Ask some of my friends and they’ll tell you I’ve had the crappiest winter ever. As a general rule, I hate December through March, and March is only okay because my birthday happens to land on the first day of spring. Not that spring is even remotely close in March here, because it’s usually not. Still, to the point of this post! How to be happy! A friend of mine kept telling me about a show she watched on Netflix called Happy. Since I didn’t do a blasted thing last week except read books and lay around and try to recover from a writer’s conference (don’t think I’ll do anymore of those anytime soon), I finally watched Happy.
Don’t take this to mean I’m super happy now, because I’m not. Happiness is not some destination you work for and reach. It’s something you constantly have to work at, especially if you fall into a certain genetic pool with a disposition for pessimism. I’m pretty darn sure that’s where I land. Here are the notes I took during the movie. Yes, I took notes. Don’t laugh.
50% baseline genetic
I found this surprising! No wonder some people are just annoyingly happy all the time, and I have a disposition to be annoyed by it …
10% outside factors
Money? Yeah, not going to make you happy much.
40% conscious choices and activity
Imagine that …
“being in the zone” — You know, that spot you reach when you’re exercising or doing something creative or serving others, where you just feel at one with the world and yourself? Those who experience flow on a regular basis are happier than those who don’t.
WHAT CAUSES HAPPINESS
Much of what we believe about the causes and sources of happiness simply isn’t true. People overestimate the effects of good and bad things that happen to them. In general, people do really good when things go really bad.
It’s a Choice
You can make a choice and you do make a choice when things happen in life.
Wallow, But Recover Quickly
One of the keys to happiness is recovering from adversity quickly, returning to baseline.
Once you have basic needs met (i.e. you’re not homeless or needing things physically or emotionally), more money doesn’t seem to buy more happiness. The show goes deeper into this, so I suggest watching it. More money CAN make you happier to a certain point, but after you reach that point, more money isn’t going to increase your happiness.
Hedonic Adaptation is a Main Enemy of Happiness
According to this theory, as a person makes more money, expectations and desires rise in tandem, which results in no permanent gain in happiness. It’s one of the main enemies of happiness.
If You Can, Build Up Your Support System
Without exception, the happiest people have close family and friends.
THE IMPORTANCE OF INTRINSIC AND EXTRINSIC GOALS
Inherently satisfying in and of themselves — personal growth, relationships, desire to help. People more focused on intrinsic goals are happier in general.
Focused on rewards, praise, getting stuff — money, image, status. People who are more focused on extrinsic goals are less vital, energized, less happy.
According to research, humans need something bigger than themselves. Religion or big spiritual-like feelings.
Joy Comes With Interaction With Others
In Okinawa, they cremate their dead and bury them in a communal cemetery, mixing all the ashes together. It’s pretty much the idea of their whole society. Social bonding and interacting. That’s how we inhibit our self-interest in order to cooperate — we’re social creatures. Put us in situations where we interact with others and cooperate with each other and it triggers dopamine, which makes us happy. Joy comes with a connection to others.
Through intention, we can change our brain. Remember when I wrote that post about The Unexpected Way I Found to Increase My Productivity? Well, this Happy show actually reinforced what I did in that post! It emphasized that those who:
Count their blessings once a week
and consistently do acts of kindness …
are much happier in general. The post I wrote emphasized these things for 21 days straight to create a habit. And it worked. I need to do it again!
3 Gratitudes – Identify gratitude for three new things.
Journaling – Write about one positive experience.
Exercise – Teach brain that behavior matters
Meditation – Learn to focus on a single task.
Conscious Acts of Kindness – Write one positive email of praise or thanks to someone in social network.
THE TRICK? HERE IT IS
The trick is to be authentically you.
Happiness is a skill.
The formula for happiness is not the same for everyone.
The key is that the things we love to do are the building blocks of a happy life. (For me, that’s WRITING! Outside of family and religion, it’s a huge, huge part of what makes me happy). Play, having new experiences, friends and family, doing things that are meaningful, appreciating what we have. These are the things that make us happy …
and they’re free.
And with more happiness, the more we have and the more everyone has.
So you want to be happy? It all starts with YOU. If you can’t seem to get there (and believe me, I suffer from depression and I have a disposition of pessimism, so I understand), then get help where you can, from doctors, from family, etc. I’ve found, however, that the more I talk about trying to be happy and making a conscious effort, the more my brain responds to that. It really is a SKILL, just like learning to write or ride a bike.
And … to all you fellow authors out there, if you think getting published or publishing bigger or selling more books or winning an award or whatever will make you happy, I hope all these notes make it clear that those won’t give you long-term happiness. It sure brought some things home for me! That whole FLOW thing? Yeah, that’s why the actual act of writing makes me deliriously happy.