Almost every tv commercial, print ad, or internet ad banner you’ll ever see is trying to sell you something. It doesn’t matter what the product itself is – what they’re really trying to sell you is happiness.
And the irony is that one of the things that modern psychology has worked out about happiness is that it doesn’t come from material wealth. In fact studies show that past the three month mark, the things that you buy have little to no impact on your current state of happiness.
And yet, money can make you happy – just not in the way you think.
As opposed to buying something for yourself, you’re markedly happier if you buy something for someone else. It doesn’t even have to be expensive.
But not everyone has enough money lying around to give away every time they need a mood boost. Thankfully there are many other ways to improve your level of happiness.
WHAT HAPPINESS IS NOT
Before we get into how to boost your level of happiness, let’s discuss first what it is not.
Happiness is not walking around in a bubble of bliss all day long, and never being touched by negative emotion.
Happiness is also not a destination. This is why our assumptions of “when I get xyz then I will be happy” never pan out.
Happiness happens in the pursuit of happiness. Becoming immersed in a project or a cause so much that time flies. Taking time to savor that moment that you’re living – not rushing off to the next thing that might make you happy.
Happiness is an overarching state of your being – not the momentary emotions of joy or ecstasy.
There are many facets of being happy. Some we have control over like how often we partake in engaging or meaningful activities – and others we do not, like how genetically we are wired for happiness.
Yes, happiness, to an extent, is in your genes. We all come pre wired to a level of happiness, or a set point, that we generally return to after either good or bad events. This is part of the reason that the things you buy don’t have a lasting impression on your mood.
Martin Seligman, one of the fathers of positive psychology, has created a list of the facets over which we have some control. The acronym for this is PERMA. Enhancing any of these facets will boost your happiness levels. Boosting multiple areas will do more good then the sum of the individual increases.
Pleasure, enjoyment, satisfaction, gratitude, optimism are all part of this facet.
While it may seem like happy moments just happen to us, and we have no control over them – this is not true. While me may not have much control over events in our life, we do have control over our perspective. Maintaining a healthy level of optimism and positive perspective will increase your overall level of happiness.
Additionally you can make efforts to improve this area by being grateful for what you have, and expressing that gratefulness will take it to an even higher level.
When positive things do happen to you, you can increase their effect with a technique called savoring. This is a moment of mindfulness where you enjoy the happiness. Let it really sink in. Make an effort to allow it to make an impression on you.
Negativity bias is a real thing. It is an evolutionary aspect of our brains where we will remember a negative experience over a positive one. It kept us in the gene pool when we were not exactly the top of the food chain Back when our goal was simply to survive. In this modern era, savoring is a way to help the positive experiences have as much effect on our brains as the negative ones.
Ever get so involved in a project that you completely lose track of time? That is what is defined as engagement or the flow state.
The flow state can be found in just about any activity. Angela Duckworth explains in her book Grit that it occurs when you are doing something that you’re good at and enjoy. It needs to be something that is hard, but not impossible.
Playing an instrument, video games, sewing, playing a sport, dancing, working on anything that you enjoy can all produce a flow state.
The flow state is where the pursuit of the happiness IS the happiness. You’re not happy when the experience is over, you’re happy while you’re doing it.
Humans are social animals. Even though it may be hard for some of us to get out among people, it is unlikely that you would ask to be forcefully isolated.
In ancient times being exiled was the worst punishment. Being voted off the island meant that you would likely die either from thirst, starvation, or predator. Because of this we are wired for connection. It is in our survival instincts.
Whether or not you have a wide circle of friends is the key factor. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got 500+ Linked In connections if you’re not engaging in meaningful relationships with people, those connections won’t help you be happy.
Having a few close relationships will have a greater impact on your overall happiness then having a large quantity of shallow acquaintances.
At the end of the day, one of the big factors that makes people happy is knowing that they mattered. Feeling like their life has meaning.
Leading a meaningful and purposeful life will help improve your happiness. You don’t have to be a great philanthropist or give your whole life to service to find meaning. Just noticing how your life impacts those around you – customers, friends, family members – can help put you in touch with your meaning.
If you feel like you’re lacking in this department consider what would give your life purpose. You might not be able to quit your job and pursue a life serving your purpose, but you don’t have to. Doing something meaningful in the evenings or on weekends can be enough to bring significant meaning into your life.
Personally, one of the worst feelings that I can have is ending the day, exhausted and feeling like I didn’t get anything done.
While it’s absolutely OK to have days where all you did is breathe – it will also help to have other days where you have a sense of accomplishment.
Accomplishment and satisfaction are two feelings that boost your overall happiness. This feeling doesn’t have to come just from “a job well done” either. If you can find a way for your meaningful activity and/or your engaged activity to bring you a sense of accomplishment (maybe practicing a musical piece until you can play it well, for example) then you can bring yourself even more happiness.
Whatever part of your life you want to focus on, set some goals. Then when you complete a step towards those goals, don’t be afraid to take a moment to be proud of your work and savor it a bit. This helps bring more of that positive perspective I talked about earlier that can help skew your whole day towards happiness.
If you’re struggling to figure out how to improve any of these areas of your life, contact me. Coaching can help you figure out the ways that can make yourself truly happy.