We all know what it feels like to be happy. Wouldn’t it be great to feel happier more often, and for longer periods of time? According to scientific research, happiness is largely a question of genetics – which we’re basically stuck with. Fortunately, happiness is also based on emotions and feelings which can be “fixed” – improved through mental and even physical exercises. But the first step to understanding happiness is understanding what happiness isn’t.
Happiness isn’t a permanent state
Happiness is not: having all your personal needs met, always feeling satisfied with life, feeling pleasure all the time, or never feeling negative emotions. In their research, the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley has found that true happiness is more about overall peace of mind and focusing on things that benefit the people around you.
To illustrate, Acacia Parks, PhD., an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Hiram College, posits a person who uses cocaine every day. Can this person be defined as happy? “If feeling good all the time were our only requirement, then the answer would be “yes.” However, recent research suggests that an even-keeled mood is more psychologically healthy than a mood in which you achieve great heights of happiness regularly – after all, what goes up must come down…Recent research even suggests that if you focus too much on trying to feel good all the time, you’ll actually undermine your ability to feel good at all – in other words, no amount of feeling good will be satisfying to you…”
How you can impact your happiness
Studies have shown that happiness is a combination of how satisfied you are with your life (such as being in a fulfilling relationship or finding meaning in your work…) and how good you feel on a day-to-day basis. Both of these measurements are relatively stable; even though our lives evolve and our moods vary, our general happiness is determined by our genetics more than anything else. But with consistent effort, you can have an impact on this genetic predisposition and increase your level of satisfaction, and thus, your happiness.
Think about it in as if it were a diet: if you eat the way you want and are as active as you want to be, your body will settle at a given weight. Then if you eat less or exercise more, your weight will adjust accordingly. And if your new regimen becomes part of your daily life, you’ll stay at your new weight. But if you go back to eating and exercising the way you used to, your weight will return to where it started. Your happiness “level” reacts in the same way: with practice, you can form lifelong habits to control it and maintain a more fulfilling life.
The not-so-secret keys to happiness
Happiness is a crazy cocktail of heredity, emotions, personality, feelings, and other variables and circumstances life throws at you. Researchers are still debating about how to define it. But there are concrete things you can do to attain your personal maximum level of happiness. Dr. Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology, created a scientific theory of happiness called PERMA. The acronym stands for the five key elements that comprise well-being.
P = Positive Emotion: It may sound trite, but positivity is a natural high that helps lift your spirits. Research proves that positivity broadens our minds and expands our range of vision. Learning to adopt a consistently positive attitude can transform you into a happier person.
E = Engagement: We’ve all had the experience of becoming so absorbed in a something that we completely lose all sense of time. This deep involvement produces a feeling of intensity that leads to a sense of ecstasy and clarity.
R = Relationships: Relationships are all important in fueling positive emotions, whether they are work-related, familial, romantic, or platonic. You receive, share, and spread positivity to others through relationships. They are important in not only in bad times, but good times as well. Simply put, other people matter to your happiness.
M = Meaning: Meaning is also known as purpose. Figuring out your purpose puts everything into context, from work to relationships to other parts of your life. Finding meaning is learning that there is something greater than you. Finding meaning in your private life will help you find meaning in your professional life.
A = Accomplishments: Throughout our lives, most of us strive to better ourselves in different ways. Whether you’re seeking to master a skill, achieve a goal, or win a competitive event, each of your accomplishments contributes to your overall self-satisfaction – and gives a boost to your happiness.