Research shows that 50 percent of a person’s happiness level is genetically determined, 10 percent is affected by life circumstances and situation, and a remaining 40 percent is determined by our own behavior. Positive psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky has made a career of studying the causes of happiness, and in her bestselling book, The How of Happiness, she has identified the twelvchoices we can make which are most highly correlated with happiness. Here they are:
1. Express gratitude. When you appreciate what you have, what you have appreciates in value. Spend time focusing on cultivating gratitude, by, for instance, making gratitude lists.
2. Cultivate optimism. If you simply notice “glass half empty” thoughts, you will kickstart change. Develop a sense of positive expectations.
3. Avoid comparing yourself to others. This is one of the worst things you can do when it comes to your happiness. It traps you in low self-esteem and inadequacy, and fosters unhealthy emotions such as jealously, shame, longing, and resentment Instead, measure yourself by your own personal goals and dreams.
4. Practice kindness. In your everyday life, find small ways to show kindness to the people you encounter, not just to the people you love, but to the store clerk, the stranger. The more you deliberately practice kindness, the more powerful and fulfilling it becomes.
5. Nurture Your Relationships. On their deathbeds, dying people most often cite their biggest regret in life as not spending enough quality time with their loved ones.
6. Develop strategies for coping with stress. Learn techniques for dealing with stress such as meditation, exercise, and counseling. Have a support system of friends and family who can be there for you when necessary. Learn how to put life difficulties into perspective by reminding yourself that “this too shall pass.” Life is constantly changing, and neither good nor bad situations last indefinitely.
7. Learn to forgive. Holding on to a grudge or feeling shame and guilt creates an emotional burden that will limit your happiness. Make up your mind to forgive, even if the offending person hasn’t sought forgiveness. Take control of your own happiness by releasing anger, judgement, and resentment.
8. Find the activities that keep you in the “flow.” Flow is a state in which it feels like time stands still. It’s when you’re so focused on what you’re doing that you become one with the task. Action and awareness are merged. You’re not hungry, sleepy, or emotional. You’re just completely engaged in the activity that you’re doing. Nothing is distracting you or competing for your focus.
9. Savor simple pleasures. Deep happiness cannot exist without slowing down to enjoy the joy and to appreciate the simple pleasures in daily life. When we neglect to appreciate, we rob the moment of its magic.
10. Dedicate to personal goals. Have something important that you are always working toward. It can be a career or personal goal, but be sure it has measurable, attainable, actionable steps that you can work toward every day. When you have goals, you feel more positive, motivated, and in control of your life and your destiny. Without them, you’re floundering and confused about the direction of your life.
11. Practice spirituality. People who regularly practice their faith or have some kind of spiritual practice are generally happier people. If you are a non-believer, take up an inner-life practice like meditation or walking in nature to enjoy the benefits of inner reflection and peace.
12. Take care of your body. Taking care of your body is crucial to being the happiest person you can be. If you don’t have your physical energy in good shape, then your mental energy (your focus), your emotional energy (your feelings), and your spiritual energy (your purpose) will all be negatively affected.
This is how Dr. Lyubomirsky sums up her findings: Happy people “do not just sit around being contented. They make things happen. They pursue new understandings, seek new achievements, and control their thoughts and feelings. In sum, our intentional effortful activities have a powerful effect on how happy we are, over and above the effect of our set points and the circumstances in which we find ourselves.”