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Happy Habits: 12 Habits for Boosting your Happiness
The Source of Happiness
Your overall happiness in life is derived from three major sources. The first source is hard-coded into your genetic make-up: your genes contain part of your baseline happiness barometer, if you will. The second source are your values. And, the third and final source are the events in your life.
However, most people attribute happiness (or their lack thereof) to solely the events in their lives, and their perception of those events. For example, a person might say, "I'll be happy when I land a new job," or "I'll be happy if I can get a big raise," or, "I'll be devastated if my spouse lies to me," and so on.
Most peoples' lives revolve around event-based happiness, and how they interpret what those events actually mean to them. Two nearly identical people can interpret very similar events in different ways. One could brush it off, not allowing to to affect their happiness, and the other might brood over it, becoming extremely unhappy. It can always go both ways.
That's because events aren't the whole picture in our overall level of happiness. In fact, most people don't realize that only 40% of our happiness is event-based, but it's also only temporary. We might buy a new car, move into a new house, or enter a new relationship, and we're happy, for a while at least. But that happiness wears off. So goes the same for the unhappy times in our lives.
How to be Happy
You might know this feeling. In the past, if you've said you really wanted something to happen, and it was that "something," which was going to dictate your happiness, how happy did it make you? More importantly, how long did it last?
This concept is called the Hedonic Treadmill, which was first coined by two researchers named Brickman and Campbell, in their paper, “Hedonic Relativism and Planning the Good Society.” This term signifies the bigger concept that, although events and things might change in our lives, our happiness is a relatively constant state.
So, if you can imagine a treadmill for a moment, think about yourself running on this treadmill while chasing happiness, which is dangling in front of your face. That "thing," which is dangling could be anything from a shiny new car, to a new job, a new house, an exotic vacation, or just about anything else.
However, unfortunately for us all, that happiness, when attained, is only temporary. Because, once we attain the object of our desires, we want more. In turn, we revert to a baseline level of happiness after a short period. Thus, we're ceaselessly running on that Hedonic Treadmill, endlessly chasing something that we may never actually attain.
So, what does all this mean? Are we all doomed?
Well, to further illustrate this point, let's talk about one other concept: the Hedonic Set-Point. In conjunction with the concept of the Hedonic Treadmill, the Hedonic Set-Point refers to our baseline level of happiness that's unique to each of us.
Our Hedonic Set-Point is derived from those three sources: genetics, values, and events. Now, the most interesting thing about the Hedonic Set-Point is just how universally we'll all simply gravitate to it after a short period after some event-based happiness.
This essentially means that happy people will stay happy, and unhappy people will stay unhappy. This is a pretty glum outlook, wouldn't you say? But, what's fascinating about the Hedonic Set-Point comes from a study done by Brickman, Coates, and Janoff-Bulman, on lottery winners and paraplegics.
In their study, they determined that, both groups of individuals who experienced either a tremendous windfall of cash or a traumatic accident, all reverted to their Hedonic Set-Point after a short period passed.
This means that the lottery winners were happy for a while in the beginning, then, as the months passed, their happiness levels slipped back to their original Hedonic Set-Point state. And the trauma that the paraplegics went through was difficult for a period, but they too slipped back to their baseline level of happiness.
Happiness through Habits
So, armed with this knowledge that we're constantly chasing some level of happiness that we might never actually attain, and that we all have a baseline level of happiness called a Hedonic Set-Point, is there actually a way to affect just how happy we are in the here-and-now?
Well, yes, of course.
In order to be happy, and actually influence our Hedonic Set-Point, as we've seen, we have to influence the sources of happiness. Since one of those sources is simply unchangeable, which would be our genetics, that leaves us with two others: values and events.
Now, our values come from a variety of different factors. But, much of our values have been formed through beliefs and experiences. This is difficult to change without some serious conscious effort on our part. But there are some shortcuts in the form of habit development that will get us there.
So, what's the reasoning here? How can habits influence my values, and in turn, alter my level of happiness?
Good question. Habits are formed through routine sets of behavior that are repeated over time. Those behaviors are based on past and present beliefs and values. So, if values and beliefs are dictating our behavior (which are the basis for habits), by altering our habits, we can short-circuit our minds and create sustainable happiness.
In fact, over time, by implementing and sticking to certain happy habits, we can actually alter our Hedonic Set-Point.
Now, I'm not going to say that this is a simple task. Since habits take anywhere from 15 to 254 days to form (with an average of 66 days), building habits, and influencing our overall happiness is clearly difficult.
But not impossible...
So, here are 12 habits that you can use to short-circuit your mind and rewire your Hedonic Set-Point:
#1 - Happiness through Smiling
The habit of smiling is difficult to form, especially if you're not prone to smiling yourself. But, a recent study from 2011 by Michigan State University came to the conclusion that people who were able to cultivate and sustain happy thoughts, and in turn smiled because of it, were more likely to exhibit enhancements of moods and overall happiness.
Other studies on depression have concluded that, chronically depressed patients who were forced to smile a Duchenne Smile (a genuine smile) for at least 20 minutes each day while looking into a mirror saw an elevation in both mood and happiness.
#2 - Happiness through Resiliency
Being resilient isn't easy. Usually, when we fail, we tend to slip into a depressive slumber that's difficult to awaken from. But, resiliency breeds happiness, and failures are actually stepping stones, and not eternal deterrents. When we realize just how much failure breeds success, we can learn to be resilient no matter what happens to us.
