This is a billion dollar question. Literally! Everything from self-help books to travelling to seeing a therapist. This is a very commonly asked question, but somehow the answer still isn’t very clear.
What is happiness?
The research suggests that happiness is a combination of how satisfied you are with your life (for example, finding meaning in your work) and how good you feel on a day-to-day basis. Both of these are relatively stable—that is, our life changes, and our mood fluctuates, but our general happiness is more genetically determined than anything else. The good news is, with consistent effort, this can be offset. Think of it like you think about weight: if you eat how you want to and are as active as you want to be, your body will settle at a certain weight. But if you eat less than you’d like or exercise more, your weight will adjust accordingly. If that new diet or exercise regimen becomes part of your everyday life, then you’ll stay at this new weight. If you go back to eating and exercising the way you used to, your weight will return to where it started. So it goes, too, with happiness.
In other words, you have the ability to control how you feel—and with consistent practice, you can form life-long habits for a more satisfying and fulfilling life.
Why is happiness so important to us anyway?
Although we may sometimes neglect to cultivate our own happiness, feeling happy is intrinsically important. If we are happy it has added knock on effects and benefits. These include us becoming more compassionate and feeling healthier both physically and emotionally. We become more creative, witty, energetic and fun to be around and it can also lead us to become more financially successful.
Very few of us live our lives in complete isolation. We will have partners, families, friends and work colleagues with whom we interact on a daily basis so if we’re happy, then it’s likely to mean that they’ll feel happier too. Therefore, through our own happiness, we are actually giving something to other people too and enabling them to feel happy as well.
Now, if we open that up and take it to a global level, it can make a massive impact. For example, unhappiness is at the core of all the breeding grounds of war and terrorist activity. Countries only attack other countries if they’re feeling unhappy about certain realities and we’re all only too aware how terrorist ideals come about as a result of their real or perceived injustice and unhappiness about various religious, social, political or economic realities.
The fundamental reason why happiness is so important is that it’s extremely vital to our own goals in life and can help us achieve many other cherished personal ambitions and goals. Also, by being happy, we have the potential to change many other lives just by being ourselves.
How often have you been in a place and there’s been something about the mood or atmosphere that doesn’t quite seem right? When happiness is on board, this not only affects you but it has positive effects on all those with whom you come into contact.
So, it’s the ‘domino’ effect and it all begins with you as an individual. As you spread those feelings they are taken on board by those around you who also spread them in turn. If you can imagine the impact this would create if the feeling was then perpetuated and multiplied by hundreds, then thousands and then millions of people? There would be no use for wars or terrorism in the world which is another example of why happiness is so important.
How to obtain Happiness?
1. Define Happiness.
To come up with the definition above, I’ve interviewed nearly 100 people in a series that I called the Happiness Project. I read books on happiness, and I attended self-improvement seminars on happiness. The distilled version that you see now seems like a no-brainer, but ask yourself a simple question — are you following it?
2. Appreciate Now.
Whenever I’m in the moment, and I’m really present to what I’m feeling, seeing, hearing, or doing, I experience a sense of euphoria. It isn’t often that in our fast paced society we are able to stop ourselves from thinking about the future, or dwelling over the past, so a nice dose of now is a refreshing change.
3. Improve Yourself.
Did you know that a shark must constantly be moving forward to circulate water through it’s gills in order to stay alive? They even move forward while they’re sleeping. Metaphorically speaking, we humans have a similar problem. If we don’t move forward physically, mentally, and spiritually, we become weak, stupid, or broken. Our obligation to ourselves is to improve.
4. Become Accountable.
“I don’t have to answer to no one.” — Have you ever heard someone proudly state that phrase? It may be true, you might only have to be accountable to yourself and no one else, but it may not be the best way to live, not necessarily. When you make yourself accountable to someone else, by telling them your goals and desires, they can keep on top of you and make sure you get things done. This will enable you to get to your goals more efficiently, raise your self-esteem, and create joy in your accomplishments.
5. Don’t Become, Just Be.
If your constantly thinking into some future where you can be happy, you’ll be in the habit of trying to be happy. If you are trying to do something, you are doing it, you’re trying to do it. Instead, if you just become happy with your current situation, you can be happy any time and place.
“When you’re working on being happy, you are the type of person that created the possibility that you are not currently happy.”
~Roger Smith (Landmark Education)
6. Meditate: Rewire Your Brain for Happiness
Meditation is often touted as an important habit for improving focus, clarity, and attention span, as well as helping to keep you calm. It turns out it’s also useful for improving your happiness:
In one study, a research team from Massachusetts General Hospital looked at the brain scans of 16 people before and after they participated in an eight-week course in mindfulness meditation. The study, published in the January issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, concluded that after completing the course, parts of the participants’ brains associated with compassion and self-awareness grew, and parts associated with stress shrank.
Meditation literally clears your mind and calms you down, it’s been often proven to be the single most effective way to live a happier life. According to Achor, meditation can actually make you happier long-term:
Studies show that in the minutes right after meditating, we experience feelings of calm and contentment, as well as heightened awareness and empathy. And, research even shows that regular meditation can permanently rewire the brain to raise levels of happiness.
The fact that we can actually alter our brain structure through mediation is most surprising to me and somewhat reassuring that however we feel and think today isn’t permanent.
BONUS: Happiness is a mindset.
The heart of the matter is, you are the master of your own happiness. You have control over whether or not you are content and joyous, or discontent and dissatisfied. SO CHOOSE TO BE HAPPY! 🙂