There’s growing research to support the idea that happiness really can be a choice. If you’re struggling to get your head round this or you’re going through tough times, bear with me on this one and I’ll explain.
America professor Sonja Lyubomirsky (2007) argues that 50 percent of our natural disposition to be happy is genetically determined with just 10 percent dictated by life circumstance or situation. This means that it is true that some people have to work much harder to find happiness than others. The great news is that Lyubomirsky’s research shows that 40 percent of our capacity for happiness sits within our own hands. We can directly impact this by the strategies and tools that we choose to engage. My personal experience tells me that choosing to be happy isn’t always easy and straightforward. With practice though it becomes more easily achievable than you might initially think.
You may be wondering what on earth you can do that will mean genuine happiness is within reach. There are lots of strategies that you can practice, and I’ve shared some of my favourites below.
- Practice gratitude
Each night as you go to bed try to list three things that you are grateful for. If you’re experiencing tough times this may feel really hard to do at first. It’s not unusual to feel this way so just start small. If you find gratitude tricky, just start by asking yourself what’s the best thing that happened that day. You might simply express thanks for having a hot cup of coffee. After a couple of weeks of practice, you’ll start to find it easier to find things to be thankful for. There are some great apps that you can use to help. My favourite at the moment is ‘Grateful: A Gratitude Journal’.
- Identify purpose
We all need purpose in our lives and this for many has become a challenge during the pandemic. People who have lost their job may feel they have lost their purpose in life but this simply isn’t true. Having purpose isn’t just about making money which is why even top earning professionals sometimes feel there’s a lack of meaning in their lives. Maybe for you an important purpose at the present time is supporting the local community or raising happy and well-balanced children. There are some great resources on the internet to help you identify purpose if you are finding this tricky to do.
- Practice affirmations
Using positive statements that reinforce positive messages to ourselves can be really powerful. This might feel a bit awkward and false at first but keep going and repeat the statements regularly. You will slowly start to believe in the statements and buy into them as being real and truthful. You can use an app such as ‘Unique Daily Affirmations’ or you can make up your own. You can write them down, read them or repeat them silently or out loud. However you decide to do it just repeat them regularly and you will gradually start to believe.
- Focus on using positive language and reframe negative thoughts
Reframing our language and thinking can take practice but is a great way to think about things in a more positive way. The more frequently you use positive language either verbally or in your own mind the easier you’ll find it to do. An example might changing the statement “I can’t find time to get out for a run until next weekend”, to “I’m really looking forward to being able to run next weekend after a busy week”. Even consciously making an effort not to criticise other people (and yourself!) will help to get your mind thinking in a more positive way.
- Eat well and build movement into your day
Looking after your physical body is crucial if you are going to have a healthy mind that produces lots of happiness chemicals. Eating a well-balanced healthy diet will help to ensure you have the right nutrients to support a happy mind. For example, foods that are high in tryptophan such as turkey, eggs, peanuts and sesame seeds help the brain to produce the happiness chemical serotonin in addition to melatonin. Melatonin helps to make you sleepy and sleep is also crucial for a happy mind. Exercise is really important for happiness and it doesn’t have to mean you’re completing an extreme fitness regime. Even just a gentle walk or a few minutes of movement inside your home will help.
- Get outdoors
Getting outdoors, ideally during daylight hours, is well documented for helping us to feel happier, more energised and less stressed. Spending time in nature where there are lots of trees and wildlife has been shown to be most beneficial to us. If this isn’t easy to find where you live, even getting outside in a town or city will help to improve your mood and outlook. Try to get at least 10 minutes of natural daylight every single day.
- Practice kindness
There is scientific research that has proven being kind to others activates an area of the brain called the striatum. Our brain responds positively to helping others and being generous to people. This doesn’t have to be by giving financially, it can be simply supporting someone who is struggling, giving your time or even just holding open a door for someone. Being kind to others is great for our own happiness.
- Mindfulness practices and acceptance
We couldn’t get to the end of this article without touching on mindfulness practices in some way. Practicing mindfulness regularly doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to do a seated meditation practice every day. Mindfulness is simply learning to live in the present moment and it can help us learn to accept things as they are. These practices can help us to learn that we may not always be able to control our circumstance but we can control our response. We can learn to accept the situations we find ourselves in, reducing our frustration and helping us to find a sense of peace and calm.
If you’re looking to enhance your own personal happiness, then try to build some of these techniques into your life. It genuinely is possible to train your mind to think more positively and to create your own happiness.
Lyubomirsky, S. (2007). The how of happiness: A scientific approach to getting the life you want. Penguin Press