So, how can we be more resilient? Well, for starters, don't take things too seriously. If you've failed, get back up again. If you made a mistake, try all over. Be resilient and don't give up. Eventually, you'll breakthrough those mental barriers and ultimately achieve your dreams. But, if you give up, you'll never get there. So be resilient!
#3 - See the Good in Any Situation
Since part of our happiness is the perception of the events in our lives, seeing the good in any situation is a happy habit that can significantly boost our overall happiness. The hardest thing to realize in life is that everything happens for a reason.
The problem for most people is that they allow bad situations to really destroy them. They become negative, depressed, angry, and resentful. But you must see the good in any situation. Because, it's out of even bad situations that we truly reach the greatest understandings about life, love, people, and the purpose of our lives.
#4 - Happy Habit: Exercising
Motion creates emotion. When a person lies or sits around all day, in a relative state of sedentariness, it's easy to be unhappy and even depressed. Happiness can be bred through simply 20 minutes each day of exercise. It helps to increase blood flow in the body, lowers blood pressure, and releases happy chemicals such as dopamine and other endorphins in the brain.
Exercising doesn't have to be an all-day affair. It can simply be a brisk walk around the block a few times, or push-ups and sit-ups in the bedroom, a light yoga class, and so on. But, developing this habit, like any of the others, takes time.
#5 - Daily Gratitude
Every single day, when you awake, simply take 15 to 20 minutes to write down what you're grateful for. Why is this so important? Well, the physical act of writing something down creates a visceral shift in our mind. We go from a state of lack to a state of abundance with ease.
It's easy to complain about the things that we don't have. However, it's far harder to appreciate the things that we do have. We're always so busy comparing our lives with those of others. Implement this happy habit every single day for at least 3 months and watch your life transform before your very eyes.
#6 - Build & Nurture Connections
Speaking, networking, and connecting with people are all part of relationship-building. These can be personal relationships or professional relationships. Regardless of the kind of relationships they may be, the focus must be on building and nurturing them on a daily basis.
Create the simple habit of calling, texting, or emailing your connections to ask them how they're doing on a periodic basis. Most of us are far more concerned with ourselves than we are with others. But, this habit can be built up over time. And, when the focus shifts from "I" to "YOU," some remarkable things start to occur. Implement this happy habit and watch it transform your life.
#7 - Happiness through Honesty
In a book called the Millionaire Mind, Thomas J. Stanley states that one lie requires 15 lies to cover up. Those 15 lies each require 15 additional lies each, bringing us to 225 lies in total. Those 225 lies each require 15 lies each as well. And so on. You get the picture, right?
Dishonesty creates undue stress on the mind, having to always think about, backtrack, and cower behind those lies. But, one of the happy habits that are most important to our overall level of happiness is honesty. Try to go 90 straight days without lying. If you think it's impossible, then it's even more important for you to do so.
#8 - Keep Your Word
Being honest isn't a stand-alone habit for happiness, we also have to keep our word. When we promise someone that we'll do something, we have to live up to that promise. This doesn't matter if it happens in the personal world with family or friends, or in the professional world with clients, colleagues, or employees.
Today, keeping promises is something of a rarity. But, if you want to increase your level of happiness on a daily basis, ensure that you always keep your word no matter what the situation. And, if you don't think you'll be able to keep your word, don't make promises that you can't keep. Go for 90 days while doing this and watch a transformation in your happiness levels occur.
#9 - Happiness through Spirituality
Regardless of your religion, or lack thereof, being spiritually connected is a huge source of happiness. Whether it's God, Allah, Buddha, or the spiritual oneness that connects us all, get in touch with your spirituality on a daily basis.
Don't just wait for Sunday or a holiday to think about your spirituality, do it every single day. As you're driving in your car, walking on the street, or sitting at your desk at work, get spiritually connected. Realize that all of your problems don't matter that much in the world because this too shall pass. What matters is our spiritual connectedness.
#10 - Always be Present
It's easy to live in the past or the future. It's easy to allow negativity, animosity, resentment, and fear to cloud our minds. But, being present is a huge source of happiness. It allows us to escape from all the what-ifs in our minds, and focus on the here-and-now.
Spend 15 minutes each day focusing on the present moment. Just close your eyes and feel the heart beating in your chest, or the blood running through your veins, or the gentle breeze on your skin, and even the sound of birds chirping in trees nearby. Just feel and be present. Forget about everything else for a little while.
#11 - Forgiveness
We all make mistakes; we're all fallible. Not you, nor I, nor anyone else in the physical world is perfect. So, we must forgive others. Forgiving others allows us to release all that animosity and built up worry in our minds, and opens the road to happiness.
We don't necessarily have to forget, just forgive. Try to let forgiveness live in your heart. If you're walking around with anger or resent, just try to let it go. Try to learn something from the situation and allow it to pass, brushing it off your shoulders. You'll be far happier when you do this.
#12 - Happiness through Laughter
The final happy habit, but not least, is laughter. Learn to laugh at things in life, and try to not take everything so seriously. Laughter helps to release positive endorphins in the mind and body, and helps to alleviate stress and lower blood pressure, much like exercise.
If you've found yourself not laughing in life, try to change it. Focus on laughing at things. When we take everything with a grain of salt we live a far better, healthier, and happier lifestyle over time.
Employ this habit by focusing on laughter every single day. Find one thing that you can laugh about that you used to take seriously, and just laugh. Don't worry so much about what others think about you. Just laugh.