“If you want to be happy, be.” ~Leo Tolstoy
Could it really be that simple? Quite possibly.
In my last article, I suggested that most New Years resolutions are motivated by our wanting to be happier, and we tend to think we will be happier when we’re thinner, healthier, better read, better travelled or better paid. I also hinted that it might be possible to skip the middle bit and cut straight to being happy.
So instead of:
Present situation -> different situation -> happiness (maybe)
You would do this:
Present situation -> happiness (definitely)
The crux of this is that our happiness is much more dependent on our internal state than on our external circumstances. Psychology professor Sonja Lyubomirsky writes in her book, The How of Happiness, that 50% of our happiness is genetically determined (based on twin studies), 10% depends on life circumstances and situation, and the remaining 40% is down to our intentional activities – in other words, the things we choose to do, the people we choose to spend time with, and the stories we tell ourselves about who we are.
So you can decide to focus on that little 10% slice of the pie and change your external circumstances. That might make you feel happier. Or it might not.
And even if it does make you feel happier, that happiness may not last as long as you think, thanks to a phenomenon called hedonic adaptation. Hedonic adaptation says that a thing of beauty may not in fact be a joy forever. In fact, your source of joy quite rapidly becomes part of the background of your life. As your life gets better, what was at first exciting and joyful becomes your new normal, and loses its power to boost your happiness.
So doesn’t it seem a better investment of your time and energy to focus on the 40% and choose activities, people, and beliefs that make you happy?
And of these three, the greatest by far is your beliefs. If you choose to believe that you are a happy person, and you will be.
Don’t believe me? Thinking “that’s all very well for you to say, but [insert self-pitying reason here]”? Check out this fantastic film – Happy, the movie. Very well worth watching. It will change forever your view of what the prerequisites are for happiness.
(Incidentally, the director of the film is Roko Belic, son of ocean rower Nenad Belic, who was lost at sea in 2001 while attempting to row the North Atlantic. Not happy.)
Even if you don’t have time to watch the whole film, please at least spare 90 seconds to click on the thumbnail and watch the mini video about Manoj Singh, a rickshaw driver from Kolkata, India, who lives in a makeshift shack and earns barely enough to feed his family. And he manages to be happy!
If Manoj can be happy, what’s stopping you?!
Next time around, we’ll be looking at how you can stay happy no matter what life throws at you. The slings and arrows of fate, the brickbats of life, all the crappy bits – you can be immune!
(Featured image: Japan’s newest girl band, average age 84, from the Okinawa region which is also featured in the Happy movie.)