It’s interesting that what many of us believe would make us happy—more money, that fabulous relationship, perfect body, bigger home etc.—do not give us lasting happiness. For a short time, we may get a “high” but that high is ephemeral. According to scientific research, what we think will bring and sustain happiness creates a small difference. We tend to overlook the sources that would bring us true happiness and well-being. (The How of Happiness)
In Buddhism, there is the concept of the hungry ghost. The hungry ghost has an insatiable hunger—is never satisfied. In our culture, it is common to fill up with things hoping to find happiness only to discover the happiness is ephemeral.
According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, the author of the How of Happiness, “what determines happiness can be divided into a pie chart. Circumstances account for 10%, 50% of our happiness is determined by genetically determined set points, and 40% comes from intentional activity (our behaviour). This means that 40% of our experiencing happiness is in our control—what we do and how we think matters.
Some examples of behaviour and types of thinking that create happiness are:
- Spending quality time with friends and family
- Being grateful and expressing this gratitude
- Offering to help (however small a gesture)
- Practising Optimism
- Living more mindfully (being present)
- Bouncing back from difficult situations (resilience)
- Having purpose
Only 10% of happiness levels in the study can be accounted for by finances, health, beauty etc.
When I was a teen, I wanted to fit in desperately. I showed up the first day of junior high school with the wrong clothes, hair, school bag. Mortified, I slunk through my first day spending lunch in the bathroom and bursting into tears when I got home. Because my parents were adamant on not raising a kid to be materialistic, I fought hard and relentlessly to get the few shirts, jeans etc so that I could show up for class.
The thing is, yes, it mattered that I had those few things just to feel I was not sticking out like a sore thumb but what I realized after I saved money to buy myself more, was that the more faded out and I was still left with my unhappy and wobbly self. A person trying to squeeze herself into the wrong shape rather than figuring and embracing me. The truth was I was sensitive and kind and I studied (we were somehow supposed to get the grades but never own up to working for them—that was not cool). I was raised with values that clashed with some of the kids I desperately tried to be friends with.
It took several years before I finally let go and let myself be free to expose the person inside—the real me. I took off the masks and it was then I found the friends who not only accepted me but delighted in me.
And so, happiness is not something out there to wait for or an “if only…then statement. We can actually influence our own state of happiness right now.
Genuinely happy people tend to “make things happen”. They follow the serenity prayer, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” (Reinhold Niebuhr)
By continually learning and growing, connecting with others, being grateful, and being mindful of our thoughts (that thoughts influence our behaviour) we can increase our level of happiness.
It may take effort and practice but what is the alternative?
Genuine and lasting happiness is really within our reach. We can influence the pathways in our brain and re-groove that negativity.
Happiness is actually a choice. What do you choose?