Are you obsessively taking your happiness pulse? Do you even know what makes you happy anymore? I’m not talking about a happy day, happy hour, or happily-ever-after Hollywood ending. I’m talking about real, honest and true, long-lasting happiness.
Of course, you’ll be happy when that email you received from Google tells you to pack your bags for Silicon Valley—because you got the job you wanted—or when that gorgeous guy or girl sitting across from you at the bar asks for your number.
Surely those are smile-producing events, but after you move to Cali or go out on a few dates with Mr. or Miss Perfect, the smiles fade and you’re left alone with an “okay, now what?” empty feeling.
Maybe you’re stuck in the “grass is greener on the other side” syndrome. Do you find yourself thinking, “If only I could move to another city, if only the kids would stop whining so much, and if only I could take that European vacation I’ve been dreaming about, then I will be truly happy”?
Happy people are happy with what they have.
Weddings, awards, love affairs, purses, shoes, or cars make you happy, but that joy is short lived. If you’re looking for real happiness, you might be looking in the wrong place.
These impressive facts about happiness might surprise you.
1. Happiness is a life-long pursuit.
Awards, achievements, and celebrations are temporary happy moments. “Happily ever after” is hard work that never ends. Live each day as happy as you can. A day lost in misery is gone forever.
2. Look for the good in everything.
Alice Herz-Sommer was a Holocaust survivor who lived for 108 years. When asked how she could be happy after so much tragedy, she said, “I look for the good. I know there is bad, but I look for the good thing.”
3. Stop taking your happiness pulse.
Measuring your happiness doesn’t increase it. It’s like getting on the scales every day when you’re on a diet to discover that you only lost 1/8 lb. You become discouraged. Make happiness an alternative lifestyle, like your new vegan diet.
4. Happiness is a habit.
Pursue it throughout the day. Develop an attitude of happiness. As a athlete trains for a triathlon, sign yourself up for happiness bootcamp and make it your habit. In his book Happier, Tal Ben-Shahar says that happiness is a ritual that must be created, identified, and maintained. If you stick with it, by day 30 you can say hello to your new habit.
According to Charles Duhigg, a Pulitzer prize winning staff writer and author of the Power of Habit, there is a three-step neurological process that creates a habit. “Choose a cue (leave your running shoes by the door), then pick a reward (eating chocolate); gradually when you see your running shoes, your brain will start to crave the chocolate, which makes it easier to work out daily.”
5. Happiness is a skill.
Sometimes you have to dig your way out of the smelly garbage bin of life. Learning how to turn a negative response into a positive one requires effort. However, according to cognitive scientists Paul Ekman and Richard Davidson: “The goal is not to rid oneself or transcend an emotion, not even hatred, but to regulate experience and action once an emotion is felt.” It’s about becoming the manager of your emotions.
6. Happy people are successful.
Most people think success makes you happy, but according to Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness, happiness creates success. Happy people are confident, optimistic, energetic, and sociable. “They are more likely to have fulfilling marriages and relationships, high incomes, superior work performance, community involvement, robust health and even a long life.”
7. Happiness comes from living with purpose.
Do you feel that you are living true to your purpose? Living with purpose causes happiness. Once there was a prisoner who was given the task of turning a faucet every day to water the plants in the garden outside. Every day he turned the handle. After many years, he was released and wanted to see the plants he had been watering. When he asked to see the garden, he was told there were none. Upon hearing that, he collapsed and died.
8. Pay it forward.
If you are buying yourself a coffee and you buy the stranger behind you one too, your happiness will last longer than if you just bought one for yourself. A study in Psychological Science traced the path of the vagus nerve showing how it connects social contact to the positive emotions that come from social interactions. Even simply witnessing an act of kindness can create a peak experience, an awesome, “grateful to be alive” feeling, according to Abraham Maslow, psychologist and researcher.
“Smiling sends signals to the brain of emotional well-being,” Ron Gutman says in his TED talk. He explains that a smile is beneficial to your health. Smiling may even increase lifespan. Smiling lowers stress hormones and blood pressure. Facial muscles send messages that modify emotional areas of the brain, so stay away from botoxing your smile lines. Surprisingly, smiling stimulates the feel-good areas of the brain more than chocolate and money.
