Why the hell am I talking to you about happiness?
You read my stuff for tips on how to get healthy and hella hot so -while a worthy pursuit – the pursuit of happiness might seem a bit off topic.
But it’s actually the whole POINT.
Think about it. You don’t actually want a flat belly or to be able to do a pull up. You want the FEELING that you think those achievements will give you – Confidence, energy, freedom, pride.
In other words…Happiness.
So what I’m proposing is that we skip right to the end goal and focus on what we can do to be happier.
Not when we lose 10lbs.
(And then for life.)
So the first question is: How much control do we have over our happiness?
The latest theory is that 50% of our happiness is genetically pre-determined. You were born with a tendency to be cheerful (or not).
So what about the other 50%?
Well, interestingly, it seems that only 10% of your happiness is due to your circumstances. In studies done with people who had won the lottery vs people who had accidents resulting in spinal cord injuries, they found that their relative happiness level was definitely affected by their circumstances for a while – but when the researchers followed up four years later, both groups reported happiness levels similar to before their life changing event.
So if our circumstances don’t determine our happiness, what does? It seems that (after genetics) your happiness is largely determined by your intentional actions.
And, fortunately, there is a lot of agreement about exactly what those intentional actions should be.
So here’s how to get happy:
1. Maintain your friendships and social connections.
“Sadly, our increasingly individualistic society suffers from impoverished social connections, which some psychologists believe is a cause of today’s epidemic levels of depression,”
– David G. Myers, The Pursuit of Happiness
Here’s the deal: relationships are like your biceps. They will deteriorate over time if you don’t put in the work to maintain them.
And to maintain a relationship you need to do more than ‘like’ a status now and then.
Happiness expert David G Myers recommends:
- Aim for at least five good friends with whom you can talk about the deep stuff.
- Touch base with those people every two weeks
- Practice active listening and celebrate their accomplishments.
If you want to get really specific, your relationships at age 47 seem to be predictive of your general life satisfaction and your relationships with your siblings seem to be especially significant.
You’ve probably heard about The Grant Study – it’s that 75-year longitudinal study of 268 Harvard graduates from the classes of 1939–1944. For three quarters of a century these men were surveyed every other year on everything from their sex life to their income to their health. When George Valiant, the director of the of the study, was interviewed about what he has learned, he said:
“That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.”
2. Forgive and forget:
You might have been seriously screwed over in your life.
Or maybe you just can’t deal when someone cuts you off in traffic and you steam about it for blocks and come home and tell your spouse about that total dick who blah blah blah blah.
Ruminating over any situation is a huge mental health no-no. It’s associated with depression, anxiety and OCD.
Just let it go already.
“Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.”
– Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith (1999)
One of the first things we drill into our kids is to say thank you and we should be practicing what we preach.
A daily gratitude journal has been found to improve your sense of well being and positivity, increase your empathy, your physical health, improve your sleep, make you happier and reduce aggression, envy and frustration. Just ten daily bullet points of good things in your life will do the trick.
4. Know that it’s not about the money:
A famous study in 2012 determined that the magic income was $75,000.
Apparently our happiness increases with our income until we get to the $75,000 a year mark. After that, you get more opportunities but also more challenges – so your day to day happiness level doesn’t really improve as you get richer.
So maybe you’ve hit that $75,00 mark and maybe you haven’t.
In either case, it’s worth taking a breath and asking yourself what exactly you are working so hard for.
And if you’ve got a couple of extra bucks to spend, all the research shows that you’ll get much more happiness when you buy experiences (like a vacation, a course) rather than things (like a new pair of shoes). And even more so when you share those experiences with others.
5. Spend your leisure time in the ZONE
The funny thing is that we work so hard for our leisure time and then we just fuck it right up.
Most people spend their leisure time watching TV or on social media.
And studies show that both of these activities are shown to make us actually feel pretty crappy.
What we want to do is spend time in’flow’ or ‘the zone’. You know when you are happily immersed in some task that is kind of hard but still enjoyable and not stressful?
Examples of activities that promote flow are:
- Reading a good book
- Writing in a journal
- Singing in a choir
- Playing cards
- Tennis and other amateur sports
So next time you have a precious sliver of free time, it’s worth asking yourself if what you choose to do will actually make you happy (and if not…why are you doing it?).
5. Seriously. Exercise.
You knew this was coming, right?
I’ve told you straight up before that exercise is actually not that great at helping you lose weight.
But exercise IS the fastest path to happiness. (which -again- is the real end goal)
The science that links exercise with elevated mood is so conclusive it doesn’t even make headlines anymore. Everyone from your GP to your mother will tell you to get some exercise if you are feeling down.
When dealing with clinical depression, some studies have shown regular exercise to be even more effective than medication.
Even if you aren’t depressed, moderate aerobic exercise (so going for a brisk walk, no burpees required) is shown to boost your mood for as long as twelve hours.
And if you are trying to lose weight, exercising is shown to increase your body confidence – EVEN IF YOUR BODY DOESN’T CHANGE.
Because again – it’s not the flat belly/thigh gap/toned arms that you want. It’s the FEELING that you think you will have when you finally achieve those things.
So why not skip directly to the feeling?
(Literally. Get skipping. It just might make you happy. 🙂
Like this post? See the expanded version in Oonagh’s best-selling book, Healthy As F*ck.
Did you like this blog post? If so, share it with your friends and leave a comment below!