People spend lifetimes searching for meaning and looking for miraculous cures to make themselves feel good.
Turns out, we have always had the key to our own happiness.
It is fascinating how much research has been done on happiness and the findings are quite remarkable. I spent the last few years of my time aboard reading all I could on the topic and was in awe of the work of Dr Martin Seligman, a renown American Psychologist and Founder of the Positive Psychology Centre at the University of Pennsylvania. Imagine my surprise in returning to little old Adelaide to find that he had been engaged under Adelaide’s Thinkers in Residence program and there I was sitting in a number of his lectures.
It was Seligman who introduced the remarkable finding of the happiness formula. That’s right, it appears happiness is just a simple formula!
Interpreted, our Happiness is determined by:
Set range – that is, our genetics accounts for about 50% of our ability to experience happiness. So yes according to the experts some people are born with a greater capacity for happiness than others and even when bad things happen in their life, within time people will return to their ‘set point’ of happiness which may be higher for some than others. This is something we have no control of; we are born with a set point of happiness just as we are born a certain gender and skin colour. Remember though, this only accounts for 50% of how happy we are.
Circumstances – these are things that make up our lives, like how much money we have, our jobs, where we live. Surprisingly this only accounts for 8-12% of our happiness. Interestingly ‘circumstances’ tend to be what the majority of people spend all their effort and energy on when it comes to achieving happiness. “I’ll be happy when…. I live in a better neighborhood, have enough money to retire, I’m debt free, I have lost some weight etc”.
Voluntary control – this is the really exciting bit as this is where we have 100% control and what can really make a big difference to our own personal happiness. This accounts for approximately 42% of our happiness but where many of us put in 0% effort. So what do we control? We control how we think and what we do. Sure others may influence this, but only you have full control. It is you in the drivers seat and it is you that chooses to be influenced.
So it doesn’t matter how optimistic or pessimistic you naturally are or whether you were born into a loving family or an undesirable environment, nearly half the amount of happiness you will achieve in life is fully in your control. And the great news is we can learn to be happier!
What is fascinating is the consistent view of ‘experts’ on the importance of ‘choosing your attitude and controlling your thoughts’. In Robin Sharma’s fantastic book, ‘The Monk who sold his Ferrari,’ Sharma enlightens us on how Monks hidden in India away from modern life followed ancient principles to achieve happiness. Simple strategies they used included the practice of concluding their day with quiet reflection on what went well in their day. This is the very same strategy that Seligman’s incredibly well researched, positive-psychology recommends: “learned optimism” exercises, such as sitting down at the end of each day and writing down three good things that happened in the day, and being grateful for these. In fact, Seligman’s work indicates that by undertaking this simple task consistently, people can increase their ability to be happy in a relatively short time frame.
With so many advocating for this simple and straight-forward strategy, why is it that not everyone is doing it?
Daily, people will spend enormous effort in the pursuit of happiness through pleasure, pleasing others, achieving goals etc yet not the 10-15 minutes of reflection required. This is either because they have over valued the % of happiness that circumstances contribute to overall happiness or that the concept is so foreign and not part of their routine – they are so used to seeking happiness through this technique that it may not have occurred to them that there is another way.
Many of us could not climb into bed at night without brushing our teeth – surely this is not because we value dental hygiene more than we value happiness. It is more of a case of it not being in our routine.
So here’s this months challenge…. For the rest of the month lets spend 10 minutes at the end of each day reflecting on what we have to be grateful for about the day. Even on crap days, we can always be grateful that we will never have that same day again…
Keep me posted if you take up the challenge and how it works out for you…. BE HAPPY
Find out more about the work of:
Prof. Martin Seligman www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/
Robbin Sharma www.robinsharma.com/
Tony Robbins www.tonyrobbins.com/