We are told we’ll ‘open happiness’ when we drink Coca Cola, indulge in a ‘scoop of happiness’ when we eat Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and even get a ‘touch of happiness’ when we use Nivea body wash. But do all these things really make us happy?
Happiness has been extensively researched since Positive Psychology became a formal body of science in 1998. It’s now understood that our happiness level is a result of a complex interaction of genes, thoughts, behaviours, and circumstances. While each of us has a genetic set point for happiness, we do indeed have the ability to offset it.
What have we learned? Firstly, the brains that we are born with can change. Secondly, we are all hard-wired for negative thinking. Thirdly, adopting new thought patterns is possible by training our brain as if it were a muscle, to overcome negative thoughts.
Thankfully, there is now a profound shift in attitudes underway all over the world. People are recognising that ‘progress’ should not only be about growing the economy, but also about increasing human happiness and wellbeing. The fact that the 193 United Nations member states have all adopted a resolution calling for happiness to be given greater priority is indicative of this shift.
So what does bring us lasting happiness? The latest findings show that the following ten suggestions do in fact contribute significantly to our overall happiness (put together in a lovely acronym – GREAT DREAM):
- Giving – When we give to others it activates the areas of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection and trust.
- Relating – Research shows that people with strong and broad social relationships are happier, healthier and live longer.
- Exercising – It releases dopamine in the brain which is a neurotransmitter associated with the feelings of pleasure and happiness. Exercising also reduces stress and anxiety, increases energy, and improves sleep which all contribute to our overall level of happiness.
- Awareness – Becoming more mindful has been widely shown to benefit our physical health and happiness.
- Trying out – Learning has been shown to affect our wellbeing in lots of positive ways. It exposes us to new ideas and helps us stay curious and engaged. It also gives us a sense of accomplishment and helps boost our self-confidence and resilience.
- Direction – Research shows that setting and working towards goals can contribute to our happiness as it gives us a sense of meaning, accomplishment, joy, and confidence.
- Resilience – This is our ability to cope with and bounce back from adversity. Research shows that resilience can be strengthened by building a range of skills as well as nurturing our resources to help us respond flexibly, effectively deal with challenges, recover more quickly and even learn and grow as a result.
- Emotions – Our emotions affect our long term wellbeing. Research shows that experiencing positive emotions (such as joy, gratitude, contentment, inspiration, and pride) in a 3-to-1 ratio with ‘negative’ ones leads to a tipping point beyond which we naturally become more resilient to adversity and better able to achieve things.
- Acceptance – Self-acceptance is a key psychological factor that contributes to how good or happy we feel. It’s about knowing our strengths and our weaknesses, coming to terms with our past, and feeling good about ourselves whilst at the same time being aware of our limitations.
- Meaning – People who have meaning and purpose in their lives are happier, feel more in control and get more out of what they do. They also experience less stress, anxiety and depression.
Check out the infograph below on happiness. It’s created by Happify, which offers evidence based tools to increase your emotional health and wellbeing through individualised exercises, activities, and games delivered daily.