Summary: While some of our happiness can be explained by heredity and life experiences almost half can be controlled though our actions.
Key Take Aways:
- We have the ability to control 40% of our happiness.
- A few simple ways to increase our happiness include showing compassion, thinking positive thoughts, staying connected, and doing what we love.
- Even though it's easy to slip into negative thoughts/reactions we have the power to adjust that thinking.
For being a bona fide Director of Happiness, I can be quite uptight. There are times when I’m struck by a moment of panic and resist the urge to cry out, “This is it. This is life. I better soak it up. I better get on with it. I can sleep when I die.” Consequently, I can be a fairly restless person.
Because I can have intense moments of existential angst is the very reason that I believe happiness is so important. Because I’ve known depression and anxiety, I work really hard to turn my attention to what’s going right in my life. And it’s not easy. We humans have a negativity bias on which our very survival is based. We look for the negative to survive the inevitable.
In The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky explains that our happiness can be attributed to the following: 50% heredity, 10% life circumstances, and 40% intentional activity. We can’t control 60% of our happiness because of genetics and situations out of our control; so let’s talk about that 40%.
Nearly 40% of your happiness is dictated by your conscious and intentional activities—the things you do every day that either move you toward or away from a happier life. What can you do to stack the odds in your favor of living a happy life? Here are some ideas to move you in the right direction.
Exercise compassion. How you respond to other people largely dictates how they will respond to you. If you believe that the quality of relationships in your life can make you happier, try empathizing with people before you jump to conclusions. Practice a “soft start up” when you confront a misdeed. Try to understand and have compassion for what another may be enduring. I predict they will respond in kind.
Choose your thoughts wisely. Chronic thoughts have a way of seeping into our lives. Whether you call it self-fulfilling prophecy or law of attraction, what you focus your thoughts on are made reality in your life. Resist the urge to default into negative thinking about events that are probably neutral and you will dramatically add to your 40%.
Stay connected. This one’s hard for me. With life coming at you and responsibilities demanding your time, it’s easy to let intimacy with people you love slide. But don’t do it. Go to dinner parties. Host dinner parties. Meet a friend for coffee. Eat lunch with your son at school. If you do nothing else to boost your happiness, do this. Connectedness pays out dividends in happiness.
Do what you love. Many people are not fortunate to do what they love. Don’t be one of them. This is an area where victimhood won’t serve you well. There will always be job scarcity, hurdles to promotions, and mountains to summit to get where you want to be. I was 30 when I talked to my mom about going back to school for my Ed.D.
“I’ll be 35 when I’m done,” I said.
“You’ll be 35 anyway,” she told me.
I was 36 when I finally finished.
Decide now what you want and set the course to go do it. Yes, there will be sacrifices. Yes, there will be immense effort. Yes, there will be anxiety and self-doubt. But I’ve found that anything worth its weight usually is.
Dr. Shelley Prevost is the Director of Happiness and resident cultural engineer at Lamp Post Group, a Venture Capital Incubator. There she guides founders to infuse values, meaning, and positive relationships into their company culture from the very beginning. When she’s not directing happiness at Lamp Post, she can be found writing about happiness for Nooga.com, hanging with friends, and drinking wine—lots of it. Shelley lives in Chattanooga, TN with her husband, Chad, and three children—Eliah, Lucas, and Lennyn. Follow her on Twitter @thegladlab.