but we do have it in our power to choose the quality what we put our efforts and attention onto. The great news is that it is this 40% that can make the most wonderful difference to our overall experience of life.

The moral of the story is, by all means, don’t stop going after all the nice things you want to have in your life (more money, bigger house, nicer car, that promotion, etc) but don’t expect those things to BE the happiness you are looking for.


HOMEWORK


Make a list of the material things you have desired recently (including any external ‘symbols of success’ such as power and status), where you have believed that having them would make you happier.

Just as an experiment, for 30 days make a commitment to stop working towards getting them and, instead, intentionally engage in one (…or some, …or all!!) of these daily activities:

Gratitude – At the end of each day think deeply about what you are truly thankful for (people, things, abilities, opportunities, or anything you think of). Make sure you connect emotionally with your gratitude.

Social Connection – Plan to spend more quality time with your friends or find ways to increase your social circle. Have fun.

Acts of Kindness – Do something every day to make a positive difference to the life of someone else (it is important do this out of love and not because you expect something in return ;o). A powerful way for you to really benefit from this is to perform acts of kindness anonymously.

Health and Wellbeing – Make your own wellness a priority and do what you know to do take better care of yourself. Doesn’t have to be a strict fitness regime; could be getting more sleep, drinking more water, take the stairs rather than the lift, eating your 5-a-day, etc. The important thing is to focus on the respect you have for your body and soul.

Nurture Important Relationships – Treat the most important people in your life as if they are the most important people in your life. Identify areas of your relationships that you have been neglecting and bring your focus back to strengthening those bonds.

Meditate – Regularly make time to be quiet and still. Find some relaxing music or get a guided meditation tape to help you, but either way re-master the skill of just being present in this very moment.

Forgiveness – Identify any people, situations or events towards which you have been holding onto resentment. Do whatever you need to do let go, accept and forgive. As Mark Twain once said “Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heal that has crushed it”

At the end of the 30 days, go back over your original list of ‘wants’ and give an honest assessment as to whether you still want them and, if so, notice if your attitude has changed around what you expect them to get for you.

Wishing you lots of happiness!


Take great care. Namaste. 

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