How would you answer the question “What do you want in life?” As it turns out, many people say they want to be happy. Yet, despite our relatively prosperous conditions, only one-third of Americans report being happy and we rank 17th compared to other countries on how happy we are, with Denmark and other European countries at the top.
So what do we need to be happy? (Hint: I don’t think you’ll find it under the Christmas tree.)
Scrolling through the documentaries on Netflix, I decided to one watch on this very topic called “Happy.” It was released in 2011, but if you haven’t seen it, I recommend it. While I’ve heard most of the information before, it is always good to be reminded of some basic facts. First and most important, It is estimated that at least 40 percent of your happiness is created by with intentional activity–meaning it’s your responsibility (with 50 percent going to genetic and 10 percent to circumstances).
And, it’s not about how much money you make, how much success you have, or how much prestige you get from others. In fact, after you have enough money to get your basic needs met, money will not buy you any greater happiness. Even living under extremely poor economic conditions doesn’t doom you to a life of dread. In fact, many people with very little in the way of creature comforts are quite happy.
In the book “The How of Happiness,” Sonja Lyubomirsky details many of the intentional activities you can engage in to boost your happiness quotient. Try a few of them as you finish the holiday season and set some intentions for your happiness as the New Year begins.
- Be socially connected – The happiest and healthiest people have strong relationships to family and friends. The communities you live in can provide love, meaning, support, and increase your feelings of self-worth. These networks support you with daily routines like cooking and taking care of children as well as during times of crises.
- Be physically active – Being physically active improves your life on many different levels by releasing hormones into your blood that do some pretty amazing things for your mood (and your weight). Doing some extra physical movement that feels good to your body, even if it’s only for a few minutes, every day will help you feel better, have more energy, and be more positive.
- Be resilient – The happiest people know how to bounce back from adversity. One of the things that happy people do is re-frame negative events into learning opportunities. You can’t change the events that happen to you, but you can change how you relate to them. As it turns out, construing benefit in negative life events is a tremendously effective coping strategy.
- Be grateful – Studies have shown that just listing 5 things that you are grateful for every Sunday can increase your mood compared to people who don’t take note of the good things in their lives. An attitude of gratitude can be practiced every day. Before you go to sleep at night or when you first wake up, think of one or two things you are really grateful for. When you feel grateful for someone, let them know through a kind word, a thoughtful email or card, or even just a hug.
- Be mindful – One of the attitudinal qualities of mindfulness is having a “beginner’s mind.” When you are keenly aware of your surroundings or seek ways to live out of your normal routine you will flourish with positive mental health. There are many ways you can do this. You can drive a different way to work, go to a new restaurant, explore a new museum, try a new craft, learn a new language, play a new sport, or join a new club. Be open to the new and interesting in your life. Never be a person who says they’re bored! Life is an exciting adventure.