Post No.: 0300
Happiness is apparently ~50% biological (e.g. genetics, hormones), ~10% circumstances (e.g. one’s money, job, having a partner, having a baby – things that we can change but not so easily) and ~40% down to our intentional daily activities and habits (e.g. our perspectives on life, meaningfulness, our behaviours like doing regular physical exercise and meeting friends, our spirituality).
Now these are only rough averages (hence for you individually the balance might be slightly different), and these aren’t really separate categories (e.g. our genetic predispositions or life circumstances can influence our intentional activities, and our circumstances and intentional activities can affect the expression of our genes). Bearing these caveats in mind, and although it’s not necessarily easy, there is still some room for controlling our own levels of happiness.
Personalities can change but are mostly genetically determined and so tend to be life-long. Extroversion is correlated with sociability and therefore happiness, whereas neuroticism doesn’t help. We can definitely change our daily lifestyles though. Knowing that our intentional daily activities and habits have a key role to play in our happiness – one can organise and prioritise one’s life so that every day will give rise to regular opportunities for positive rather than negative emotions.
So think about how you can arrange your days to afford more happy experiences. People with about a 2:1 ratio of positive-to-negative emotions tend to be happy; a 3:1 ratio or more is great; a 1:1 ratio or less is not. It’s about the things we do every day, or at least on most days. Relying on one-off moments like expecting a big purchase or happy holiday to make up for an overwhelming load of miserable days is misguided because one will soon habituate to the item or eventually need to return to one’s usual day-to-day routine.
Attaining happiness and good mental health is a regular activity that must be practised, like physical exercise for our physical health, or brushing our teeth for our oral hygiene. One-off activities aren’t as effective as one might expect or hope (e.g. a weekend of ‘detoxing’ to try to make up for too many days of bingeing, or indeed one big bath to compensate for weeks without washing(!) Hmm.) Achieving genuine, sustained happiness or health is about experiencing small but regular happy or healthy moments every day.
This idea of ‘once I get that big house or whatever then I’ll be happy forever’ is just as mistaken as thinking ‘once I’ve crash-dieted then I’ll be healthy forever’. Material purchases – of any price – won’t elevate our happiness levels forever due to the effect of rapid (far more rapid than we tend to anticipate) hedonic adaptation, hence the material targets will tend to escalate and escalate fruitlessly. (This is unsustainable for a planet with finite resources too.) One shouldn’t aim to be escalating all of the time – being happy means being content, calm and satisfied rather than being continuously hungry and stressed about wanting ever more and more.
Not getting enough sleep every single night is a major factor that affects our happiness and health, as well as performance and productivity at work when we’re awake, and again is an example of where you cannot have something all at once to completely make up for losing time on it on other occasions. Sleep is also significant because just forgoing a few hours of it for just one night can be enough to ruin the following day or two – it’s a short-term gain for a long-term pain.
So happiness is partly down to luck (fortuitousness) but not completely (in the sense that it’s not completely fixed) – there are things we can all do to improve it as long as we do the right things and not the commonly misconceived things like thinking that spoiling ourselves with a big luxury purchase will make up for everything. (In the context of relationships, big luxury gifts will eventually count for nothing if you keep letting down your romantic partner too!)
Post No.: 0061 looked at some positive mental habits. Another one is – instead of focusing and fixating your thoughts on ‘the goal of happiness’ – just focus on doing little but regular things that are positive. Little daily positive activities include regular get-togethers with family and/or friends, eating together as a family, listening to music, singing, doing a hobby, movie nights and walking the dog. (I like a good walk me, especially amongst greenery, plants and nature – woof woof!) Focus on spending time, not necessarily money – this tends to make us socialise more rather than work more. Positive thinking, just like willpower, takes mental energy and so eventually runs out, thus one needs to participate in positive actions and activities every single day, and make one’s environment conducive for achieving these experiences every single day too (e.g. a home where the kitchen is the central social hub for the family).
Don’t concern yourself with the pursuit of happiness but the happiness of the pursuit i.e. don’t fixate on the end goal as much as the journey – concentrate on a daily routine that’s full of positive experiences, events and things!
Consider all major life decisions by how much they’ll contribute to happiness experiences too – so not just the salary of a new job but the location, friends, clubs, company, etc. too. What will the job add and what will it take away?
We must be careful though – we must be aware of daily habits that give us pleasure every day but in the long-term will affect our health negatively, such as using calorie-dense food treats too often, using electronic media too much at the expense of also doing other worthwhile daily activities, or indeed gambling or other addictive behaviours. Treats feel better if they’re genuinely treats and are not overused. Something that becomes overused ceases to become ‘special’. If you had croquembouches every day, they wouldn’t be special! Even (doggy) chocolate tastes better the less frequently we have it – hedonic adaptation again, and the law of diminishing returns, means that the tenth piece of chocolate in relatively quick succession won’t taste as good as the first (yet the calories will count equally!) Bonuses, likewise, shouldn’t be expected by rights otherwise they’re not really bonuses but something we’ll take for granted, and so will become things we won’t feel grateful for if we get them but rather feel disappointed if we don’t.
What we can do is not only spread the source of pleasure out more sparingly but rather than have big holidays or large purchases – it’s better to have lots of different and smaller treats now and again in order to sustain a more continual sense of pleasure and to stave off hedonic adaptation (being mindful of whether one can sustainably afford these luxuries so frequently even though they’re smaller – debt problems are a major source of chronic stress and unhappiness). So maybe it’s the case that we need something different, not ever more of something of the same?
Moreover, we can spread the love and joy out and share the sweets (or whatever one fancies) rather than eat them all oneself! So spread it out, both over time and over more people, rather than take it all at once or all for oneself – people will then tend to reciprocate such gestures too. Even better is if those lots of different and smaller treats are mostly happy experiences again rather than goods too. Reciprocal, small, surprise gifts to loved ones, colleagues and even strangers will absolutely maximise the pleasure for everyone involved – good surprises feel better than expected things, even if they’re the same things at the end of the day. Some people don’t like big surprises but small, pleasant surprises tend to go down well with everyone.
In conclusion – maximising our positive emotions is about having a regular daily itinerary that prioritises having lots of small positive moments every day, not so much big one-off events like a big purchase or a big holiday once in a while. So prioritise partaking in some healthy and sustainable positive activities every single day – seek out little positive experiences as part of your daily life.
Woof! Please use the Twitter comment button below to tell us what sorts of things you look forwards to doing every single day or on most days? I’ve done my work now and I’m waiting for Fluffystealthkitten to finish grooming herself so that we can play a quick split-screen co-op video game before dinnertime. We wish more shared-screen/split-screen/local/couch co-op games were made!