On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your current level of happiness? It’s easy to hurtle headlong through life setting one goal and then another, believing there will come a point when we will be happy. Sadly when we get there, the way we feel has not significantly changed. Happiness is at the top of most people’s agenda and yet, so often it proves elusive.
How often have you longed for something, only to find that when you got it, its mood boosting effects were time-limited? Being a bit of a car freak, I remember the day the sports car of my dreams was delivered. In the early days, when I wasn’t driving it, I was looking at it longingly from the window. It did bring me pleasure but I can’t deny that its impact lessened over time, known in the world of psychology as ‘hedonic apdatation‘.
Research has shown that money and material possessions only provide a short term injection of happiness. What’s more, it’s the same for many of the other things we constantly strive for: professional and academic success, beauty, relationships (the honeymoon period is indeed a proven phenomenon!).
A study compared the levels of happiness at the start of the 21st century against those in the 1940’s and the results were quite remarkable: it had actually slightly declined! For all the improvements in living standards, education, health, and the like, there was no significant difference in how happy people felt. The truth is that we search for happiness in places we believe will deliver, but they simply don’t.
The solution lies closer to home
Rather than looking externally for solutions, they actually lie within. Researchers estimate that 40% of our overall happiness is in fact directly under our own control. It comes from things that have more to do with how we choose to exist in the world, our relationships with others, and managing our thoughts and actions. Positive thinking, nurturing social connections, learning how to combat stress and manage negative emotions, investing in our physical health and living mindfully, are all proven to significantly impact on how happy we are. In addition, the effects are much longer lasting.
The simple act of practising gratitude also brings enormous benefits. Whether by keeping a journal, openly giving thanks to others, or simply taking time to reflect on the things for which we are grateful, it works because it forces us to focus on the here and now and all that is good about it. It means that our brains are injected with a rush of positivity from things that would otherwise go unnoticed. Practised consistently, gratitude skilfully manoeuvres us away from the possibility of hedonic adaptation. It saves us from constantly striving for more because the present, quite simply, is enough. In fact, it has a far greater influence on our happiness than any of the things we traditionally strive for.
No time like the present
The recent challenges have forced us to reset our traditional ways of being and doing. They have made us re-evaluate everything in a way we could never have imagined. They have put into context the things that really matter and given us an opportunity to do things differently. Everyone deserves to be happy. We just need to understand that true happiness is to be found in places where we least expect it. Today’s choices make up tomorrow’s reality. There’s no better time to get started!