Happiness – a good place to start

What are the benefits of being happy other than the rather obvious one that we feel good?  There are many. We become more sociable and altruistic, we like ourselves and others more, we become better at resolving conflict, and we have stronger immune systems.

So, given the myriad advantages of being happy, what are the most effective ways of achieving long lasting happiness?

Professor Wiseman, in his book :59 SECONDS Think a little, Change a lot explores the commonly held beliefs about what makes us happy and finds out if any of them stand up to the test of proper scientific research. He concludes that it’s possible to bring about happiness in under a minute (hence the weird title of 59 Seconds).

He starts by blowing the lid off the most commonly held ‘happiness’ belief: that more money means more happiness. Studies on people who have sudden windfalls of money as well as country surveys comparing happiness ratings with average gross national product (GNP) show that happiness simply can’t be bought.

While people in extremely poor countries are not as happy as those in wealthier countries this direct relationship disappears once a country reaches a modest GNP. In other words, once the basic necessities of life are affordable, any increase in salary does not necessarily mean greater happiness.

For maximum happiness outcomes research conclusively proves it is better to spend our time and money on experiences rather than on obtaining material goods, but our best happiness investment is to spend both time and money on others.

Around half of a person’s sense of happiness is genetically determined. Happy parents have a good chance of having happy children. However, there still remains 50% that is under each person’s control. Of this a mere 10% appears to be determined by general circumstances (education, income, marital status etc.) and the remaining 40% by our daily behaviour and how we think about ourselves and others. So, we have an ever-present opportunity to become substantially happier.

It seems we rapidly acclimatise to just about everything in our lives – including new things as well as constant sounds, images and smells – so much so that they virtually disappear from our awareness. The intense pleasure of a new relationship or obtaining a new possession therefore soon fades as we become accustomed to the new partner or our new possessions.

Everyone has something to be happy about yet we become so used to these things – friends, family, good health, a job, a house, a car, sufficient food – that these things no longer actively generate a sense of happiness. Sadly, we often only become aware of the value of what we have once we have lost it.

But why wait to lose something before we realise its value? Just as we can recapture the wonderful smell of baking bread by leaving the room for several minutes before re-entering so we can recapture the sense of happiness for what we have by writing a regular gratitude journal.

Taking less than a minute each day to jot down a few things for which we are grateful (and these can be small, like a smile from a stranger, a good meal or a kind word) has been shown to lead to greater long-term happiness, optimism, and health.

And it you want to start immediately you can simply ‘fake it to make it’. It seems that just as happiness makes us smile or laugh, so smiling and laughing, even if it is forced, will bring about a sense of happiness and all its physiological benefits.

We have no more excuses……….