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6 Steps to Happiness

We recently heard two interesting speakers recently on the topic of ‘happiness’ – what it is and how to ensure you enjoy it. Dr Tim Sharp (Dr Happy) and Dr Melissa Weinberg work in the area of positive psychology. You can find out more about Dr Happy here and Melissa here, if you’re curious. This article about happiness offers our perceptions from both speakers.

Happiness involves two types of feelings:

  • A temporary mood lift in response to stimulus
  • An underlying positive mood

Being effusively happy all the time is not normal – we all have periods of uplift as well as anger, fear and sadness. The light and shade between these feelings helps us appreciate the difference.

Six areas of life contribute to our overall happiness. They involve expressing how satisfied we are with our:

  1. Standard of living and future security (wealth, having financial control)
  2. Health and fitness (good diet, active exercise, sleep 8+ hours/night)
  3. Relationships (engagement, genuinely connecting with others)
  4. Safety (feeling secure with a sense of freedom)
  5. Sense of community and belonging (social networks, positive impact on others)
  6. Achievements, purpose in life and a learning mindset (the ‘rudder’ for our ship)

Global happiness chart

The World Happiness Report released to the United Nations on 20th March 2017 ranks 155 countries by happiness level, as in the chart above. People in China are no happier than 25 years ago and happiness has fallen in the USA. However, Norway tops global rankings with Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland and Finland making up the top 5. All 5 foster attributes that support happiness: caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance. Indeed, Scandinavian countries have a concept of ‘hygge’ (pronounced hoo-guh), which prizes a feeling probably best described in English as cosy – perhaps like being hugged.

“Happiness depends on ourselves” – Aristotle

(about 2,300 years ago)

The old adage is ‘healthy, wealthy and wise’. Enjoying good health probably tops the list. Otherwise, do you have enough money? Above a moderate level, more money doesn’t really add to happiness though it can improve relative comfort. The Beatles sang ‘money can’t buy me love’, though wealthy men find life partners more readily than the homeless. Even so, at some point more money doesn’t significantly add to happiness – perhaps this plateau is somewhere around income of $80,000 p.a.

Current research concludes a happier outcome is achieved when spending on experiences rather than ‘things’ and also spending on others (charity/philanthropy). One can also be happier buying many small things rather than a few big ones. We’re happier when we cultivate positive emotions – perhaps hedonism within limits. It makes us happy to use our strengths to build engagement with others and it is beneficial to show gratitude to those who have a positive effect for us.

The best performers among us seem able to work hard at being their best but then are readily able to ‘switch off’ between periods of effort. Meditation can also be a useful tool in this. People that are not so hard on themselves perform better and bounce back up well – this resilience can be a self-righting mechanism for happiness.

The Report says the “social foundations of happiness include having someone to count on, generosity, a sense of freedom and freedom from corruption. Unemployment suppresses happiness and for those in work, the quality of that work can cause major variations in happiness.”

Happiness is worthy target on its own and if you live happier, you’re likely to live longer. Indeed, we’re now told that living to 100 is the new 80, so we’d best enjoy it!