10. Happiness is contagious.
We are all connected; what we feel affects the people we meet. Watch what happens when you smile at someone who passes you by on the street. If you make eye contact, they will probably smile back. You just delivered positive energy into the soul of another person.
11. Happy people enjoy deep conversations.
Gossip is the talk of negative thinkers. Happy people enjoy deep philosophical conversations that stimulate the intellect. In Psychological Science, Dr. Matthias Mehl reported that in a study he conducted happier people had twice as many conversations as unhappy people.
12. Pets make you happy.
If you have a dog, you know how loved you feel when your dog jumps for joy at the sight of you, but there’s medical proof that your dog is good for your health. Dogs keep you company, force you to walk, lower your blood pressure and are great date magnets. Even looking at your cat curled on top of your computer can reduce your chance of a heart attack, reduce anxiety, and improve your mood. Researcher James E. Gern, MD, in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology states that children who grow up around animals have a stronger immune system.
13. Exercise causes happiness.
Physical activity can induce an endorphin-based high. The Mayo Clinic reports seven health benefits of regular exercise: weight control, combating health conditions and diseases, improved mood, boosted energy, better sleep, improved intimacy, and it’s fun.
14. Certain foods make you happy.
Thanksgiving dinner is over and what’s the first thing you want to do? You’re so tired you can’t keep your eyes open to watch the end of the football game. Everyone knows tryptophan in the turkey did it. Foods affect you. Every sad girl knows that nothing soothes a broken heart like a pint of ice cream. There’s scientific proof.
Neuroscientists from the Institute of Psychiatry in London studied people eating ice cream and found an immediate effect on parts of the brain that activate when people enjoy themselves. It’s also true that junk food makes you miserable. A study suggests that people who eat junk food are more likely to develop depression, to be single, less active and work longer, than those who don’t.
15. Job satisfaction makes you happy.
You spend hours at your desk. Your back hurts and your Fitbit is telling you to start walking. You go home stressed out and exhausted, get a few hours’ sleep, and then start all over again. Is your work meaningful or are you just there to pay the bills? Tal-Ben-Shahar, Harvard professor and author, states that when your work is purposeful it can be fulfilling, even in routine jobs. Find something meaningful in the menial tasks.
16. Happiness is contagious.
You know how you feel when you walk into the house after a hard day at the office and see a grumpy face standing there to greet you? New research from Harvard Medical School and the University of California (San Diego) suggests that happiness is influenced by people you know and by the people they know. Happiness is so contagious that we can even catch it from social networking. Sadness is also contagious, so be careful who you are friends with on Facebook. Your friends might be making your other friends sad.
17. Money buys happiness/money doesn’t buy happiness.
Money makes you happy but only up to $75,000, according to research by Princeton Professors Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton. Beyond that amount, it all depends on how you define happiness.
When describing overall satisfaction with life, money continues to raise happiness levels. However when happiness is defined as the satisfaction from day-to-day life, more money doesn’t raise happiness.
The bottom line: Having enough money for your necessities provides an overall happy life but does not impact your daily happiness levels.
18. Happiness is a choice.
Often it’s a tough choice. You have to forgive when you want revenge, be nice when you want to be angry, give when you want to receive, and get out of bed when all you want to do is lie in it all day watching the last season of Game of Thrones.
19. Dancing causes happiness.
Dance is powerful. JL Hanna, in The Power of Dance: Health and Healing, states that dance strengthens the immune system, eliminates stress and its effects. The American Dance Therapy Association reports in their journal, the AJDT, the several benefits of dance therapy for cancer patients, autism, Parkinson’s Disease, depression, and special needs. Besides what’s better than grabbing an air mike, blasting Pitbull on your iPod, while dancing around the room?
20. Happiness gets better with age.
It’s a fact; the older you get, the happier you become. In Perspective on Psychological Science, researchers found that older people tend to remember the good times more than the sadder ones. Seniors also seek out situations that lift their mood.
Happy people live longer. A study at The Albert Einstein Institute for Aging Research found that the 243 centenarians who participated had a positive attitude towards life. It stated, “They were optimistic, outgoing, and easy going.”
Happiness is simple: Start dancing, get a dog, chat deeply, and smile; you’ll live longer.