Is happiness an inborn personality trait? Or does happiness simply come about when the right combination of circumstances appear? Sometimes happiness can seem elusive, and you might even wonder if it will ever come your way. But a number of recent studies tell a different story.
The exciting truth is that we actually have a lot of power when it comes to how happy we feel, and it turns out that we CAN increase our happiness level. In this uplifting new video, Emily Rosen, Director of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, shares simple, highly doable techniques that you can use right away to invite more happiness into your life. Tune in now and watch your spirits start to rise.
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Here is a transcript of this week’s video:
Hi, I’m Emily Rosen, Director of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating. Today I’m going to talk about whether or not happiness can be learned.
There are a lot of happy people out there, and a lot of not so happy people out there. The question is, are we simply born that way or is there something else at play?
Popular belief has us thinking that when circumstances are just the way we want them to be, we’ll be happy. The thinking goes, “I’ll be happy when … I get a new car … buy a bigger house … get that raise … find that special someone.” In other words, external circumstances are seen as the key to alter our mood and determine our happiness.
But let’s look at the research:
A study done in 2010 found that happiness is an internal locus of control. Beyond having the money to meet basic needs for food, shelter, water, and other survival necessities, money doesn’t actually make people happier at all. Circumstances may boost our mood for a short time, but they are not sustainable for happiness in the long run.
What does make us happy is our outlook and approach to what life brings us. In other words, happiness doesn’t happen to us.
Happiness is a choice.
The turn of this century marked the decade of neuroscience that completely altered what we understand about mood and psychology. The brain is much more changeable than we ever thought. The fields of positive psychology, neuroscience, and psychoneuroimmunology are finding a lot of evidence that says happiness is, in fact, a learnable quality.
One of the leaders in positive psychology, defines happiness in three parts: The feel-good emotions of pleasure; engagement with a life worth living; and using our strengths to make a meaningful contribution to society.
The first is immediate and fleeting, but the latter two have a longer-lasting impact, and are crucial for overall happiness.
Also, having a connection to a larger picture or even a higher power helps one best manage the ups and downs of life. For example, having a belief such as “it all works out in the end,” or “this will be good fuel for a creative project,” or “what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger,” are outlooks that help us frame the hard things as obstacles rather than stopping points for misery. And connecting with others helps us feel like we exist and matter.
So, happiness can indeed be learned. And in that light, here are five tips on how you can increase your happiness:
#1 Give to others
There’s much research out there that correlates happiness with giving to people. There’s something about giving without expectation of reciprocity that makes us happy. It gives us a deeper sense of meaning to know we can make a difference in someone’s life.
#2 Give Thanks
Research on gratitude shows that having an attitude of gratitude increases mental and emotional health. Gratitude gets us out of feeling victimized by our lives and increases a sense of responsibility over our thoughts, feelings, and actions. Gratitude hones our minds to look at what’s working, rather than what’s not. And that elicits more feel-good emotions.
#3 Focus On What IS Working
William Shakespeare, in his play Hamlet, said, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” We can choose to focus on the things we don’t like or the things we do. This is not to say that living life in denial is the preferred strategy. We accept what is, rather than denying it, but then we choose to let our outlook focus on what IS working, rather than what isn’t.
When we focus on what’s not working, we tend to get in complaint mode and we feel powerless and unhappy. When we focus on what IS working, we give affirmations to people, and when they feel more valued, they tend to do better jobs or nicer things in turn. When we focus on what’s working, we often see even more things that are good in life because our mind is already in the mode to see it.
#4 Grow Your Social Capital
A study on the happiest and least happy countries showed Sweden to be the happiest country. It wasn’t because of wealth. It was because, even in times of disaster, people felt they could lean on each other, which made trying times less impactful. This is called social capital. When it comes down to it, anyone who is successful in business will tell you that it relies on social capital. It’s the connections to others that gets the word out and keeps people coming back. It’s what makes the business feel good.
When we think of ourselves as part of a community, giving to others doesn’t feel like a waste and we don’t get lost making sure there is equal reciprocity. We give to the collective because giving to the collective ultimately serves us, as well as the greater good. Sharing your good mood, your thoughts, encouragement, and support are all ways to grow your social capital and to trust it’s there when you need it.
#5 Choose To Be Happy First
Many of us think that if we get a raise, a car, the right body, or a romantic relationship, then we can finally be happy. We do this with our bodies, too. But as we teach in the field of Dynamic Eating Psychology, this is a way of putting off happiness into the future, instead of living a happy life now.
Choose to be happy first, then let success grow from that. The daily choices of how we live our lives are what really bring happiness. The time we make for pleasure, connection, and the things that matter most in our lives is what truly counts. Choose to be happy first, and life’s magic will surely be felt.
I hope this was helpful.