The modern world moves at a fast pace and brings with it many pressures. As a result, researchers and psychologists have started to revise their views of what makes us happy.
In her book, The How of Happiness, psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky suggests 50% of happiness is genetically predetermined, 40% is the result of your personal outlook, and 10% is due to life circumstances.1
In general, most psychologists would agree that there’s a lot we can do to determine our happiness.
But what is happiness? Sonja Lyubomirsky describes it as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.”
Make the best of what you have
According to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, people who slow down to reflect on the good things in their lives report being more satisfied.
Yet how often are we guilty of dwelling on the negative aspects of our lives – or focusing on things that are going wrong instead of what’s going right?
By taking the time to acknowledge all that’s good in our lives, we promote a feeling of well-being and increased satisfaction.
Build strong relationships
In most studies on happiness, it’s clear that strong relationships play an essential part in achieving contentment.
The Harvard Study of Adult Development followed hundreds of men for more than 70 years and found the happiest and healthiest were those who cultivated strong relationships with people they trusted to support them. 3
Even interactions with casual friends can make people happier while close friendships, particularly with happy people, have a significant impact on your happiness, according to the Social Psychology Bulletin. 4
Don’t let social media bring you down
Although it’s been shown that personal friendships help to boost happiness, can the same be said for virtual relationships?
Data from clinical psychologists at Lancaster University found social media users were more likely to suffer from depression when they: 5
- Felt envy triggered by observing others’ social media posts.
- Accepted former partners as social media friends.
- Posted frequently on social media, and especially with negative status updates.
- Obsessed over their virtual identity.
Many criticisms are made of social media, but as a means to keep in touch with colleagues and friends, it can be a valuable tool.
However, social media posts generally show the positive aspects of someone’s life rather than the mundane and negative. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy when you view someone’s life as seemingly perfect, or better than yours.
If you find you’re making unhealthy comparisons, it’s best to avoid social media. But viewed in a realistic light, social media platforms can enhance your social network. Just remember, everyone tends to display a polished version of themselves rather than a genuine representation.
Keep fit and healthy
Recent studies have shown that higher levels of physical activity lead to higher levels of happiness – while exercise also helps to mitigate the symptoms of some mental illnesses. 6
This is backed up by a worldwide study that shows health is an important predictor of life satisfaction. Countries where people tend to live longer are also countries where people are more satisfied with their lives. 7
Could you be happier?
Are you where you want to be in terms of happiness? If not, then try to prioritise the factors outlined above:
- Focus on the positive aspects of your life – don’t dwell on the negative.
- Appreciate all the good relationships you have.
- Don’t compare yourself with others or try to emulate them.
- Take your health seriously and make fitness a priority.
By making these small adjustments, you can become happier, healthier and more content with your life.
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1 The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky
2 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
3 The Harvard Study of Adult Development
4 Social Psychology Bulletin
5 The Relationship Between Online Social Networking and Depression: A Systematic Review of Quantitative Studies
6 American Psychological Association, BMC Public Health
7 Happiness and Life Satisfaction by Esteban Ortiz-Ospina and Max Roser