We all know people who are upbeat and cheerful whatever life throws at them and others who go through life with a permanent scowl etched on their face. What is it that makes happy people happy?
Genetics? Cultural background? Life situation? Mindset?
Or a combination of the above, perhaps?
Dr Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, has been researching the topic for many years. In his book, “Authentic Happiness,” he presents some interesting findings.
According to him, the factors that determine your level of happiness fall into 3 categories.
Genetics account for around 50% of your happiness and your life situation for (a surprisingly low) 10%. The remaining 40% is determined by your habitual way of thinking.
Happiness Set Points
According to Dr Seligman, each of us is born with a genetically pre-determined happiness set point. Some people are literally born with a happier disposition than others.
I’ve tried to convince my partner that my grumpiness is the result of my genes… but she won’t buy it!
When people win the lottery, get a promotion or buy a new car, their level of happiness can increase temporarily. It doesn’t take long, however, for the needle on the happiness gauge to settle back to its usual position.
Our life circumstances play a surprisingly small role in determining how happy we are.
As long as you have food on the table and a roof over your head, there is no discernible difference in happiness between people on a $20K salary and those with millions or even billions in the bank.
The billionaire may well be more comfortable, undoubtedly more secure, but not necessarily any happier. Happiness is an individual thing.
Some of the happiest people I have ever met live in mud huts with no running water.
Cultivating A Happiness Mindset
There is not a lot you can do about your happiness set point.
And even if you were to strike it rich and become a mega successful entrepreneur or property magnate, it wouldn’t necessarily change who you are inside.
As Patrick Meagher said, “Some people are so poor, all they have is money.”
You’d basically be the same person with a healthier bank balance.
UNLESS, that is, you also changed your mindset.
Changing the way you think is the one area where there is a lot of scope for positive change.
Here are 12 practical steps you can take right away to help cultivate a happiness mindset.
12 Things That Happy People Do Every Day
1. They Choose To Be Happy
“Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be” — Abraham Lincoln
Making the conscious decision to prioritise happiness is the first (and the most important) step, for without it, none of the other steps will make much difference.
Most people have a very vague happiness game plan—to chase after desirable objects and pleasurable experiences whilst trying to avoid undesirable ones as much as possible.
Happiness and unhappiness are random by-products of how this game plays out.
When you get what you want, you are happy. When things don’t go your way, you are unhappy. Why not make your happiness a conscious choice rather than a chance happening?
When you wake up each morning, let the following intention be your mantra: “Today, whatever happens, I choose to be happy.”
What you give attention to grows. The more you focus on happiness, the more you’ll attract it into your life.
2. Happy People Take Responsibility
Blaming life or other people for your sorrows will keep happiness forever at arms length—and out of your own hands.
Life unfolds as it unfolds. People act as they act. You win some, you lose some.
You can choose to see yourself as a powerless victim of circumstance or a powerful creator of your own reality. While there may not be much you can do about the people or events that show up in your life, how you choose to respond is entirely in your own hands.
Recognise that you, and you alone, are responsible for your inner experience. No person or event has the power to take away your happiness—unless you allow it. This is a much more empowering stance than that of victim.
3. Keep Things In Perspective
Are you prone to allowing minor irritations to get under your skin?
Keep things in perspective. Recognise first world problems for what they are.
Being told over and over by a machine there is an ‘unexpected item in the bagging area’ or by an automated voice that ‘your call is important to us’, is annoying. But is not the end of the world.
The end of the world is the end of the world. Let the small stuff go.
Take a deep breath and smile to yourself.
4. Happy People Drop ‘Stuff’ Quickly
If you feel you have been unjustly accused, criticised or blamed, don’t make a big deal out of it. It’s called life … and it happens to all of us.
Hit the reset button, choose for happiness and swiftly move on. There is no point in continuing to fret over things you can do nothing about.
What others think of you is none of your business. You only postpone your own happiness through brooding over stuff that has already happened and can’t be changed.
Don’t pollute your inner space through harbouring and chewing on negative thoughts. Nurture the habit of letting go and returning to the here and now.
Ask yourself: “What is more important right now? To be right or to be happy?”
5. Happy People Count Their Blessings
“If the only prayer you say in your life is ‘thank you’, that would suffice.” — Meister Eckhart
We live in a world of polarity — poverty and abundance, war and peace, greed and generosity. You are free in each moment to choose what you put your attention on and thereby give power to.
