Happiness, we all want more of it, or wish we could be consistently more happy. We equate ‘happy’ with peace, contentment, often with having fun.
Happiness is an individual construct. Different cultures have different ideals of happiness, because their sense of the individual ‘you’ is different. In many Western and now many Asian cultures, where economics and the individual are primary, material possessions appear to be the way to be happy.
In Africa, and other less ‘developed’ nations, people’s definitions are less on the material, and more on the emotional experience of happiness.
But… when we are happy we know it. We smile more often, are nicer people to be around, and the world just seems that much brighter.
Here are 6 things you probably didn’t know about happiness. And explains a lot about why somedays it seems to elude us, and at other times, is simply a breath away. Be warned, though, some of our fondest illusions about happiness may go up in smoke.
1. Happiness is in your genes
One meta-analysis – a study of studies – carried out in 2016 found 33% of variation in your levels of happiness is related to your genes. Professor Peter Fonagy, a psychologist at University College London, believes this could be an underestimate, and could go as high as 50%.
“You inherit a set point of happiness, to a large measure”
Prof Fonagy does qualify this, saying… “behavioural genetics is not an exact science”.
This is because the way genes and the environment interact is complex. But this professor (as do many others) believes most behaviours have a genetic component, so there will be a significant chunk of happiness that is genetic.
Great, so you married a grumpy bum, or maybe you are one yourself? How can we inject some happiness into our genes? Well, let’s go on to see how you can improve your happiness quotient – for yourself but for your future generations.
2. Sit next to a very happy person – frequently
Researchers at Harvard Uni and UCAL, San Deigo, found happiness spreads through social circles, originating with one person, then trickling down to their neighbors, colleagues, friends and even friends of friends they’ve never met. That means if your neighbor were to get a promotion, for example, not only could you experience a feel-good ripple effect, your friends and their friends, could, too. The closer you are to that happy person, the more likely some of it will ‘rub off’ on you.
3. Make money – lots of it.
All the research is in, (and I can hear the yogi screams from here), money does make you happy. There is no ‘satiation point’ – when you have had enough.
“Life satisfaction always increases with income,” says Prof Paul Dolan of the London School of Economics, author of ‘Happiness by Design’. “…. your life satisfaction does increase as you get richer.”
There are, however, two serious caveats. Caveat One, there is a point at which you have to make more and more money to get the same level of happiness. What is known in economic circles as the diminishing marginal rate of return. This diminishing return on money for happiness happens because it is how you spend your money that will determine how much happiness you are ‘buying’ and for how long you will feel the effect.
Leading to Caveat Two – How you spend your money is extremely important for building happiness.
“Spending on material goods tends to be less effective at making you happy than spending on experiences or social activities – so going on a holiday or to a gig with friends will make you happier than buying yourself a new pair of shoes.”
5. Take a long, long holiday as far away as possible from your home.
Home may be where the heart is, but travel makes us happy, and the further we roam, the happier we are. Even for those that can’t be bothered to leave the suburb, once they do…. After analyzing more than 37 million geo-located tweets, researchers from University of Vermont, USA determined that the farther users ventured from home, the happier their posts became. The most positive tweets included destination-based words like “beach,” “new” and “restaurant,” terms the researchers say connect new life experiences with increased feelings of satisfaction.
6. The colour green makes us happy
Seeing the color green is enough to make us feel happier and more relaxed during a workout. In a study from the University of Essex, indoor bicyclists who watched simulation videos with a green filter felt more calm, reported better moods and had more energy compared to those who watched versions tinted with other colors. The ANZA Yogis have a real life version as we practice outdoors, surrounded by green. Many of us consistently comment on how peaceful and happy we feel afterwards.
And in case you didn’t know… In Bhutan, happiness is measured as a national commodity. Psychological wellbeing is so important in Bhutanese culture that leaders measure the country’s prosperity by Gross National Happiness (GNH) rather than Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (the standard measure used by all other countries in the world).
This emphasis influences many of its country laws, including its strict 8 hour work day (those who work more are considered time-deprived), and a country wide ban on cigarettes (expect your bags to be searched if you are visiting and if you have any of the oxygen saving devices, they will be confiscated).
The final word from one of the happiest people in the world – the Dalai Lama XIV
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”