Friday, December 4, 2009

Happiness Pie

Spread Happiness
Originally uploaded by beforethecoffee
Stop reading this right now, and ask yourself, "Are you happy?" If not, why are you unhappy? If so, to what do you attribute your happiness? For most people, happiness or unhappiness hinges on something outside of us -- how we look, how much money we have, what kind of relationship we are in, our job, our boss, our stuff, our power. Is that you?

Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky is a psychologist who has spent the majority of her research career studying happiness and whether a person's happiness can be measurably increased. She's even written a book about it called The How of Happiness. If you look at your state of happiness as a pie, fifty percent of the happiness pie is set by your genes. Some people are just predisposed to being happier than others. As for the other half, just ten percent of one's happiness can be attributed to something outside of us. Getting married, having wealth, buying a new car, getting a facelift, buying a new dress. All of these things bring us a temporary boost in happiness, but then we fall back to our "set point." It's a wonder that we spend 99% of our effort on pursuits that affect our happiness by just ten percent. And that boost doesn't even last very long. Yet we keep spinning our wheels chasing stuff and people and money.

Ah, but there is that remaining forty percent. Here's what Dr. Luybomirsky suggests about the rest of the pie. "My colleagues and I believe that sustainable increases in happiness are possible through the practice of intentional cognitive, motivational, and behavioral activities that are feasible to deploy but require daily and concerted effort and commitment."

So what are these magical activities? Well, they are things your mom or grandmother probably told you. You've seen them on bumper stickers, posters with furry kittens, and refrigerator magnets. You've probably blown them off as trite and cliche, but you are wrong. Done regularly and with intention, research has proven that these activities can raise your level of happiness by forty percent.

First, count your blessings. Yep, regularly set aside time to express gratitude through reflection, a journal, or letter writing.

Second, think positively. Focus your thoughts on happy times and goals for the future.

Third, practice kindness. Commit to acts of kindness and altruism on a regular basis.

Dr. Luybomirsky recommends that you mix things up a bit to keep it interesting. Don't practice the exact same thoughts or activities in the same way every day. Otherwise you'll get bored and the work will become meaningless. But do one of these activities every single day.

If you find yourself sinking into a bad mood or having negative thoughts, in your mind scream, "STOP". Force yourself to shift to positive memories or reflection. Reach out to someone else and be kind to them. Write down a list of all of the things in life for which you are grateful. Then enjoy a big slice of happiness pie!

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