~The Simple Sophisticate, episode #79
A helpful marketing ploy to sell a book, an article or a product is to smack the word “happy” on the title. After all, the United States’ Declaration of Independence declared the rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” to be at the foundation of our young country. People want to feel happy.
To feel happy is to experience a rush of specific chemicals and a creative balance of these four specifically: dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins. However, each one of us has our own unique equation that will lead to the most happiness as explained by Dr. E.P. Seligman in Authentic Happiness. What’s the formula, you may be eager to know?
H = S + C + V
Set range based on your biological parents
Circumstances of your life (money, relationships, health, religion)
Voluntary – factors under your control (how you deal with the past, think about the future, etc)
In knowing this equation, I wanted to dive deeper into set factors of how we can improve the happiness in our everyday lives. So after devouring Dr. Seligman’s book, I came up with a list of 18 things you can do today and continuing forward into the new year to improve the happiness in your life.
1.Understand the truth behind marriage and happiness
Study after study purports that marriage is a precursor for happiness. However, there are many ways to look at the data, and as Stephanie Coontz pointed out in 2013, said studies deserve a closer examination. The National Opinion Research Center reported in 2004 that after surveying 35,000 people, 40% of those who were married reported being “very happy”. Or, let’s look at the data another way, 60% of those married did not report being “very happy”. Coontz revealed that in a study shared by Council on Contemporary Families in 2013, “almost 80 percent — already reported high levels of well-being before getting married, with no significant increase afterward”. In other words, don’t get married in hopes of finally becoming happy. One can be single and happy as well as married and happy, it all depends upon the details we’ll discuss below in the remaining 17 items.
2. Money matters to a point and then it doesn’t
In 2013, the book Happy Money was released and revealed that there is an average amount of annual income that will improve the level of happiness in one’s life ($75,000), but after that point, the more money one earned would not directly improve the level of happiness. In fact, a study released just last week, those that defined themselves as happy were more likely to value time than money. In other words, experiences or material items provoked an increase in happiness levels.
3. Understand the power of adaptation
The hedonic treadmill as Seligman labels it can be a tempting foe as we’re seeking a happier way of living. Making the errant assumption that more wealth, better looks, a bigger house, more clothes, etc. will equate to more happiness is a fool’s pursuit. What will improve levels of happiness is the experiences you cultivate with your good health, with your money should buy tickets to travel, see a play, anything that deepens relationships, causes moments of wonder and awe.
4. Limit the shortcuts
While probably not a surprise, achieving what you desire without a hindrance plays a role in diminished happiness or the inability to derive happiness from the successful outcome. A handful of examples shared in Authentic Happiness as to exemplify shortcuts to feeling good — drugs, chocolate, loveless sex, shopping, and television — serve to remind us that while we can enjoy a piece of chocolate or the latest episode of Downton Abbey, it isn’t the foundation of lasting happiness.
5. Experiencing lows can enhance happiness
Assuming that ensuring our lives are void of any and all negative emotions as a means to feel more happiness has actually been proven incorrect. While prolonged and intense feelings of negative emotions make it far more difficult to feel happiness, when we do feel happiness after having known the contrary feeling, the level of happiness is increased.
6. Be able to forgive
When we forgive we make room to feel contentment and satisfaction about our lives, but when we choose to dwell in bitterness, hatred, pride and wishing for revenge, we leave no room for the positive emotions to emerge. Allowing ourselves to forgive and move on is in many ways allowing our minds to forget so that it can focus on cultivating a life of positivity.
7. Strengthen the skills of trust, confidence, hope and faith
Last week’s episode focused on how to cultivate trust, and for good reason. When we strengthen the skills of trust, confidence, hope and faith, we are strengthening the happiness muscles. In other words when we see negative events in a temporary fashion (Oops, my lack of sleep last night did not help me do my best on my test), rather than the permanent negative response (I’m so stupid! No wonder I failed), we are practicing optimism. And the same goes for the flip-side, having a permanent positive response (I’m resilient. I’ll figure a way out of this.) rather than a negative temporary response (I just got lucky.). When we practice regularly the skills that will lend themselves to more favorable outcomes, the right type of habits form and before we realize it, we have created a happy life for ourselves and those who we make contact with on any given day.
8. Understand and embrace learned optimism
For anyone who is logical, rational and cringes at the maxims that get tossed around for positive thinking to improve one’s life, learned optimism is more likely what makes more sense. It’s one thing to be positive (I know my wisdom guides me to the right decision.), but if you don’t have the wisdom to make the right decision than how well will that serve you? Learned optimism is much like being a detective. You need evidence, concrete pieces of evidence to remind you that no, you are not stupid. The fact is you had a bad day because you didn’t prepare, you didn’t sleep well and therefore couldn’t focus and didn’t have the information available to demonstrate your understanding. In other words, the truth matters, but
sometimes often we overreact and that is not helpful.
9. Exercise your strengths
Strengths are skills that you would do without having to put them on your “to-do” list. Strengths are what come more innately to you. No one has to poke or prod you to do them. And because you enjoy doing them, you can lose all track of time. Exercise your strengths. Happiness resides in time and moments you are engaged with your strengths.
