The 40% Solution to a Happier Life

Instead of researching psychological problems, some social scientists are more excited-not to mention having more fun-examining the flip side of the coin. What makes people happy? And what do we need to do to get more of it? Their search is turning up some interesting facts.

Research by Dr. Martin Seligman, the psychologist who founded the Positive Psychology movement, shows that happiness comes from orienting yourself towards the pursuit of positive emotions, as well as becoming fully engaged in meaningful activities, including using your talents to serve a cause beyond your own self-interest.

Dr. Dan Baker, is also a psychologist and the author of the bestseller, “What Happy People Know.” He believes that with the right practice, you can rewire your neural circuits to break negative thinking habits that drag you down. He recommends doing the following exercise every day for the next week. Try it. You may be surprised.

Appreciate – Every morning and again at noon, think of someone or something you deeply appreciate. Before going to sleep, think of something that happened during the day that you appreciate.

Give to others – Do something for another person each day.

Curb negative thinking – When thinking about an upcoming event, don’t focus on the hassles. Focus on what’s good about it.

Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky is a psychology professor and author of “The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want”. According to her research, life circumstances like health, job or marriage, surprisingly only account for 10% of our happiness. Even special events like a new house, a promotion at work, or winning the lottery, nice as they are, don’t have that much impact on long term happiness because we get used to them. On average, another 50% of our tendency to be happy is genetically predisposed.

Doing the math, that leaves control of 40% of your happiness in your hands. That’s huge! Of course happiness is not a final destination, where once you arrive it’s yours for good. Maintaining happiness is an ongoing process, just as maintaining good health is an ongoing process. You have to actively keep at each of them. For health, the process involves things like eating right, exercising, getting regular medical check ups, reducing stress and a generally healthy life style. When it comes to getting and keeping happiness, the process requires learning how to be in charge of, and wisely direct, your actions, your thinking-and even to some degree your feelings. The more you master how to do that, the happier you’ll be.

As a psychologist who has spent many years helping people improve their lives, I’d like to share with you some of my thoughts about the pursuit of happiness. Let’s starts with this simple truth. If your life feels stuck, something about the way you are currently dealing with things is not working for you. You have to be the one to change that. Please do not misunderstand. I am not saying that other people or unfortunate circumstances aren’t part of the reason for your unhappiness. They very well may be. But convincing yourself there’s nothing you can do about it, or blaming fate or other people for your troubles, or trying to maneuver others into changing things, is an emotional waste of time. The reality is, the only person you really have real control over is yourself. Whatever the source of your unhappiness-school, career, family, friends, bad habits, romantic relationships, abuse of food or substances, or anything else you care to name-to improve the situation, change has to come from within you.

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