Do you ever look at someone else's life and think that they have it so much better than you? Or maybe you feel like things often don’t go your way or that you have very little control over how happy you feel?
It is all too easy these days to compare our lives to others and get stuck in our heads replaying our own problems, but the truth is that we have far more control over our happiness than we probably realise.
Research by Sonja Lyubomirsky*, a professor in Psychology indicates that when it comes to our happiness, around 50% is controlled by our DNA, a genetic set point if you like. Only around 10% of our happiness is influenced by our circumstances such as where we live, whether we are single, married or divorced or our income level which might surprise you! ** In fact research shows that once our needs are met for the likes of food and accommodation, those who have a lot more money and might appear to have life easier, are actually no happier. Likewise, lotto winners have a ‘happiness high’ for a while, but over time, this can fade, even in a multimillion-dollar house with fancy car and a heated pool.
A staggering 40% of our happiness is controlled by what is referred to as our ‘intentional activity’ - things that we can do ourselves that make a difference and the good news is, these often don’t cost money either! Things like exercising, expressing gratitude, helping others, savouring life's pleasures or spending time with people who make you feel good, are all examples of things you can do to boost your happiness.
While the exact percentages will of course vary from person to person, the takeaway point is that despite what we might believe, there are many, many things we can do to impact our level of happiness!
We need to stop fighting with the things we can’t control and focus our attention on the things that we can. Also, it is important to remember that when we think about happiness, it is more about experiencing joy, contentment and positive well being rather than thinking we need to become people who are smiling and positive every minute of the day! Negative emotions play an important role in our lives and need not be feared. Challenging situations happen, and it is very normal to feel sad and down at times, but how long we stay in these states, is often a choice.
Here are 10 intentional activities that you can easily apply every day which have the ability to improve both your level of happiness and overall well being.
1) Watch lighthearted comedy TV shows which make you laugh after a tough day.
2) Organise regular catch ups with friends or family who make you feel positive and upbeat.
3) Have walking meetings at work rather than sitting in a dark board room.
4) Sit down and eat lunch every day away from your computer and mindfully enjoy it.
5) Start your day with a cup of tea and write down 5 things you are grateful for BEFORE you open your emails.
6) If a problem arises, look at the best-case scenario for the outcome rather than just the worst case.
7) Offer to help in your local community or volunteer.
8) Give money to charity.
9) Commit to a minimum of 15 minutes exercise every day, even if it is only a slow pace.
10) Write a letter to someone who needs cheering up or send some flowers! Or maybe send a card to someone expressing your gratitude for their support – who doesn’t love receiving post?
What could you try to intentionally improve your happiness?
*Pursuing Happiness: The architecture of Sustainable Change, Review of General Psychology 2005, Vol 9. Sonja Lyubomirsky, Kennon Sheldon, David Schkale.
**High income improves evaluation of life but not emotional well-being. Kahneman and Deaton. PNAS Early Edition.
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