Happiness Part 3
In the previous modules, we saw how the things that we often think would make us happier in fact don’t. Certainly, in the areas we explored, the feeling is not as good as we expect and does not last as long as we expect it to last. We also saw that around 50% of our base level of happiness is hereditary.
In this module, we start to explore perhaps the most important factor of happiness. It’s the most important aspect because it’s the one most under our control, and it contributes up to 40% of our levels of happiness. Which means that when compared to what we would generally believe makes us happy – our life circumstances, money and attractiveness, which we have seen only accounts for 10% of our long-term happiness – the behaviours and activities we choose could actually have four times the effect.
In other words, how we approach life can make us four times as happy as what life brings our way.
Behaviours and thinking
Our behaviours and the way we think are significant factors in our levels of happiness. What we call ‘intentional activity’ is so important if you want to raise your happiness level.
It would seem that people who are happier do things differently to those that are less happy. And, if we do things the way happy people do, then we’ll be happier, too.
As you might expect, happy people have lots of common qualities and are alike in many ways; they also differ from less happy people in very distinct and identifiable ways – particularly when you look at what they do and how they do what they do.
A good example is in social areas – happy people spend more time with their friends and family than unhappy people do. Happier people nurture and enjoy their close relationships more, and social connection and close relationships promote happiness. Human beings are social animals – it’s hard-wired into us to be sociable and enjoy social interactions. People living alone, particularly the elderly may get this social connection from keeping pets, which has a similar effect.
But does that mean that forcing yourself to spend more time with your family will make you happy? Of course not, not unless you approach it in the right way and genuinely enjoy doing it. Much of the time, people enjoy the social interaction with friends and family, but don’t prioritise it, or make the time or effort to get together. That’s where nurturing important relationships work best.
Let me clarify something at this point: being happier doesn’t mean you walk around every day with a big smile on your face, feeling great all the time. That is unrealistic and probably wouldn’t be a great place to be all the time – we saw in the previous modules how quickly we can adapt to situations, and we’d adapt to that too – rather think of it as being content with your life, very comfortable about where you are and what you do; it’s about raising that base level of happiness, having a high level of life satisfaction and personal well-being despite the ups and downs that come your way.
It’s a proven fact that if you live your life focusing on things that are truly important to you, then you’ll be more content and your baseline level of happiness can be raised – and raised by quite a bit.
Take a moment to think about the goals you might set that you’d like to achieve in the next year – what does that list include? What parts of the list are you totally in control of? What parts give you satisfaction for doing them, rather than looking for a by-product?
Now, you might have thought about earning more money, retiring, being in a better relationship and so on. Many of your goals would be extrinsic – they come with a reward attached and are desirable for what they bring with them rather than for themselves. They are also probably largely out of your control – you want more money, a promotion or to work for a different company, or even a better relationship.
Some of your goals, though, will be more intrinsically satisfying – things you want to pursue, for their own sake – spending more time with your children or friends, for example, or riding or running more, even growing plants.
You don’t do these things for some reward or other external reason – you do them because you enjoy them and they give you pleasure – you have fun doing them.
Most hobbies are similar, whether it’s an exercise group, a language class or photography. Similarly, giving your time to help others is another way to feel good about yourself. All these things are intrinsically satisfying.
You’re more likely to experience well-being when you discover the things, which you find intrinsically satisfying.
I myself made a list some years ago, which I still use regularly; it’s a list of the things that make me happy. I approached it by thinking: if I had all the money I ever wanted what would I spend my time doing? The list includes things like spending time with my two daughters (that’s top of the list), time with my family and friends, going to the gym, riding my bike, walking my dog, travelling, strolling around central London window shopping, buying fresh flowers, and indulging my passions for music, magic and psychology.
What was most interesting when I looked over the list was that it was only the love of travelling that actually cost me more money than I had to spend! Everything else – and it was a long list – was well within my means. From that day forward I was much more content, and I make sure I not only do things from the list every day, but I savour them and enjoy them rather than just going through the motions. Walking my dog became pleasurable rather than a chore, and feeding the birds in my garden brings satisfaction when I see some twenty bright green parakeets on the feeders near my back window.
We often miss the joys of ‘now’ by thinking about what we want in the future.
There’s a huge portion of your happiness level that you can control and enhance. By looking at the behaviours of happier people, and in particular focusing on things that you find intrinsically rewarding, you will increase your levels of happiness
In the next module
We’ll look at ten practical things you can do to increase your happiness
Your MYND activity
Make your own happiness list. Regardless of what they cost, write down the things that make you really, truly happy; things you find intrinsically satisfying.
Remember to include simple things you might otherwise take for granted, such as listening to your favourite music, visiting museums, as well as who you like to spend time with, and things you like to do own you own. Make the list as long as you can – at least twenty items is a good goal to start with…
Now, think about how many of the things on your list are not really dependent on having large amounts of money. They’re things you can do now.
Keep a copy of your list on your phone or in your purse or wallet – Try and do at least one, and maybe two or three of these things every day and really savour them.