I’m going to throw out three threshold questions about happiness that I’m sure you thought about yourself. Then I’m going to suggest 7 very manageable, realistic resolutions for you to try in your own life to think about your own happiness, as well as the happiness of people who you might be trying to help. Because what I found is that when you look at people who are happier, they have habits that work for them. And people who are less happy don’t have habits that work for them.
But first of all, there are these three threshold questions that really come up again and again when you’re thinking about happiness. And the first one is, obviously, what is happiness anyway?
1. What is happiness?
I started out my career as a fashion designer. I have happy memories of spending an entire semester arguing about the definition of style. And if anything, happiness is more elusive. There’s something like 15 academic definitions of happiness. And what I realized is that, for most people, having a final definition isn’t very important. It can be contentment, bliss, joy, satisfaction, peace, the word is big enough for all these ideas. And for most of us, it’s better to think, about being happier than about achieving happiness, which is like this magical finish line. How do you cross it? What does life look like when you get there? Who knows. It’s more about the progress that you’re making. Are you moving in the right direction?
2. Can you affect your level of happiness?
There is one theory called the set point theory, which holds that people have a set point. They might go up and they might go down, but they always drift back to that set point. Yet I think it’s more helpful to think of a set range. It turns out that 50% of happiness is genetically determined. And that’s pretty much hardwired. But then about 10-20% is something called life circumstances. Things like health, income, education, marital status. The 30-40% is pretty much influenced by the way we think and the way we act. So we can push ourselves up to the top of our natural range or press ourselves down to the bottom of our natural range, with our conscious thoughts and actions. This is really where we can take charge.
3. Is it selfish to be happier?
People are surprisingly uncomfortable with the idea of wanting to work on their own happiness. They will say things like, ‘I have all the elements of a happy life if I’m not happy I must be a spoiled brat.’ Or, ‘You might think in a world full of suffering it’s not morally appropriate to think about my own happiness.’ But in fact, research shows, that happy people are more interested in the problems of the people around them and trying to help. They’re more interested in the problems of the world. They’re more altruistic, they give away more money, they volunteer more time. They’re more likely to help out if a family member, or a colleague, or a friend needs a hand. They’re healthier, and they have healthier habits. They make better team members and better leaders. Who doesn’t want to be this person?
When we’re unhappy, we tend to become defensive, isolated and preoccupied with our own problems. And when we are happier, we can turn outward and think about the problems of other people and the world. So if you’re in the position of wanting to help other people to be happier and healthier, taking the time to think about your own happiness is something that’s going to help you do that, not getting in the way of doing that. So if it would be selfish to think about your own happiness, we should be selfish, if only for selfless reasons.
Ok so having made the argument for happiness, I want to list down some very concrete, manageable, realistic resolutions for you to think about when trying to work on your own happiness. You might hear of these before, but some just need to be reminded. It can feel very abstract and overwhelming to think on working on your own happiness, so where do you begin? A great place, to begin with, is your own body! Because the physical experience always colors the emotional experience. Also, our sense of energy and vitality is something that affects everything that we do. So read on to find out the 7 ways to live a happier life.
7 Ways To a Happier Life
1. Get enough sleep
And the first that everybody should think about is that when you want to be happier, you have to get enough sleep! Most adults need at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night. There are the short sleepers, that very lucky few people who don’t need much sleep. It’s so easy to stay up too late and yes there are still people who say I trained myself to live on 5 hours of sleep. But when scientists study these people they are quite impaired. It affects mood, memory, immune function, it can contribute to weight gain, it’s so important to get enough sleep.
2. Get some exercise
The same thing goes for exercise. You know it’s true. It’s the magical elixir of life, It calms you down and it energizes you. People often think they are too tired to exercise, when in fact exercise for most people is going to boost their energy. Just getting out, moving around, is so important. Here’s a secret tip that I discovered. Let’s say it’s a Wednesday afternoon and you’re dragging, you don’t have time to take a nap, you stayed up too late, you don’t have time to take a stroll or going to that TRX class, so what can you do? Just jump up and down a few times. I know, it’s goofy, especially when other people can see you, it’s childlike, it’s playful, it has the perfect ingredients to make you feel better. Whether it’s doing jumping jacks by your desk, running down the stairs, jumping over a puddle, there’s something about getting your both feet off the ground and getting a shot of energy.
