So, “What do you want out of life?”
When asked this question the most common response is, “To be happy.” or some variation.
Do you want to be happy?
Who would say no?
Everyone wants to be happy, but what makes us happy? Well here is the bad news…. It is NOT what you have been told. (Especially during an election season) It is not money. It is not fame. It is not good looks. It is not winning.
For years scientists have studied what activities DO make us happy, and if we want to be happy our job is simply to do them.
Here is the breakdown:
50% of happiness is beyond your control. (more bad news) Your genes make you predisposed to have a certain set point. Being there is nothing we can do about this we need to just move on…
10% is what we normally think of; Job, money, status, health etc. But what is interesting about this section is these items only need to be up to a minimal level. That means if you compare a family living on $5,000 a year to one making $50,000 you will find a huge difference in happiness. If you do not have enough money to eat it is pretty hard to be happy. BUT when you compare the family making $50,000 to one making $50,000,000 there is very little difference. So if you have adequate money and health this is not where you need to be spending you effort either.
40% is intentional behavior. This is where we need to work, or should I say PLAY, because the coolest thing is that it is not hard. In fact it is the opposite. It is fun. You see, what you need to do to be happy is have fun! Imagine that. PLAY! As adults it is easy to get away from playing, and doing things just for fun. But as we’ll see, we better snap out of it.
Studies have shown that happiness is created by the following 4 things.
1. Relationships: This is the thing that ALL the happiest people on the planet have. Tight groups of friends and family. If you have a lot of family around that’s great. But if you are like me you have no family nearby. So in this situation you need to connect with friends. Hmm that sounds fun..I think I can do it.
2. Flow: This is a strange one. Flow is doing a physical activity requiring constant adjustments to novel experiences. Say what? Examples are best here. You need to get into the groove of a task. For me that is surfing, Mt Biking or snowboarding. For others it might be cooking, dancing, golfing. Maybe playing soccer or basketball with friends. It has been found that people who get into some type of flow are much happier. Depending on your work this could happen there. Again this sounds fun.
3. Personal Growth: As a kid it is easy to see yourself make progress. First you can’t ride a bike and then you can. First you don’t know how to read and then you do. As adults it is easy to stop progressing. This is bad. Happy people are growing people. This is easy and fun to fix though. Learn something new. I recently learned how to juggle and how to ride a unicycle. I get teased about joining the circus, but my goal was not to run away but to stretch the brain. I felt like a kid again. First I couldn’t ride a unicycle, now I can. Cool.
4. Community involvement: Another trait of happiness is community involvement. By doing and giving to others you will feel good. Your cup runneth over as it were. Not only that, cooperative behavior has been shown to create massive amounts of dopamine in the brain. This cooperative behavior can be in a sports team integrating the flow mentioned above or just volunteer work.
Here is another very important point. The dopamine synapses in our brain die as we get older. As of now they have not been shown to regenerate. Oh CRAP…More bad news. If we lose too many we will develop Parkinson’s disease! Double crap!
The brain is like the body in the “Use it or lose it” sense. If you do not use a muscle it will atrophy. If you do not regularly have fun then your ability to have fun will atrophy as well. This is important. We need to have fun NOW so we don’t lose the ability!. We can’t wait till we have the money and the status to become happy. It will be too late then.
Some places are easier to have fun than others. Some societies place a low priority on fun and a high priority on work, and if you live in these places it will be harder to carve out your fun time. When I first moved to Panama I had guilt that I spent most of my time having fun. I came from an environment where your worth was measured in hours spent working. Yeach!
Final Notes: What is great about happiness is that it is contagious. The happier you are the happier the people around you will be. People will like you better if you are happier, and you will be happier if people like you.
So, Have a happy day!