10. Embrace aging
As Morrie Schwartz pointed out in Tuesdays with Morrie, being young isn’t easy. It can be fun, it can be adventurous, but if we spend the time in our youth well, aging becomes even more enjoyable. Why? Emotions are less intensely felt, whether good or bad, and we bring with us our experiences and knowledge about ourselves if we took the time in our youth to understand ourselves.
11. Stop giving the past power it doesn’t harbor
If we assume the past is destined to repeat itself only when it has treated us poorly, we will never have the courage or curiosity to seek out a happier route. Dwelling on the past is similar to being unable to forgive and move on. We have a finite amount of energy and emotions on any given day, choose to expend your energy for the better. The truth is we have the power in the present to shift the direction of our lives no matter where or what circumstances brought us to this point.
12. Pay careful attention to endings
Whether we are graduating, finishing a project, ending a relationship or moving on to another job, pay particular attention to how each of these chapters in your life end. Pay homage to the relationships, memories and experiences that were gained. See the good, show gratitude and then allow yourself to move on. Speaking of the past from #11, when we ensure the events in the past of which we have control over have ended as best as we can possibly allow, it can make the past easier to relinquish.
13. Refrain from feeling helpless
A sense of helplessness is a choice to be negative. And as #7 mentioned, when we build the skills of hope, optimism, trust and confidence, helplessness has no place.
14. Stop giving your emotions so much power over your actions
As teenagers and even as early twenty-year olds, our minds are not fully developed. The understanding of what we should actually be fearful of has not fully developed and so irrational emotions as observed by adults can feel completely legitimate to the younger generation. Keeping this in mind, as we come to recognize our emotions and not allow them to hold sway over our decisions, what we come to find is that within 24 hours most emotions have dissipated. As such, so long as we haven’t acted upon the impulses that had been provoked, we are usually quite thankful we didn’t trust the emotional response. (Click here to learn how to Master Your Mind.)
15. Increase your enduring level of happiness
A couple of years ago I wrote an entire post on the difference between pleasure and joy. And while enjoying moments of pleasure throughout your day (simple luxuries after all are must to heighten the everyday experience), the key is to understand the difference and each’s importance in cultivating a happy life.
So what constitutes something that will feed or increase our enduring level of happiness? As defined by Dr. Seligman, an activity consistent with a noble purpose – gratification or joy, enacting personal strengths and virtues.
Reflecting back on #9, this is where your strengths come into play. When you choose to strengthen your strengths, you begin to see how you can tie it to a grander purpose for your life’s work or legacy to remembered long after you are gone. Most often enduring happiness offers no short cuts. The path to feeling enduring happiness takes time, work, dedication and clarity about your purpose and direction. But by definition when we pursue joy, we establish a lasting happiness rather than a fleeting moment of pleasure.
16. Respect momentary happiness
However, momentary happiness pursuits, otherwise known as pleasure pursuits aren’t all bad either. In order to incorporate in a helpful and healthy manner moments of happiness we first need to understand the three all-important qualities: habituation, savoring and mindfulness. Habituation is spreading the experiences far enough apart that you derive the same pleasure from it each time. Savoring is awareness of the pleasure and the deliberate conscious attention to the experience of the pleasure, and mindfulness is seeing the present moment anew. So enjoy that piece of chocolate, make out madly with your partner and absolutely indulge in House of Cards each season, just make sure while you are doing so you are keeping each of the three components in mind.
17. Cultivate a social life that achieves the right balance for you
Based on all of the books I have read on being an introvert, along with the psychology books on happiness, including Authentic Happiness, I am going to offer my own advice on the effects of a rich social life and happiness. Dr. Seligman shares that happy people spent the least amount of time alone and most of their time socializing. When I read this, I instantly froze because such a life sounds absolutely miserable to me, and while I know that as reported by Susan Cain of Quiet that two-thirds of the population self-identifies as being extroverted, that means 33% identify as introverts. Introverts covet time alone and find great satisfaction in this pursuit. And to be fair to Seligman whose book came out in 2004, Quiet was released in 2012. Keeping both of their findings in mind, the key is yes, we need human interaction as a means of feeling happy, but to what degree, frequency and depth of intimacy is based on the individual. My advice, and based on my experience and having talked to a handful of close friends who self-identify as introverts, is to cultivate the social network that works for you. Listen to yourself, trust yourself and then invest.(Why Not . . . Enjoy Being an Introvert?)
18. Practice gratitude
Last, but not least, the long shared piece of life advice is to exude gratitude regularly. Whether it is at the end of each day writing in a journal reminding yourself of all of the small and large events and moments that went well or simply sitting quietly in the morning, lost in thought allowing yourself to smile as you recall the amazing life you are fortunate to live. Practice it and those pesky negative thoughts have less room to roam unchecked.
Often times what we need when it comes to happiness is simply a reminder of how to cultivate a happier life for ourselves and those we love. Hopefully today’s post can serve as a checklist to keep with you as you bring back or welcome into your life habits that once incorporated will become second-nature and further help materialize a life you infinitely are grateful to have the opportunity to experience.
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~Weekly Flowers for the Home
Flowers in the winter can be hard to find and even more expensive, thus deterring us from purchasing them, but now that I have a Trader Joe’s nearby, for fewer than $5 a simple bouquet of Amaryllis can completely brighten up and make my house a home I smile upon returning to. Below is a pic I shared on Instagram this weekend, as well as a few others from earlier this year.