3. Cultivate good smell
You might not think about this one, but to cultivate smells is to appreciate the pleasure that comes at no cost. You can eat out and have your favorite food, but this costs money, or go to the movie and buy a ticket, these things cost money, or reading a book, ask for time and attention. But the sense of smell is a flash, an instant gratification. You walk to the fridge and smell the fresh strawberries, or you buried your face in freshly laundered towels. It’s about enjoying and owning the moment, being present in the moment. The sense of smell brings you back to the moment. It is happening at this moment and it connects you to your body and the present, but it also connects you to your past. Take a minute right now and think about the smell of your grandparents’ kitchen. Smell is the present, but it also powerfully connects us to the past.
4. Organize possessions and declutter
The first 3 points were related to our body. Now I would like to suggest possessions. There’s something about possessions that drag us down. Outer order contributes to inner calm. When an outer order is achieved, people feel calmer, more energetic, more creative, and more in control of themselves. This is important when you are trying to achieve health goals. For example look for stalled projects in your house. Hobbies and interests you started and for whatever reason has lost your interest, yet the stuff is there. Think of hand weights, yoga mats (this one you should give a second chance though!), balance balls and knitting equipment. This stuff hangs around and it clutters, it’s on the floor, on your shelves, and on your conscience. Then you know it’s time to give these hand weights a better and happier life at your friend’s place who is using them. Getting rid of the clutter frees the mind.
5. Make your bed
This one sounds and is simple. It’s by far the number one resolution that everyone agrees will give you a headstart to become happier. Do you already make your bed in the morning? How about the bed in your hotel room on the day you check out? There’s something about that kind small, manageable, daily bit of order that makes people feel better. There’s something about getting control over the stuff of your life, that makes you feel more in control of your life generally. Even if it’s an illusion, it’s a helpful illusion. Someone once said I cleaned up my fridge, and now I know I can switch careers.
6. Establish and deepen relationships
To be happy, we need to feel like we have enduring, intimate bonds, a sense of belonging, a solid support system, but also to give back support. Anything that you do to broaden and deepen your relationships will make you happier. This is a really good way to evaluate how you spend your time, energy and money. One way to do this is by starting or joining a group of like-minded people. When you start a group you usually start with some people you know, so this part is deepening your existent relationships, and then you broaden out with friends of friends. As I’m part of Hillsong Church Bali, Andrew and I are running a group for couples and young families. But there are plenty of other groups you could start or join. Think of a cooking club, yoga group, book club or beauty group. This way you are inspiring and encouraging one another and holding each other accountable. Starting or joining a group is a great way to strengthen these relationships in your life.
7. Build self-knowledge
The last key to happiness is self-knowledge. We can only build a happy life on the foundation of our own nature, our own interests, and our own values. You might think how hard can it be to know myself? I just hang out with myself all day long. But in reality, it’s very hard to know yourself. It’s so easy to be distracted by what we wish were true, or what we think ought to be true, or what we assume is true, that we lose track on what is true to ourselves. There is a framework that you can apply by finding out your personality type. How do you respond to the idea of an expectation? An outer expectation, like a work deadline or request from a spouse. Or an inner expectation, your own desire to start meditating, your own desire to keep your New Year’s resolution. There are 4 categories:
- Upholders: they keep the deadline, and without much effort, they keep the new year’s resolution.
- Questioners: they question all expectations. They will do it if they believe it makes sense.
- Rebels: they resist all expectations. They want to do what they want to do right now.
- Obligers: they respond readily to outer expectations, but they have a lot of trouble imposing expectations on themselves.
So in what category do you fit? What are your next new habits? As 2018 is just around the corner, what are your new year’s resolutions? How will you achieve your goals? I hope this blog post helped you to become a happier person moving forward. Let me know your thoughts and comments down below in the comment section! Or give me some heads up on Instagram 🙂
With love and gratitude always x