"If you want to be happy, be." - Leo Tolstoy
Studies show that we all have a natural “set point” for our outlook on life with genes that have been identified as influencing optimism and self esteem. Happy people are naturally optimistic. Like body type or hair volume, it seems some just get a better deal right from the start.
But if you’re not one of these happy-go-lucky luckies, are you doomed to hold a tinted, half empty glass? No! Scientists also agree that you can increase your set point through life-affirming behaviors. And best of all, it appears that happiness is, in fact, a decision. So, what do you think? Want to decide to be happier? Then read on.
First, we’ll let Harvard Researchers define what happiness means, or more so, how it is measured in scientific studies. Those doing the studying typically look at factors like these:
Is it Really a Decision?
Well, considering how it’s defined, one can see where some choices can be made. Choices like, eat salad or go see friends, could lead to a happier disposition. While other factors listed, such as feeling dominantly optimistic, cannot be left to choice.
Scientists who have studied identical twins even feel they can break happiness potential into percentages. They have attributed 50% of a person’s happiness to genetic factors, while the other 40% is controlled by thoughts and actions. Only 10% is dictated by actual life circumstance.
And two other small studies, explored in this article, Scientific Proof That Happiness is a Choice, report that simply trying to be happier can increase your mood and well-being.
You may also remember seeing on Facebook, The Top Five Regrets Of The Dying, as witnessed by Australian nurse, Bronnie Ware. Number Five is “I wish I had let myself be happier.”
She says, “Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content.”
If Ware’s words ring true within your own life, don’t despair. You can . . .
Increase your Happiness Set Point
After sifting through study upon study on happiness, we found that three factors emerge as the clear influencers of a person’s well being. They are: Mindfulness, Gratitude and Altruism.
They say to stop and smell the roses. While living in the moment has many iterations from savoring sunshine to appreciating loved ones, the common theme, as this study reports, says: “enhanced attention to and awareness of current experience or present reality” leads to a noticeable decline in mood disturbance and stress.
One easy approach to increasing mindfulness is meditation, which in its own right has proven to not only increase well being, but also permanently and positively alter brain structure in areas that play a key in passion, awareness, stress regulation and self esteem.
You don’t need to become a monk for these changes to occur. Just 20 minutes a day of practice changes neural structure.
The US National Library of Medicine has compiled studies about gratitude and well being and found, “The majority of empirical studies indicate that there is an association between gratitude and a sense of overall well being.”
One such study reported on by UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, found that after studying 1000 people, from ages 8 to 80, those who practiced gratitude and kept gratitude journals consistently reported feeling more optimistic, positive, alert, helpful, forgiving and outgoing, among other benefits.
So, Oprah was right. Go buy a journal and write down three things you’re grateful for every day.
Most adults know that giving gifts at Christmas is often more fun than receiving them. Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky confirmed this sentiment in her study on altruisms link to well being. She asked students to commit five random acts of kindness each week for six weeks. Those who engaged in acts of kindness showed a 42% increase in happiness.
And once you start a pattern of giving and receiving happiness, it creates, according to researchers at Harvard and the University of British Columbia, a “positive feedback loop.”
The study, reported upon here, reveals: “The happier participants felt about their past generosity, the more likely they were in the present to choose to spend on someone else instead of themselves. The results suggest a kind of ‘positive feedback loop’ between kindness and happiness … one encourages the other.”
So not only will altruism make you happier, but it will make you want to keep giving and therefore make the world a better place.
Just Do It
To review, 40% of your happiness is determined by what you choose to do today. You can decide to be happier, in this very moment, and take action towards getting that done Right Now.
Go forth and cultivate your own joy. Choose a healthy dinner, schedule a social activity for tomorrow and start engaging in daily life-affirming activities like meditating 20 minutes a day, keeping a gratitude journal and giving back to those around you.
You’ll be happy you did.