According to research conducted by David Lykken, nearly 50% of our happiness can be accounted for by genetic factors and the other half by life’s ups and downs. We all have a different happiness “set point”, which is our general happiness level.
Ed Diener, aka “Dr. Happiness” expanded on this research and hypothesized that even tragic events only affect us temporarily, before we eventually revert back to our original “set point”.
For me, I’ve always been aware that I have a slightly lower set point than others. Of course sometimes I’ll have extra happy days (like when I’ve won an award) and other times I’ll have sad days (for example after a bad breakup), but I always felt like slightly more of an Eeyore inside than a Tigger.
In a quest to lift that baseline and my overall happiness, I quit drinking alcohol for a year, I meditated regularly and I did a great amount of soul searching. I discovered a few simple things that are actually very effective:
Appreciate the little moments
Many of us rush around on auto-pilot without really stopping to take in what’s going on around us. The most important thing I’ve learnt in my quest for happiness is to appreciate the little moments that are sometimes so easy to miss. It could be a child waving at me in the elevator or a stranger taking a moment to help me with my bags.
Stop for a second and be present. Get off your phone. Little moments of kindness and human connection happen each and every day, which remind me that the world is actually a beautiful place.
Commit acts of kindness
Even if you wake up feeling down in the dumps, spreading positivity and committing random acts of kindness can automatically make you feel happier. Kindness promotes empathy and compassion and helps us to connect with others. In a 2009 study published in the Journal of Social Psychology, participants aged 18–60 were randomly assigned to perform either acts of kindness, acts of novelty, or no acts on a daily basis for 10 days. Not surprisingly, performing acts of kindness or acts of novelty resulted in an increase in life satisfaction.
Instead of shopping for yourself to feel better, you might also want to try spending money on others instead. Research conducted by Elizabeth Dunn, Lara Aknin and Michael Norton in 2008 found that participants who were randomly assigned to spend money on others experienced greater happiness than those assigned to spend money on themselves.
Cut out the noise
Every day we are bombarded by news, whether it’s on TV, social media or in the newspapers. It’s important to keep informed about politics and what’s going on in the world, particularly when it comes to voting in elections. Unfortunately though, news can often be negative and focusing too much on negative news can impact our mood.
Social media also has an effect on our happiness levels and can cause us to feel envious of other people.
Instead of focusing things you can’t control, get outside and socialize and limit your time spent on news sites and apps like Instagram.
Connect with friends and family
Human connection and engagement are incredibly important in the pursuit of happiness. As I’ve grown older and watched my parents age, I’ve noticed myself becoming more sentimental and making more of an effort to spend time with my family. I value friendships more. I realize that life goes by quickly, so it’s important to cherish the moments that we have with each other before it’s too late.
Occasionally I’ll send my friends morning texts wishing them a nice day and telling them how much I appreciate them. It takes two seconds but it makes me feel better and it makes them smile. In return, they do this for me too. A text that says “hey, how are you feeling today?” has much more meaning than a simple, “hey, how are you?”
So often we put pressure on ourselves to find a romantic partner but we overlook how important friendships are. Quality time with others can provide a huge boost to our happiness levels.
Write a gratitude journal
A friend of mine bought me a gratitude journal, which I try to write in daily.
Inside it asks me to write down one thing I will let go of, all the things I am grateful for and three things I will focus on that day. It helps me focus on the good things in my life and to organize my day into actionable steps. Sometimes I’ll skip a day if I’m exceptionally busy or feeling down but on the days I do journal, it makes me feel instantly better about myself. Gratitude journaling can shift our minds away from toxic emotions and provide long lasting benefits on mental health.
Focus on goals
What is it that you love to do? Have you always wanted to start a blog? Do you want to take guitar lessons? Is there an exam you’ve been meaning to take? Perhaps you’d like to save enough money to buy a new home? Setting goals and working towards them can give you a sense of purpose.
I’ve found that creating something, whether it’s a painting, a new blog post, or simply finishing a jigsaw puzzle can help me focus my attention away from negative things and help me feel a sense of achievement.
Identify goals (large or small) and take the necessary steps to achieve them.