The meaning of happiness is easy to confuse. Living in a Western consumer culture, we often believe that being happy means getting what we want – and if this is happiness, we might make the mistake of thinking that people’s pursuit of happiness is self-centered, driving them to get what they want. Yet, we shouldn’t conflate happiness with material gratification because we all know that things don’t make us happy.
- People who are happy experience more frequent positive emotions, and
- happiness is linked to having a sense of satisfaction.
For example, people report being happier when they feel like they are progressing toward their life goals. Sonja Lyubomirsky, a positive psychology researcher and author of The How of Happiness, defines happiness as follows:
“…the experience of joy, contentment or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful and worthwhile.”
Her research shows that roughly 50% of happiness is determined by our genes and 10% by our life circumstance, but 40% depends on our daily activities. This finding means that a significant part of being happy is within our own hands.
So why not do something about it…
Here are 6 habits that we may not link directly to happiness but may have a profound effect on us:
- Build relationships – Social connections are key to happiness. Friends and family matter – they’re the ones we can confide in and who will support us when we’re down.
- Give thanks – Studies show that people who keep gratitude journals feel more optimistic. Simply counting our blessings on a regular basis boosts our happiness.
- Practice kindness – Neuroscience research shows that when we do nice things for others, the part of the brain that is associated with pleasure and reward lights up.
- Give up grudges – When we forgive others, studies show that we feel better, experience more positive emotions and feel closer to others.
- Get physical – Exercise is not just good for our bodies, it’s good for the brain. As Lyubomirsky writes: “Exercise may very well be the most effective instant happiness booster.”
- Pay attention – Practice mindfulness. Studies show that people with mindfulness skills have stronger immune systems, are more likely to have greater life satisfaction, and are less hostile and anxious.
Practicing these habits is not just about making us feel good or better, it actually has a significant impact on our lives. People who engage in these practices:
- Are healthier and live longer
- Are more productive
- Have better relationships
- Are more generous
- Cope better with stress and trauma
These habits and happiness form a symbiotic relationship, because being happy leads to good things and good things lead to happiness. For example, a good marriage makes one happy and being happy makes a good marriage. So, is being happy important?
“…happiness is not a fluffy or frivolous notion; it is the most important thing we can foster in ourselves and our children, both for its own value and for its contribution to other things we value, such as professional and social success.”
~ Christine Carter,
Sociologist, best known for her science-based happiness tips