Could happiness actually be genetic? In her splendid book The How of Happiness, psychology professor Sonya Lyubomirsky shows that about half of it is. Interestingly, very little happiness – just 10% – comes from the things we think will make us happy: money, possessions, perfect health, social status and the like. The rest is determined by our behaviors, habits and, crucially, thought patterns.
In other words, we can shape those three with intentional action.
How to Raise Your Happiness Quotient
Scientific research has shown that a lot of what many consider fluffy, touchy-feely practices – hugging, gratitude, journaling – are in fact beneficial. So should you leap up and hug the nearest person, or rush out and buy a journal?
Well, yes and no. As even the ancient practitioners of Ayurveda knew, one size does not fit all.
In The How of Happiness, Lyubomirsky notes a couple of interesting and revealing tools for finding the right fit. The first – the Oxford Happiness Questionnaire – assesses your current happiness point. The Person-Activity Fit Diagnostic may then reveal specific activities that resonate with you, taking your interests, values and needs into consideration.
In my work as an Ayurveda Health Educator and now as a practicing life/work coach, I’m absolutely convinced that personal success is determined in large part by aligning your unique mind/body state with your ideals, needs and behavior. When you choose activities that resonate, you set yourself up for success.
Even so, there are common areas we each can address in our own way to increase our happiness quotient. Lyubomisrky suggests 12:
- Expressing gratitude
- Cultivating optimism
- Avoiding overthinking and social comparison
- Practicing acts of kindness
- Nurturing social relationships
- Developing coping strategies
- Learning to forgive
- Increasing flow experiences
- Savoring life’s joys
- Committing to your goals
- Practicing religion and spirituality
- Taking care of your body and soul
Tall order? Take heart in knowing you don’t need to try to embrace all these at once. Start with one. The beauty of beginning so simply, in fact, is that you will likely experience an overflow effect. Once your efforts begin to bear fruit, you may be more likely to expand your practice.
And for those who think cultivating happiness turns you into a milquetoast? You may want to think again. A paper recently published in the journal Emotion reveals that mental health and wellness includes experiencing both positive and negative emotions – even feeling free to pursue them.
Different situations call for context-appropriate emotions, and responding appropriately to them is better for us than always responding happily.
Similarly, Fred Luskin, Director of the Stanford Wellness Projects, has noted the value of skillful and constructive anger, which he describes as problem-solving in nature – as opposed to destructive anger, which elicits the fight or flight response and robs us of any chance for mindfulness.
Whichever way you choose to increase your happiness quotient, it’s important to remember that happiness is not a destination. It’s a state of mind. States of mind drive behavior. Behavior drives performance.
Happiness is not something ready made.
It comes from your own actions. – Dalai Lama XIV
Image by crdotx, via Flickr