(Each article in my Happiness Series will feature at least one science-backed technique to increase your happiness levels! Move to the bottom of the article for this week’s technique.)
EVERYONE wants to be happy, right? Right! It is even written into the founding documents of our country that happiness is a worthy lifelong pursuit. Why then, does it seem for so many the quest to be happy is a never ending search for the holy grail? The good news is that positive psychology has spent 15+ years exploring the meaning and science behind happiness. The studies show, unequivocally, that there are specific techniques, skills, and lifestyle adaptations we can learn to effectively increase our happiness levels. Studies also show that happiness is well worth your time as it increases your professional success, physical health outcomes, and your relationships among many other benefits.
But first, the big question…what is happiness? Happiness has long been represented by the stylized, iconic yellow face with black dots for eyes. Our first thoughts on the definition of happiness may lead to similarly superficial ideas of new cars, an exceptional meal, or a beach vacation. But the complexity of the word and the feeling it represents, once truly explored, are much greater than can be captured by the round yellow beacon of good times. In her 2007 book The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky, positive psychology researcher, describes happiness as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.”
In short and very simplified terms, there are two components to or types of happiness. Hedonic happiness derives from pleasure (most typically of the senses) or goal fulfillment. Eudaimonic happiness is happiness from meaningful pursuits. Hedonic happiness tends to provide short, intense bursts of pleasure that quickly recede. This tendency for short hedonic happiness bursts is due to “hedonic adaptation.” This means that when a change in circumstance occurs (a new house) that makes us happier, we quickly adjust to the change and return to our original (before the new house) happiness levels. Eudaimonic happiness, however, appears to have a moderate but longer lasting effect over a lifetime. So for those that want to “be happier,” the most effective efforts will be put towards increasing eudaimonic happiness, or pleasure from meaningful pursuits.
Most positive psychologists argue that the distance between hedonic and eudaimonic pleasure is a murky, confusing path. They are entangled and entwined like ivy tendrils, highly correlative but not exclusive of one another, in ways that impact our overall happiness. In an effort to understand what impacts this overall happiness, Lyubomirsky and her colleagues have reviewed and conducted endless studies of happiness. The results indicate that there are large aspects of our happiness levels under our control. What they’ve found is that approximately 50 percent of our happiness level is genetic. Unfortunately, this 50 percent genetic influence appears to be a “set point” that is difficult to change. About ten percent of overall happiness is related to life circumstances such as income, physical attractiveness, jobs and health. This is an astoundingly low percentage given that this is the area most people focus their attention on. “I will be happier when … I get a new car, a girlfriend, a better job.” The remaining 40 percent of our happiness comes from intentional activity, thoughts and behaviors that we have control over. Nearly half of what impacts your happiness level is under your control. And this is where we will focus our attention over the next few articles, specific ways to help you feel happier!
This week’s happiness technique is …Find Your Flow.
Based on flow theory by Csikszentmihalyi and supported by positive psychology studies, happiness levels increase as a person spends more time in “flow activities.” Flow activities are ones in which you engage so deeply you lose yourself, achieving a heightened sense of awareness of the here and now moment, and act effortlessly. These activities most often include some form of creative process.
To implement this technique, you need to follow two simple steps!
1. Identify your flow activities. It may be a sport, solving a complex math problem, learning about a particular topic, gardening, etc.
2. Make an effort to provide daily time to FInd Your Flow! By nature, flow activities speak to our strengths and passions and engage us deeply in our day. Increasing your daily allowance of flow activity can not only impact your happiness levels but also increase your creativity, productivity, and learning.
Remember, small simple steps each day will make big change over a lifetime.
For those interested in further learning about the topics addressed in this article, consider the following:
The Greater Good Science Center
9 Steps to Achieving Greater Flow at Work