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Fall 2018 Edition

How To Be Happier…Every Day

What would it take to make you happier? More money? A bigger house? A new relationship? Maybe a flatter stomach? According to the latest research on happiness, none of the above will make you happier in the long run. Human beings adapt, researchers report, so acquiring new material possessions or changing life circumstances don’t result in sustained happiness. That new car, promotion or house feels great at first. Then we get used to it. An often-cited study found that within one year, lottery winners returned to approximately the same level of happiness they experienced before their windfall.

So, what does it take to be happier? Through analyzing studies on identical twins and other research, happiness researchers have determined that each of us has a “happiness set-point,” a baseline level of happiness that we return to, regardless of the ups and downs of life. Just like your weight set-point, which keeps the scale hovering around the same weight, your happiness set-point will remain the same – unless you make a concerted effort to change it.

According to the researchers, approximately 50% of your set-point is genetic, about 10% is related to life circumstances and the remaining 40% is within your control. It’s the 40% under your control that gives you the power to raise your happiness set-point and increase your happiness. In the same way you’d crank up the thermostat to get comfortable on a chilly day, psychologists say you can reprogram your happiness set-point to a higher level of peace and well-being. Just as you can improve your health through diet and exercise, you can increase your happiness by changing your thoughts, behaviors, actions and habits. Finally, scientists have concluded what the great thinkers and philosophers have been telling us for all time – that increasing your happiness is an “inside” job.

Tips to increase happiness

Happiness researchers say that you have the ability and power to be happier by changing your habits. Below are strategies and “happiness activities” shown in numerous studies to increase the happiness of study participants. To improve your happiness, choose the strategies or activities that suit you best. Build these activities into your everyday life to ensure long-term success. Seek out additional resources, if needed, to expand your knowledge, skills and success in the areas you choose.

Live with purpose. People who strive for something personally significant – whether it’s learning a new skill, raising a good family, or changing careers – are happier than those who don’t have strong dreams or aspirations. Pick one or more significant goals and devote time and effort pursuing them. The process of working towards your goal is as important to your well being as its attainment.

Cultivate optimism. “Many people say things happen for the best. I don’t agree with that,” says Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D., a Harvard University psychology professor and author of Happier. “But some people are able to make the best of things that happen – and that’s a key to happiness.” One way to do this is to reframe your thoughts. If you see everything that goes wrong as being permanent (things are going to be this bad forever); pervasive (this is going to wreck everything); and personal (it’s all my fault); you’re more likely to feel sad, fearful or anxious. Instead try to view your problems as temporary (this will pass); limited (this problem affects only one, specific part of my life); and learn to look at the situation objectively to determine your part of the problem and what you can do. You can train yourself to look on the bright side. Using a practice called “cognitive restructuring,” you can help yourself become more optimistic by consciously challenging negative, self-limiting thinking and replacing it with more optimistic thought patterns. Numerous studies report that positive, optimistic people are happier and live longer.

Nurture your relationships. The happiest people surround themselves with family and friends. A Japanese study published last year found that contented people’s happy experiences most often involved connecting with someone. Happy people have a strong bond with at least two out of three of these essential relationships: a partner, a friend, or a parent. Experts say the best way to improve a relationship is to invest time and energy in it.

Do more activities that truly engage you. Losing yourself in an activity, whether it’s running, singing in a choir, gardening, reading a book or cooking a meal, promotes a contented state called “flow.” During a state of flow, you get so involved in an activity or task that nothing else seems to matter and you lose track of time. What puts you in a state of flow is usually an activity that uses your strengths and talents. Increase the experiences at home or work in which you lose yourself in total absorption.

Count your blessings. One way to feel happier is to recognize good things when they happen. Express gratitude for what you have privately and also by conveying appreciation to others. If you have trouble counting your blessings, try keeping a gratitude journal. Write down three to five things you’re grateful for once a week. Several studies show that people who record what they appreciate experience greater happiness and less anxiety.

Practice kindness. Do good things for others. Acting kind or helping others makes you feel capable, compassionate and full of purpose. In one recent study, researchers could literally see the benefits of kindness. Subjects were hooked up to a brain-imaging mechanism and asked to click yes or no to charity-giving opportunities. When they donated, the machine registered a boost in blood flow to a part of the brain associated with happiness.

Learn to forgive. When we hold on to pain, old grudges, bitterness or hatred, many areas of our lives can suffer. When we’re unforgiving, we are the ones who pay the price over and over. According to research conducted by Dr. Fred Luskin at Stanford University, people who learn to forgive become less stressed, less angry, more optimistic and reported healthier relationships and improved physical health. Forgiveness is not excusing someone else’s wrong behavior, nor does it necessarily include reconciliation with the person who wronged us. Forgiveness means no longer dwelling on the wounds that keep us tied to the past. By learning to forgive, you take responsibility for how you feel and take back the power from others to keep hurting you. An effective forgiveness technique to consider: Write a letter in which you let go of anger and resentment toward those who have hurt you. Actually sending the letter is optional.

Practice spirituality. Studies show that people who have a spiritual dimension in their life – defined not as an affiliation with an organized religion, but as an internal sense of the spiritual meaning of life – are happier than those who don’t. It doesn't matter what you call it – God, Spirit, Higher Power or Nature – connecting to your spirituality is the experience of feeling connected to a force bigger than yourself. The more deeply you experience this connection, the more content and happy your life will feel. To nurture your spiritual side: learn meditation, pray, read spiritual books, or get more involved in your church, temple or mosque.

Develop healthy coping strategies. It’s hard to be happy if you’re chronically over-stressed and emotionally drained. Stress and anxiety are huge barriers to health and happiness. Research from Harvard Medical School has found that women 100 years and older share a common trait – they’re not plagued by negative feelings such as guilt, anger, fear and sadness. Find and practice healthy ways to manage stress, hardship or trauma.

Move your body. Research overwhelmingly shows that people who exercise are happier. Make some form of exercise – such as brisk walking, running, swimming or yoga – a regular habit. When you exercise, your body produces valuable brain chemicals and hormones – like endorphins, serotonin, dopamine and adrenaline – that impact your energy, mood and health. Additionally, taking up a sport or working out regularly will help you feel more in control of your body and health, thereby increasing your confidence and self-image. Also important to feeling happier: Eat a nutritious diet and get adequate sleep.

If you need help…contact your EAP

Aiming for greater happiness requires effort and commitment. There are no short cuts. Taking some of the suggestions above may seem daunting at first, but they are within your power. If you or one of your dependents are concerned about issues that may be negatively effecting your happiness, contact your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for professional counseling, referrals or information. All EAP services are FREE and strictly CONFIDENTIAL. If you need help, why not call an EAP counselor today? We’re here to help you.


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Disclaimer: This newsletter is not intended to provide medical advice on personal wellness matters. Please consult your physician for medical advice.