Being happy has not been a natural occurrence in my life. It is something I have had to work at. It snuck up on me when about two years ago in a group of people the words “I’m happy’ came from my lips. Frankly, it surprised and shocked me at the time. The statement rang true when the words were first formed in my mouth and continue to be so today (at least the vast majority of the time). My adopted motto “every day is a good day, some are just better than others” is a truthful statement whenever I speak it (which is often!) although it confounds some people to hear it.
Every moment of my life is not spent in some sort of frolic in bliss. Outside of fantasy, delusion or a drug induced state I don’t believe that is possible for anyone. What changed about my level of happiness from what used to be is inside me. My external circumstances actually became more challenging with much pain and heartache to wade through. Through hard work, intention, help of others, study and understanding I allowed happiness to arrive in my life in spite of what was going on around me.
There’s a book that helps me to understand my crooked path to happiness. It’s by Sonja Lyubomirsky PhD, A professor at the University of California-Riverside and called “The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want”. In it her research indicates that around 50% of my happiness comes from a generically determined “set point”. She explains: The set point for happiness is similar to the set point for weight. Some people are blessed with skinny dispositions: Even when they’re not trying, they easily maintain their weight. By contrast, others have to work extraordinarily hard to keep their weight at a desirable level, and the moment they slack off even a bit, the pounds creep back on.
Seems I was born as one with a lower set point and will always need to work harder to achieve happiness. That’s OK. At least I know that now and am grateful. If you are one of those with a high set point, I hope you appreciate your blessing of it being easier for you to be happy.
Where I got lost previously was the belief that changing my external situation and location could change my level of happiness. In her book, Lyubomirsky indicates only about 10% of my level of happiness can be explained by differences in life circumstance or situation. Of small consequence are conditions such as rich or poor, healthy or unhealthy, beautiful or plain, married or divorced and so on. It is humbling to realize decades spent attempting to be happier through changes in my external life at best barely had any affect. I moved all over the country and even to a foreign land, changed wives, lovers, jobs, homes, cars, etc. and none of it had more than a temporary effect.
In “The How of Happiness” Sonja Lyubomirsky explains: One of the great ironies of our quest to become happier is that so many of us focus on changing the circumstances of our lives in the misguided hope that those changes will deliver happiness… An impressive body of research now shows that trying to be happy by changing our life situations ultimately will not work. Why do life changes account for so little? Because of a very powerful force that psychologists call hedonic adaptation… Human beings adapt to favorable changes in wealth, housing, and possessions, to being beautiful or being surrounded by beauty, to good health, and even to marriage…
Lyubomirsky goes on to confirm there is a great deal of wisdom in the serenity prayer used in just about all self-help recovery groups: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
She ascertains the remaining 40% of my happiness is determined by behavior and way of thinking. Today I know that is crystal clear truth. Lyubomirsky writes: If we observe genuinely happy people, we shall find that they do not just sit around being contented. They make things happen. They pursue new understandings, seek new achievements, and control their thoughts and feelings. In sum, our intentional effortful activities have a powerful effect on how happy we are, over and above the effect of our set points and the circumstances in which we find ourselves. If an unhappy person wants to experience interest, enthusiasm, contentment, peace and joy, he or she can make it happen by learning the habits of a happy person.
In other words, I learned to finally be happy by getting off my butt and seriously working at it instead of searching to find it like a prospector looks for gold.
In the book “The How of Happiness” is listed 12 elements described as “evidence-based happiness-increasing strategies whose practice is supported by scientific research.”
1. Expressing Gratitude
2. Cultivating Optimism
3. Avoiding Over-thinking and Social Comparison
4. Practicing Acts of Kindness
5. Nurturing Social Relationships
6. Developing Strategies for Coping
7. Learning to Forgive
8. Increasing Flow Experiences
9. Savoring Life’s Joys
10. Committing to Your Goals
11. Practicing Religion and Spirituality
12. Taking Care of Your Body:
Acting like a Happy Person
In retrospect, I can see ALL those strategies were put into practice to achieve the level of happiness I have today. While not being aware of Sonja Lyubomirsky’s book until more recently, I am grateful to know her take on things. Her vantage point confirms and recommits to me the importance of staying on my path. Gratitude beyond explanation sings in my heart and mind to be where I am today. To everyone and everything that helped me get here… THANK YOU!
The Constitution only guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.