Maybe you’ve always thought of yourself as being a “glass half full” or “glass half empty” kind of person. That’s just the way you were born. Right?
The popular set-point theory of happiness suggests that a person’s level of subjective well-being is determined primarily by heredity and personality traits set early on and remains relatively stable throughout their life. Someone’s happiness may get a boost or drop temporarily in response to major life events, such as a promotion, money, marriage, death, divorce, or layoff, but almost always returns to the baseline level as they habituate to the change over time.
You know, people just get used to their current conditions, good and bad, a harsh reality called hedonic adaptation. Because of this, we find ourselves on what psychologists refer to as the hedonic treadmill – always striving to get the next bright shiny thing in search of happiness.
However, research has proven that people’s happiness levels can change substantially over their lifetimes, suggesting that the trait isn’t predetermined by genes or personality, but is actually a skill that can be learned. In fact, a significant number of people followed over 25 years saw their happiness levels shift by one-third or more.
Happiness Is A Habit
While some people seem to be naturally happier and some have to work harder at it, everyone can implement practices into their lives shown to elevate satisfaction and joy. Luckily, with all the focus on happiness in the past decade, we have scientific findings to draw from about how to learn the skill of happiness to raise our happiness set points permanently. You can increase your positive feelings by incorporating a few proven practices into your daily routine regularly.
The practice of mindfulness, a mental state of relaxed awareness of the present moment, extending openness and curiosity toward your feelings rather than judgments of them, is a powerful tool for increasing happiness. Altruism, compassion, and gratitude, all part of mindfulness, have been shown to not only to correlate with happiness, but to cause it.
So, what does this look like in your everyday life?
Savoring is a quick and easy way to boost optimism and reduce stress and negative emotions. It’s the practice of being mindful and noticing the good stuff around you, taking the extra time to prolong and intensify your enjoyment of the moment, making a pleasurable experience last for as long as possible. So whether it’s preparing a meal, pausing to admire the sunset, or telling a friend your good news—the idea is to linger, take it in, and enjoy the experience.
The simple act of identifying and then appreciating the things people do for us is a modern-day wonder drug. It fills us with optimism and self-confidence, knowing that others are there for us. It dampens our desires for “more” of everything—and it deepens our relationships with loved ones. And when we express our gratitude to someone, we get kindness and gratitude in return. In studies led by Dr. Martin Seligman, people have written gratitude letters to someone they’ve never properly thanked, and seen immediate increases in happiness and decreases in depressive symptoms. Bob Emmons, …a leading researcher in the field of gratitude … believes everyone should try practicing gratitude because: “First, the practice of gratitude can increase happiness levels by around 25%. Second, this is not hard to achieve. A few hours writing a gratitude journal over 3 weeks can create an effect that lasts 6 months if not more. Third, cultivating gratitude brings other health effects, such as longer and better quality sleep time.”
Feeling hopeful, having a sense of purpose, being optimistic. Study after study shows that people who have created meaning in their lives are happier and more satisfied with their lives (Steger, Oishi, & Kashdan 2008). You too can feel more upbeat about your future and your potential. And who doesn’t want that? Genuine optimism is a friend magnet. It also makes your goals seem attainable and your challenges easier to overcome. Bottom line: you’ll not only feel more successful, you’ll be more successful. A person’s level of hope is shown to correlate with how well they perform tasks. Using one’s strengths in daily life, studies have found, curbs stress and increases self-esteem and vitality.
Everything about giving is a no-brainer. Obviously, when you give someone something, you make them happier. But what you might not know is that the giver—not the receiver—reaps even more benefits. Numerous studies show that being kind not only makes us feel less stressed, isolated and angry, but it makes us feel considerably happier, more connected with the world, and more open to new experiences. …[R]esearch shows that when we give of ourselves, everything from life satisfaction to self-realization and physical health is significantly affected. Mortality is delayed. Depression is reduced. Well-being and good fortune are increased.
Empathy is a powerful word packed with lots of different interpretations. It’s the ability to care about others. It’s the ability to imagine and understand the thoughts, behaviors or ideas of others, including those different from ourselves. If you care about the relationships in your life—and who doesn’t?—learning the skill of empathy has enormous payoffs. When we empathize with people, we become less judgmental, less frustrated, angry or disappointed—and we develop patience. We also solidify the bonds with those closest to us. And when we really listen to the points of view of others, they’re very likely to listen to ours. …[T]he brain is constantly changing in response to environmental factors, and this also extends to compassion for the self.
Harnessing Technology To Promote Happiness
According to Richard J. Davidson, professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in an interview with Huffington Post, happiness is the formation of brain networks resulting from the regular expression of compassion, generosity, and kindness.
Your brain is changing its physical form and function all the time anyway in response to your behaviors, emotions and thoughts, an ability known as neuroplasticity, whether it’s to your benefit or not. Davidson cites studies where training for happiness for as little as 2 weeks, for 30 minutes a day produced measurable changes in the participants brains and suggests that technology can be harnessed to promote happiness by technologically capturing mindfulness.
In Davidson’s opinion, technology can play a pivotal role in helping Americans to embrace the idea that well-being is a skill to be learned.
It is possible to interact with technology in a way which is mindful. I think it’s a complicated calculus and it would be wrong to conclude that technology is the root of all evil. I think that we should figure out ways to harness technology to use it for good.
There are plenty self-help applications, like The Mindfulness App, Headspace, Calm.com, available now for increasing mindfulness, well-being, and happiness throughout your day which remind you to take a deep breath, ways to keep calm, or tips on how to meditate. One study, with the clever name of “Putting the ‘app’ in happiness,” found that smart phone based interventions significantly enhanced the participants’ well-being,
The bottom line is that happiness is a skill that can be learned. Just a few minutes a day spent on practices shown to increase happiness and well-being, when performed on a regular basis, can re-wire your brain and help you permanently elevate your level of happiness. Like learning anything new, this does take dedicated work, but it may be the most rewarding work you’ll ever do.
image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/katewares/