The bad news: 50% of happiness is genetically determined. If your family laugh a lot and enjoy life to its full the chances are so do you. Conversely, if they seldom smile and carry the world on their backs so might you. How do we know that? Lyubomirsky, Sheldon and Schkade carried out the research and published their findings in the snappily titled: ‘Pursuing Happiness: The Architecture of Sustainable Change’.
10% of happiness is every day circumstance dictated: your job, status (in all meanings of the word) and education are particularly influential factors. It’s not easy to influence any of these either.
Generally then, 60% of happiness is impossible or tricky to change. Fortunately, 40% of your happiness is under your direct and immediate control. If you’re only 60% happy and want to feel happier, here’s the research and what to do.
Emmons and McCullough in 2003 published another one of those trip-off-the-tongue research titles: ‘Count Your Blessings Verses Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-being in Daily Life’. The problem is that we all adapt very easily to the good things around us. Soon, they no longer have the stimulus to make us feel better. It’s as if they’ve faded into the background. (Hedonic Habituation is rather like this. I’ve written about that before.) To bring those every day pleasurable feelings back we need to be reminded of them. Writing them down, as my last post explained, is a powerful technique to apply. The research by Emmons and McCullough validated this approach. The simple act of being reminded, by writing it down, of what people were grateful for in their daily lives has a powerful effect on positive mood. The phrase ‘Count your blessings’ really is true. Just write them down to be reminded.
I recognise that, for some people, finding things in every day life to be grateful for is challenging at best. It might mean you’ve got to dig very deep because your family and how things are for you are poor, even horrible. The simplest ideas are often the best though. In the Sound of Music Maria sings of ‘raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens’. Nature often supplies us with awe-inspiring scenes and having the opportunity to experience them can have a profound effect on our well-being.
Whatever the things are that you’re grateful for recording them and, if you can, saying them aloud as well will help you to feel happier.
The research showed one other benefit though. The mood enhancement was lasting. ‘Counting your blessings’ not only helps in the short term but in the long term as well.
What to do
1. Every day write down for a few minutes what you’re grateful for. Choose a different theme each day if possible eg family one day, nature another, what you’re thankful you can do on another day.
2. Saying what you wrote aloud helps reinforce it too. As a Christian, I give thanks to God and the Psalms in the Bible are good at helping me to do that. There’s so much I find to be thankful for. Whether you have a religious faith or no faith at all the evidence is clear: giving thanks for what you have will help you feel more happy. Permanently.
Remember, if you think you can do this beneficial mood enhancer you’re right: you can!
Further, this technique employs the ‘x=y so y=x’ principle: I feel better (x) because I do the give thanks activity (y) so if I do the give thanks activity (y) I will feel better (x).
Do give this technique a go and ‘count your (every day) blessings’ every day.