The final installment of our lifespring series is on happiness. With Summer (literally) around the corner and catching the end of mental health awareness month (May 2018), we couldn’t think of a better time to post on this important topic. Whilst happiness underpins so much of our life and despite the fact that our physical and mental health are interlinked, it is something that we tend to take for granted. We assume happiness is a given until we no longer have it. It’s really important to understand happiness and define our expectations of it for our general well-being.
What is happiness?
It seems like an obvious question but happiness is quite an intangible concept in many ways. Probably the simplest and most widely accepted definition of happiness seems to be that its a state of well-being that comes about from leading a meaningful and satisfactory life. Another really important point to consider is that happiness is also not a permanent state and that it’s often punctuated by feelings of unhappiness and discontent. This generally seems to be an important part of the spectrum and necessary for our evaluation and appreciation of it.
“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” Maya Angelou
What are the factors that influence happiness?
There are of course many factors that affect our perception of happiness and our ability to achieve a happy state of being. The most frequently cited influencers of happiness tend to be health, prosperity, social support, freedom, personality trait, and genetics. There is ongoing research with regards to how each of these factors can affect our well-being and to what extent.
By far the most important variables is our genetics. Think of happiness and sadness as a spectrum. We are each born with a baseline tendency of happiness (or sadness) on this spectrum. This is our natural set-point which we keep returning to. It explains why some people have a cheerier disposition whilst others tend to be more melancholic. It is also the reason why siblings (even identical twins) who have been raised in very similar environments still have different baseline tendencies when it comes to being happy. Similarly, when researchers studied happiness in identical twins who were raised separately, they found that despite their different environments, they had inherited a similar propensity to being happy.
The other internal factors like personality, prosperity, and health also play an important albeit lesser part in contributing to happiness. It is possible to be happy without all of these depending on your genetic disposition. However, we do know that when you’re sad or vulnerable to sadness the absence of these can add further strain to your mental health and reduce your happiness.
External factors like social support and feeling of freedom have also been identified as key contributors to our happiness. These influences make us feel safe and provide us with a sense of agency which empowers us to make us happy. Additionally, they also provide the tools and help we need to combat unhappiness when there is a problem.
Simple rules for the pursuit of happiness
Happiness is of course very personal and we all have our own expectations. There are however a number of common points that can be used to increase our chances of happiness. This “formula for happiness” really centers on the factors which influence our happiness we discussed above. Researchers have managed to group these factors into 3 key areas (genes, events, and values) to come up with some simple rules that can be reliably used to achieve happiness.
We’ve further simplified these into three easy steps:
1. Perform a happiness check and get to grips with your genes
So, if we’re born with a baseline tendency towards sadness does that mean all is lost? Of course not! Like with the health and wealth check we previously mentioned, it’s important to perform a little self-inventory. Knowing that you’re more inclined to one state or the other is important as it can help you avoid influences which push you away from happiness and increase the factors that bring you closer to it. It’s a bit like knowing that you have a genetic predisposition to high blood pressure, weight excess or diabetes for example. Whilst you can’t change your genes, you can modulate your lifestyle to reduce the risk of developing or exacerbating this tendency.
2. Take control of events in your life
Large events can have a major contribution to our happiness. Things like marriages, deaths, births, career breaks etc can be responsible for up to 40% of our happiness. Many of these events are directly under our control but are hard to bring about. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, its best to spend time figuring out what you can influence and what you can’t. For the events that you can influence, try to break down the steps that could get you there into small manageable ones that add up to the bigger goal. Even more importantly is to firmly establish which events are out of your control. This includes a wide range of things including bereavement or being made reduntant for example and developing coping mechanisms to help get you through them.
3. Establish your values
The main values are generally considered faith, family, community, and work. Faith doesn’t necessarily mean religion or anything like that but it’s making your peace with a value system that explains the world around you which you’re comfortable with. Family and community are the backbone of our social network and essential for rooting ourselves. They help us establish our identities, celebrate and elevate our happiness as well as help share and relieve the burden of sadness. Work, regardless of what it is, helps provide us with a sense of self-worth. The key to work is doing something that is meaningful to you and helps you feel valued and needed.
We hope that this trio of life spring cleaning steps will help you achieve a little bit more harmony and balance. You’ve probably realised that actually these three key areas are largely interconnected. With a bit of self-care and effort, you can use these guides as a framework to confront things that may be making you physically and mentally unwell. If you’ve struggled with mental health problems or have experience of achieving balance and happiness, we’d love to hear from you! Please leave a comment below with your experiences and advice you might have.
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If you’re feeling down or suffering from low confidence due to skin problems, take a look at the inspiring post on coping with and tackling adult hormonal acne.