Nurture happiness by adopting a few simple habits.
It’s easy to believe happiness is something that just happens to the lucky few, but in fact it’s within everyone’s grasp. Research in positive psychology shows that while genes and circumstances account for a portion of our contentment, 40% of our happiness is determined by how we think and behave.
Dr Bruce Wells, a happiness expert, media commentator and author of the book Happiness Anywhere Anytime says modern society encourages us to look for happiness in all the wrong places. “We live in a consumer-driven society which constantly bombards us with advertising and the message is clear: ‘buy this product or look like this person and you will be happy.’ Consequently, we believe that happiness is something outside of ourselves.”
If we focus instead on adopting happiness-building habits, he says, “we can be the architects of our own happiness rather than being dependent upon external events.”
He recommends these proven bliss boosters.
- Nurture your relationships
“Research shows that the greatest single factor affecting happiness is the quality of your relationships,” says Dr Wells.
“Beware of falling into the trap of giving the most important people in your life your leftover time. Instead, give them your best time. This might mean scheduling in periods of uninterrupted time – at least 15 minutes is necessary for a meaningful conversation to take place.”
- Say thanks – a lot
Dr Wells says that regularly expressing gratitude to your loved ones reaps mutual feel-good benefits. “Let your friend know how much you appreciated the meal she prepared, how grateful you were that your partner fixed the dodgy door handle, how much you valued his attempts to cheer you up when you missed out on a job promotion.”
- Be happy for others
“Celebrate other people’s good news and show admiration for their achievements,” he says. “Friends and couples with the strongest relationships are thrilled and enthusiastic about each other’s good news. They show their delight by listening attentively, showing admiration, and asking questions to help their friend relive and savour their positive experience.”
- Practise optimism
Research in positive psychology shows that just 10% of happiness is due to life circumstances, such as being on holiday or coming into money. This means that wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, there’s a chance to be happier. “The happiest people put an optimistic spin on whatever happens in their lives. They view every situation, even setbacks, as learning opportunities”, says Dr. Wells.
- Be satisfied
The Dalai Lama says: “When you are discontent, you always want more, more, more. Your desire can never be satisfied. But when you practice contentment, you can say to yourself, ‘Oh yes – I already have everything that I really need.”
Dr Wells recommends keeping what he calls a gratitude diary, to record all the good things that happen during your day. “Examples include: befriending someone on the train, having a coffee with a workmate, finishing a report, enjoying a Pilates class, receiving a compliment from your spouse, or being bowled over by your dog when you walk through the front door after work. When you are grateful you learn to appreciate what you have, instead of dwelling on what you want,” he says.
- Mono-task, not multi-task
Happy people know how to exist in the moment. Says Bruce Wells: “A recent Harvard study showed that we spend 47% of our waking hours thinking about something other than what we are doing. Being distracted from the present gives rise to unhappiness. In response, practise mindfulness through single-tasking throughout the day, whether driving to work, booting up your computer, walking through the office, or eating lunch. For example, when eating, chew food on both sides of your mouth, distinguish individual ingredients by tastes and textures, smell the food, and completely finish swallowing before taking another mouthful.”
- Embrace empty moments
Another way to switch off worry and be in the present is to embrace downtime moments. “Resist the urge to catch up with text messages or phone calls,” says Dr Wells. “Relax and calm yourself. Practise mindful breathing or try mindful observation where you visually explore something outside the window such as a bird in the branches, the wind rustling leaves, or clouds skating across the sky.”