Have you seen the movie Happy? It's a documentary by Roko Belic and I highly recommend it. One of the most interesting things I learned watching the movie is that there are three categories of factors that influence how happy we are.
GeneticsYes, supposedly our genetic makeup determines our natural range of endorphin, dopamine, and serotonin levels. These and a host of other chemicals are responsible for our alertness, sense of well being, and happiness. The levels of these chemicals and hormones establish a set-point around which our level of happiness fluctuates.
Our circumstancesWhere we live, our social or economic status, our health. Our life's circumstances can trigger and affect the levels of the above chemicals within our natural range.
Intentional behaviorThe things we do with our lives, the choices that we make, and the thoughts that we choose to give life. Your chosen actions, routines, and behaviours affect your body (brain) chemistry as well.
Now genetics are supposedly about 50% of your happiness and there's not much you can (naturally) do about this one. This is one area in which it's okay to blame your parents. (Joking)
Now here's where the real surprise comes in. For most of us, our circumstances - our wealth, our health, our social setting- all of the things that we normally focus on, account for only 10 % of our happiness level. Unless you are living in extreme duress and your immediate safety is threatened, e.g. you are starving, homeless,or dying of disease - then your circumstances have less than a 10% effect on your level of happiness.
That leaves 40% under the area of intentional behavior. That means that your daily choices and routines can have a HUGE impact on your level of happiness. Listed below are some activities that have been scientifically shown to improve feelings of well being and happiness.
1. Count your blessings. Numerous studies show that spending just a few minutes a day taking the time to acknowledge 4-5 things that you are grateful for relieves anxiety and improves happiness.
2. Move around. A few hours a week of moderate exercise such as brisk walking, running, biking, swimming, or yoga will produce a more optimum level of hormones for a healthy brain chemistry. Doing this in a fun manner improves the results.
3. Nurture meaningful relationships. A Japanese study published in 2008 found that often our most contented moments involve connecting with other people.
4. Get plenty of rest. Seven to eight hours of sleep is needed for most people to be at their best. Don't have time to sleep this much? Your health and happiness will suffer. You might find that you will be much more productive when you get enough rest. Your mind will be sharper and studies show that happy people are generally more productive.
5. Go outdoors. Vitamin D is essential for your mental health. Low levels of vitamin D can result in increased anxiety, panic attacks, and depression. Exposure to morning sun also helps to keep your circadian rhythm in tact so that you sleep well at night.
6. Perform acts of kindness. If you are short on money then help with your time. If you have more money than time, then be financially generous. Studies show that although small daily acts of kindness will make us feel more helpful, significant acts of generosity generally lead to improving our happiness.
If you are interested in more details on the science of happiness check out "The How of Happiness" by Sonja Lyubomirsky or "Stumbling on Happiness" by Daniel Gilbert.
Zen Presence - Ideas for meaningful living