You can create hell for yourself by complaining about all the things that are wrong with the world or missing from your life. Or you can create heaven by being grateful for the good and the immeasurable abundance that surrounds you.
You are the gardener of your inner landscape. The type of garden you create is your own choice. You can water the weeds or the flowers. If you approach life with an attitude of gratitude, it is simply impossible to be unhappy at the same time.
It is not happiness that makes you grateful, but gratitude that makes you happy.
6. Remember You’re Only Human
When people accuse, blame or criticise you, they are projecting their own fears, judgements and feelings of inadequacy outward.
Be compassionate. We are all doing our best. Acting like a jerk, screwing up or getting things wrong are all just part of being human.
Go easy on yourself and others. Don’t beat yourself up for not being perfect.
Also, when people judge or criticise you, instead of reacting, see it as an opportunity to exercise and develop your ‘choosing for happiness’ muscle.
Are you willing to make your happiness more important than your feeling of victimhood or the impulse to get even?
7. Slow Down and Be Present
It is easy to get so caught up in the frantic pace of modern life that you fail to notice the miracle of life that’s happening all around you in every moment.
As The Beatles sang: All the best things in life are free … the birds, the trees, the wind, the sky, the stars.
The happiest people have a strong sense of inner connectedness— with themselves, with others and with the whole of creation.
Take regular breaks throughout the day. Stop what you are doing and tune into what’s happening around you. Engage all your senses. Connect with the joy within through being fully present to the simple aliveness of the moment.
Be mindful. This is why small children are so happy.
8. Don’t Think Too Much
Do you spend your days lost in mental movies—revisiting the past, ruminating over vague worries or anticipating negative future outcomes?
Overthinking can easily suck the happiness right out of you, especially when the thoughts are predominantly negative.
Overthinking is usually an unconscious habit that runs on autopilot. Try to be more conscious of your tendency to get caught up in unproductive thinking and see that you can choose to stop in any moment.
You don’t have to look for peace or happiness. They arise naturally when the mind is quiet.
9. Relax — Nothing Is Under Your Control
Guess what? You have no control over ANYTHING in your life, apart from your own inner reactions. You can’t control the people around you, the traffic, the weather, or whether the bus comes on time or not.
Being attached to outcomes that we have no control over is a recipe for agitation and unhappiness. As long as you pin your happiness on things being a certain way, you’ll be forever disappointed.
Struggling against the flow of life is exhausting and achieves nothing. Why not drop your resistance, relax and let things be as they are?
10. Do More Of What You Love Doing
Walking on the beach, exploring rock pools, playing in the woods, climbing things, dancing, building fires, colouring in, getting muddy, going ice skating, doing nothing …these are some of the replies people came up with to the question: “What do you love to do?” on a recent course I ran.
Happy people are playful. Dedicate at least an hour a week to doing things you love. If you don’t have time, then you’d better make it 2 hours a week!
11. Live Simply
The more simple and uncluttered your life is, the more space there is within for happiness to flourish. How many things in your life — your possessions, your activities, your relationships — add real value in terms of happiness?
Simplifying is a personal thing. My idea of simplicity could be someone else’s idea of hell (especially if I were to suggest getting rid of the TV or throwing out the smart phone).
For me, living simply means having minimal possessions, a flexible work schedule and plenty of free time to nurture close relationships and do the things I love to do.
12. Awaken The Happy You
Inside, there is a joyful, creative and uninhibited version of yourself wanting to break free. In my book “Awaken The Happy You” I use the metaphor of a lighthouse.
The powerful beam of the lighthouse represents your eternal, unconditioned nature—who you were before you began to identify with all the doubts, fears, self-judgements and limiting beliefs which make up your conditioned self-image —the limited one you take yourself to be.
The fog APPEARS to dim the light of the lighthouse but in truth it is just an appearance. Behind the blanket of fog, the powerful beam shines as brightly as ever.
And it’s the same with you. Behind the blanket of fear, self-doubt and insecurity the happy you continues to shine as brightly as it did the day you were born.
True, authentic happiness is experienced when you come into contact with your original, unconditioned self.
Meditation (affiliate link) is the best tool I know for connecting with the part of yourself which is ever at peace, ever content and ever happy.
Your Happiness Is In Your Own Hands
Whatever your happiness set point or life situation, you can always choose to be happier.
Follow the 12 tips above to take your happiness into your own hands and create the life you’d like to live.
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