Since September’s “What Makes You Happy?” article in The City Paper, the 2013 World Happiness Report has been released. Seems “economic and political upheavals have resulted in greatly reduced levels of well being for some nations”, and “the greatest sin- gle factor reducing happiness levels” is a reduction in people’s perceived “freedom to make key life choices”. Latin America and the Caribbean, the report states, has “by far the largest gains in life evaluations in terms of the prevalence and size of the increases,” contributed to reduced levels of corruption. Overall, the report concludes there are many reasons for happiness or unhappiness.
Happiness comes in many differing forms: from things – possessions or experiences, etc., providing short or long-term pleasure; doing good things, benefiting self and others; for some, spiritual beliefs: believing in something greater than themselves. Researchers say approximately 50% of our happiness capacity is genetics; the other 50% is totally up to us. For most, happiness is a shifting combination of various things, but we do know some consistent, predictable traits of the happiest people.
Grateful people are happier. Spend a mere 5-10 minutes per day making a list of 3-5 things, however small, for which you are grateful. Even with one, or few, words, focus on genuine, conscious, specific details. Positive effects carry over, training the mind to notice grateful moments, and as a daily habit, can have significant effects on happiness and well-being, enhancing relationships and appreciation for people and things around you.
Rather than ‘problem focused’, happier people are ‘solution focused,’ pursuing personally meaningful goals, activ ties, and work reflective of their priorities and values. They know success needs only be fulfilling to them, on their terms, regardless how others judge it. They learn from mistakes and become smarter, work harder, and start over. They have a personal sense of purpose, passion, determination, commitment, fulfillment, motivation, and meaning. Often they follow their intuition, finding joy and accomplishment in pursuing goals, not merely gratification in achieving them.
Random acts of kindness are not new, but a recently, at a coffee shop drive-through window, the first customer of the day paid for the next person in line…and that person paid for the next person in line… and on and on, for 55 cars. It stopped only when no one was left in line. The first person of the day was unemployed, but said it was a super personal boost, the best money ever spent. Kindness in consistent, small, sometimes inconvenient, even seemingly insignificant or anonymous ways boosts happiness, increases interper- sonal connections and improves relationships. It also increases self-esteem, confidence, and resilience. It pays to extend kindness with an open heart, and to willingly accept it from others.
Happy people know a low self-opinion is self-destructive; they appreciate their uniqueness in appropriate ways. Understanding everyone has their own life story, personal journey, and challenges, they don’t live by someone else’s idea of what it should be. Recent studies show even time spent on social networks increases dissatisfaction with life a bit, comparing lives with others, without really knowing how much personal information posted online is true or untrue. Social media creates both feelings of trust and distrust, and is most likely to increase well-being when interacting with close friends. Just as in face-to-face interactions, it all depends what you’re doing and whom you’re doing it with, and affects your state of mind.
Happy people are often healthier and live longer. Exercise is an immediate way to enhance one’s mood, due to the “pleasure hormones” the brain releases, so even if you don’t enjoy exercising, your brain makes you feel good about it. Exercise also releases stress, distracts and positively redirects your mind. It increases mental sharpness, productivity and efficiency, assisting your mind to more easily solve problems. Either a brisk walk or a sauntering stroll is helpful. It takes less energy to be happy than to be grumpy, and indications are that simply living the traits and attributes common to happy people may lead to a longer, enjoyable life.
Even happy people experience frustration, sadness, worry, loneliness, grief, and other emotions often considered “negative.” Studies tell us they experience these things with about the same frequency as do unhappy people, but they do not sink into despair and are not self-defeating. They understand emotional threats, real or perceived, can narrow focus to the point of crowding all else out, increasing distress. They keep perspective: How much will it matter in future? What can be learned from it? How can it be of benefit? Can you see things from other’s point of view, even if you don’t always agree?
Happier people give themselves permission to fully experience what they feel, and cope effectively without spiraling into loss of hope or confidence in the future. They try to understand the cause, accept human imperfections, realize some things still sustain them and that feelings are temporary. They keep a sense of humour, laugh often, do not stay stuck in sadness or frustration, but are resilient, persistent; aware they still have power of self-motivation. Without expecting all sorrow or troubles to end, they continue to find things to enjoy and to be grateful. They understand troubles and hardships, our own and those of others, are sometimes part of living.
Studies conclude that, while it doesn’t matter much if it’s a spouse, friends, or family members, it’s those relationships we can count on for love and understanding that affect us more than any other single factor. They make strong contributions to other things that make us happy. Humans have a large capacity for emotion. We determine how we use and apply it, and that helps define us. Surround yourself with people who make you feel good. Return their caring, intentionally nurture relationships, and value every life chapter. Appreciate the things you have, right now. Then find the joy in tomorrow.