Chasing happiness is like chasing a rainbow. We’re never going to catch it. And waiting for it to fall into our lap is as effective as waiting for a miracle to happen. Especially if our genes are not on our side.
So where can we find happiness? The answer is nowhere. Happiness is not a destination to be found.
Lasting happiness is a conscious effort. A choice. A decision. It is something we create every day through each one of our actions.
What determines how happy we are?
Research studies have found there are three main factors that account for our happiness level:
It’s true that for some people it’s just naturally easier to be happy than for others. Research shows that genetics account for 50% of our happiness. We are each born with a biological “happiness set point” that we can’t change.
But this is not destiny carved in stone. It is just a predisposition. Nothing more. It makes it a bit more challenging (if the wind didn’t blow in our favor), but not impossible.
Genetics do influence how happy we can be but do not determine how happy we become.
2. Life Circumstances
Our life circumstances influence our happiness only to a very small extent. Surprisingly, factors like marital status, income, and occupation represent only 10% of our happiness level.
We can assume that getting married or having more money will make us happier. Just like being victims of trauma would make us unhappier. Research has found though that is not completely true.
Good or bad events, even extreme ones (like winning the lottery or losing a loved one) do affect our well-being. But only temporarily. Once we get used to them (and we always do), our level of happiness returns to where it was before.
3. Intentional Activity
So where does the other 40% of our happiness come from? The activities we choose to engage in. This is the most promising way not only to boost our happiness but also to maintain it.
Our choices have the final say on our well-being. What we decide to do every day is what determines how happy we’ll be.
Isn’t that a great discovery! It means that happiness can be built through our efforts. That everyone has the opportunity to create a life full of joy and satisfaction. But also that happiness derives from a conscious and daily effort.
How can we create lasting happiness?
We can start by these 5 (scientifically proven) practices:
Engage in Positive Self-Reflection
It’s easy to get caught up in our flaws and forget all our virtues. Shame is like that. It quickly contaminates our self-image like a grey cloud over a clear blue sky.
But to be happy in life we first need to be happy with ourselves.
Appreciating all that’s good within us. Accepting all that is not. And loving ourselves regardless.
When we replay our highest moments the world around us just lights up. Instead of dwelling on our shortcomings, we need to celebrate our successes. Choosing to remember what’s worth remembering. And letting go of those not-so-proud moments.
Learning to laugh at ourselves also does wonders. It takes a heavy burden off our shoulders. And helps us see ourselves in a more positive way. When we start having fun with ourselves we start to see life through a different lens.
Avoid Social Comparisons
As social beings we tend to compare ourselves with others. And usually do it with people who we believe are better off than we are.
To be happy we need to realize that we are each unique in our own way. That we’re not better or worse than anybody else. That we are just different. And that nobody’s journey is comparable to ours.
We each have special gifts that nobody else has. We just need to know what they are.
Realizing that we’re extraordinary in our own way saves us from the “never enough” trap.
Because if we keep comparing our accomplishments with those of others, we’ll always end up yearning for more. And this insatiable longing to outshine the rest will deprive us of the peace and contentment our soul needs for true happiness and satisfaction.
Our thoughts and ways of viewing the world determine our level of well-being. It is not what happens to us but rather our interpretation of it what makes the difference.
If we see an event as a life-ending catastrophe we have no control over then it will be. But if we see it simply as another curveball life throws at us and consciously choose how to react to it, then it won’t threaten our whole existence.
Having faith and hoping for the best makes us happier. The easiest way to suffer is by worrying incessantly about everything that could go wrong.
It is when we’re lighthearted that happiness blooms.
We must carefully choose the way we think and what we focus on. By changing the attitudes of our mind we can change our well-being in a heartbeat.
Pursue Meaningful Goals
Happiness is not only about feeling positive emotions but also about experiencing a high satisfaction with our life. Pleasure and meaning are both necessary for lasting well-being.
To be happy we must learn to enjoy the moment but also to work towards goals we find intrinsically rewarding. Happiness must combine both present and future gain.
When we pursue important personal goals we give our life a purpose. We become happier emotionally and more satisfied with our lives.
It’s easy to get lost if we don’t know where we’re headed. Or to become frustrated if we know where we want to go but don’t do anything to actually get there.
Structuring our pathway to strive for our dreams gives us a sense of control and motivates us to lead a meaningful life to enjoy more long-lasting happiness.
Taking the time to count our blessings is life awakening. It helps us realize how fortunate we are.
Sometimes we tend to focus so much on what we don’t have that we forget all that we do have. Even if we’re going through a bad situation, there is always something that we can be grateful for.
When we practice gratitude we appreciate our life more. We start to value all the little things that can give us more happiness than we give them credit for.
We savor the joyful moments. We find awe in everyday wonders. We begin to see the magic in what we usually perceive as ordinary.
It doesn’t mean we settle. Or that we stop fighting for more. It just means that we allow ourselves to be happy with what we have today while we continue to pursue that which will make us happier tomorrow.
At the end of the day, only you can determine what actions and attitudes will make you happier. You can find these through trial and error experiments or by asking yourself insightful questions.
What matters is that you realize that lasting happiness is possible. You just need to cultivate it. Every living day.
Happiness is not a destination, but a never-ending journey we must consciously choose to embark on.
Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K. M., & Schkade, D. (2005). Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Review of General Psychology, 9, 111-131.