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Clinical psychology and psychiatry aim to decrease human suffering and psychological pain. Not as much attention is given to increasing human happiness and contentment. The field of positive psychology contributes to our understanding of well-being and happiness. Social psychologist Andy Luttrell compiled the work of positive psychology into strategies to increase happiness.
Happiness is an emotional state of well-being defined by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy. Researchers say that people’s set point, i.e.genetics, and other biological factors contribute, about 50% to happiness. Life circumstances such as income, status, etc. contributes about 10%. Intentional activity or things that we do or choices we make contribute 40% to happiness. We have limited influence over the set point and life circumstances. However, we can make deliberate changes to intentional activity.
Intentional activity makes us happier
- Gratitude exercises. Research shows that listing 5 things that you appreciate once for 10 weeks increased happiness by 25% compared to a control group. Luttrell suggests listing 3 – 5 things that you are thankful for at least once per week will contribute to greater happiness.
- Helping others through “random acts of kindness”. Look for small ways to help others on a regular basis. These acts include small things like telling an acquaintance that you are glad to have run into them. Several years ago, I approached a highway toll. The person in front of me had paid the toll for me. That act left such a positive impression on me that I think about it years later. Check out the website randomactsofkindness.org for ideas.
- Have a “social snack”. Having human connection, even with strangers, is important to contentment and happiness. “Social snack” is defined as:
- Form social connections during time when you otherwise might not.
- Get to know other people even if it doesn’t lead to long term relationships.
- Smile. Researchers have found that when we manipulate the muscles in our face to simulate a smile, it causes us to be happier. Find opportunities to smile. Pushing ourselves to experience positivity as represented by genuine smiles will increase happiness over time. Take the chance to smile and mean it. Forcing a smile or “faking it until you make it” won’t work.
- Simplify your decisions. Modern life provides endless options. A large number of choices can be paralyzing. Research shows that people who are given fewer options are more likely to make a choice and be happier with their decision. Making simple, quick decisions leads to more satisfaction. Conversely, the more options we consider, the more likely we are to worry and regret our decision.
Attitude is everything in happiness
The common theme learned from the above strategies is that our attitude impacts happiness. Mindfully shifting the way that we look at things and positively framing our outlook makes a difference in how we feel. The key is not only to incorporate small things on a regular basis but also to focus attention on things we overlook.
Happiness is like working out at the gym
Physically fitness requires attention to lifestyle choices such as eating habits, sleeping, and activity. Success comes from making small ongoing changes and developing new habits. The same holds true for developing a life of contentment. The strategies that Dr. Luttrell outline are intended to increase awareness to things that would normally pass unnoticed. Also, he proposes adding small things into our lives that over time will build a state of positivity. Just as we don’t expect to go from being out of shape to being physically fit overnight, the same holds true for happiness. List 3 or 4 things you are thankful for right now. Set a reminder to do it weekly. Check out the website randomactsofkindness.org for ideas. Talk to strangers. Look for opportunities to genuinely smile. Make quick and easy decisions by not contemplating choices too seriously.