The surprising truth about happiness

Do you want to be happier? Join the club! It’s human nature to want to live a happy, contented life, but for many of us, happiness can be elusive.

This article is packed-filled with interesting, research-based findings, strategies and resources to help increase your happiness. By reading this article, you may even discover some home-truths. Perhaps you’re pursuing happiness in the wrong way, or looking for it in the wrong places? Don’t worry, we set the story straight!

So, what is happiness, really…

Happiness is complex and subjective. It means different things to different people. However, for this article, I have outlined three ways (or models) that we can think about happiness.

  1. Social scientists tend to think about, and measure happiness in two ways:
    1. Being happy IN your life – how many positive emotions do you experience on a daily basis (e.g. joy, laughter, engagement and limited negative emotions such as anger, anxiety etc.)
    2. Being happy WITH your life – Does your life have greater meaning and purpose. It’s important to note that these two components can be disassociated. For example, someone with a new baby may feel happy WITH their life and derive great meaning from having a child, but they’re not as happy IN their life due to lack of sleep, limited social contact, dirty nappies etc. On the flip side, incredibly wealthy people with every luxury at their fingertips may engage in regular hedonistic pleasures on a day-to-day basis (e.g. consuming the best food and wine, traveling to exotic locations etc), but may feel their life is ‘empty’ and are consequently not happy WITH their life. The aim is to maximise both elements, for greater life satisfaction overall.
  2. A second definition of happiness comes from Martin Seligman. In his legendary TED talk, he posits three elements of happiness which are:
    1. The pleasant life – Basic, hedonistic pleasures such as companionship, food, the natural environment etc. that contribute to positive emotions.
    2. The good life – Discovering our unique strengths and virtues and employing them creatively in our lives to enter flow and nourish our wellbeing.
    3. The meaningful life – An inner fulfillment (meaning) derived from a deep sense of purpose that’s greater than ourselves.

    I encourage you to think about these three elements and how evident they are in your life.

  3. The third model comes from Michelle McQuaid who coined the PERMAH wellbeing equation:
    • P is for Positive Emotions
    • E is for Engagement (flow)
    • R is for Relationships
    • M is for Meaning (purpose)
    • A is for Accomplishment
    • H is for Health

It is posited that maximising each of these components leads to greater overall happiness in life.

Surprising myths about happiness

When it comes to happiness, our intuition is often wrong. Many of us are systematically going after things that society deems will make us happy (e.g. material possessions, a bigger house, more money etc), but we’ve been sold a lie. Here are some surprising research-based findings:

      1. More money doesn’t equal more happiness – If you think more money will make you happier, think again. Money does influence happiness, but it plateaus at a certain salary level. In Australia, research indicates that once you earn around $74,000, more money has limited effect on measures of wellbeing and happiness.
      2. Circumstances don’t matter as much as you think – Whether it’s your wealth level, job, relationship status or any other life circumstance, Martin Seligman’s research indicates that your external circumstances only make up about 10% of your happiness. More important determinants are your set-point for happiness (your genetic make-up for happiness) (50%) and factors under your voluntary control (your positive emotions about the past, present and future) (40%).
      3. Happiness is not a state, it’s a journey – We’d all love to feel blissfully happy every second of the day, but this desire is unrealistic and will ultimately lead to misery. Life is not about eliminating all negative feelings. Feeling a spectrum of emotions, both positive and negative, is part of the human experience. In fact, some of the most meaningful experiences we have in life may generate feelings of excitement and enthusiasm, but may also bring stress, fear or anxiety. And that’s okay. You will never eradicate negative emotions, so embrace them, learn to live with them, and use them to learn and grow.
      4. Happy people are disproportionately ‘other’ orientated – In society today, there is a trend towards self-care (which is an important part of wellbeing), however research indicates that the happiest people give more of their time and money. They are more focussed on helping others than concentrating on selfish pursuits.

Universal practices to increase happiness

So, what works? There are so many things that can increase our happiness such as more sleep, exercise, nature experiences and mindfulness practices. But the four evidence-based happiness interventions below have been selected for their powerful and lasting impact on wellbeing.

      1. Social connection is a necessary condition for high happiness – Highly happy people always have strong relationships and prioritise human connection in their lives. So, how can you increase your connection with others? Is it time to call that friend, organise to see your family, or make more effort chatting to your colleagues?
      2. Talk to strangersResearch indicates that talking to strangers (e.g. on the train or at a party) drastically increases our happiness. Why not put down your phone and meet someone new. You may just learn something powerful about their story and even yourself.
      3. The attitude of gratitude – Gratitude is an evidence-based way that you can increase your wellbeing and life satisfaction. A gratitude practice doesn’t have to be onerous. Simply think of 3 things you’re grateful for and if you have time, write them down every day.
      4. Do things for others – There is robust research to indicate that helping others, whether it be volunteering or a simple random act of kindness can significantly boost our happiness. Here are a few ideas for how you can help others at work or at home.

Create a happier life with these 5 evidence-based resources (they’ll rock your world!)

      1. The PERMAH Wellbeing Survey – This free 5-minute survey draws on Martin Seligman’s PERMAH wellbeing framework and is designed to help people flourish by measuring and then recommending a range of actionable insights and practical wellbeing tools. Check it out here.
      2. Happiness Quizzes – This research-backed quiz is a wonderful way to assess your happiness skills. Are you currently engaging in habits that relate to long-term happiness? Let’s find out! I also encourage you to peruse this wonderful resource filled with dozens of surveys created by the University of Pennsylvania.
      3. The Happiness Lab podcast – Created by Yale Professor Dr. Laurie Santos, The Happiness Lab podcast delves into the latest scientific research about happiness and how you can alter the way you think about it. Learn more or start listening here.
      4. Building a Culture of Wellbeing program – This program is a workplace cultural transformation initiative, based on the philosophy of Whole Systems Change. A ground-breaking and highly popular offering from Dynamic Exchange, the program helps to increase inclusion, psychological safety and employee engagement, whilst significantly increasing corporate and individual wellbeing. Contact us to learn more.

Ready to nurture your happiness or increase workplace wellbeing. We can help!

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