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The Science of Happiness

Updated: Apr 25, 2023



Getting a pay rise, buying an expensive dress/car/watch or winning the lottery will make you happy in the short term, yes. But it does not contribute to your overall happiness? Apparently not.


Why not?

It’s called Hedonic Adaptation. And it means that we’re all wired to adapt to favourable changes in our circumstances. Wealth, possessions, health, marriage. It’s a vicious cycle really, our life improves, we’re happy, we get used to it, our set point returns to its original stance.


Human Nature

We all have a Happiness Set Point – a ‘base level’ of how happy we are.

The common misconception is that our personal circumstances determine how happy we are. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Surprisingly, they make up only 10% of the happiness pie.

50% comes from our genetic makeup – meaning we inherit a level of happiness from our parents and grandparents. An interesting study was conducted on twin sets all over the world who were separated at birth. Despite living completely different lives, in different cities and sometimes countries, with different circumstances – findings showed that both twins had the same levels of happiness.

That leaves 40% – this is the tastiest piece of the happiness pie because it’s the part we can control. Intentional Activity. It’s the most flexible of the three factors and can have a major impact on your daily dose of happiness.


How?


By employing a range of strategies created by research psychologist and University of California professor of psychology Sonja Lyubomirsky. Her book, The How of Happiness gives us 12 great, easy-to-follow happiness strategies which ‘’introduce you to the concept of intentional activities, mindful actions that you can use to achieve a happier life.


They include helping others, cultivating optimism, learning to forgive, committing to your goals etc. You don’t have to employ them all, in fact, Lyubomirsky suggests to only pick those which most resonate with you.


Which one was it for me?


Expressing Gratitude

Appreciating my life, the people around me and the experiences I have are what make me smile every day.


Being grateful not only involves focussing on the present moment but as we instinctively return to our ‘set-point’, it works by increasing the happiness within that 40% of intentional activity.

How nice is it to reflect on all the things that make you happy?


One of the best ways to do this is through a journal, or, in my case – a blog! It’s true – writing down the things you care about, and the memories you make reminds you of all the amazing-ness in your life!


The proof is in the pudding, with research confirming the correlation between happiness and gratitude. People who are actively grateful are likely to be happier, hopeful and energetic, and they possess positive emotions more frequently.


The Five Pillars of Happiness

A dear friend and happiness psychology master has developed a program aimed at helping people find their purpose using these five pillars of happiness;

• Self-awareness – Finding happiness in yourself

• Connections with others

• A sense of purpose

• Personal growth – learning & development

• Doing things which give us pleasure


I remember discussing these with him and having an aha moment. None of these pillars focus on extrinsic motivators, but rather intrinsic values which we all possess or can attain.

And look, I’m not here saying money is the root of all evil – money is great! It gives us financial, creative, independent freedoms that allow us to pursue the things we love, but it shouldn’t be the driving factor in what makes us happy. And if we pursue things we are genuinely passionate about, the money will come. If we pursue things which we enjoy, that put us in a state of full involvement and energised focus…in Flow.


Being in Flow

You know that feeling when you’re doing something and become completely immersed in the task? That’s Flow. It can be anything – surfing, writing, fixing a car, coding. It can be your profession or your hobby. It’s an active state of controlled consciousness, except self-consciousness is lost. Pretty simple right?

Pioneered by Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the theory of Flow came about in the late 70s and is now considered on of the biggest contributing factors to happiness.


Csikszentmihalyi defines Flow as “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”


The main gist is that we can develop happiness as we learn to achieve Flow in our lives. We’re at our happiest and most productive whilst in Flow.Flow activities are autotelic (from Greek: auto=self, telos=goal), because they intrinsically motivate us, are enjoyable and have an end in themselves.


Athletes call it ‘being in the zone’, others a ‘heightened state of consciousness’, the world’s best architects, painters, chefs, actors all recognise the feeling of being in flow and consider it a key driver in their path to becoming the best in their field. Here are four ways of staying in Flow.


Sadly, those stuck in an unfulfilling job that doesn’t challenge them, or brings enjoyment will never be in Flow, and will never find that moment of pure contentment whilst at work.


So ask yourself…

When was the last time you were really happy? Did it involve possessions, new shiny things, money or did it involve the people in your life, a passion project, helping someone or a personal achievement?


The greatest gift we all get is life. We exist consciously and have the ability to live our lives to the fullest and do what makes us the happiest.


Or better yet..."Don’t count the days, make the days count" Muhammad Ali.


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