Happiness is big business. Everyone wants it. No one can seem to get it. Keeping it seems impossible and It always looks like someone has more of it than you do. You would think that with all the convenience, information and opportunity that a lot of us are lucky to have that we would have more success in achieving happiness, but the happiness problem is a result of the search itself. There is nothing out there that you are going to find that will truly make or keep you happy. Everything that is going to make you happy is inside you and all it takes is a happiness habit to bring it out and make it last.
Happiness is not something external that we can find and collect. Happiness is not conditional on some outcome. It has no relationship to any possession and the only person that it relates to is yourself. All the marketing and media about happiness would have you think that it is out there and you are looking in at it but the opposite is true, you already contain nearly all the potential for happiness you are capable of and the only thing you can do is put in the work to bring it out more often.
So what do I mean when I say that your happiness is something inside you? There is a common formula, called the happiness formula, that produces a happiness equation that looks like this:
We can see that only 10 percent of your happiness is due to external circumstances. Money. Career. Possessions. Other people’s attitudes. A bird shitting on your head. Whatever. You get the point. All that shit (no pun intended) you can’t control doesn’t even affect your happiness that much. It feels like it does though, because those external circumstances are always right in the forefront of our perception and our negativity bias emphasizes their power but they are really not substantial contributors to our happiness or sadness at all. Next, you can see that 50 percent is your genetic baseline for happiness. Lastly, 40 percent is our daily actions and thoughts.
Ok. So half of your happiness is never going to change. We got what we got in that regard from our genetic heritage. Tough shit about that. You are not going to be able to change your genetics so get over that and consider it out of your control. That still leaves 40 percent of everything that you can control of your happiness. That is a lot of happiness potential you manage and as soon as you accept your role in directing your thoughts and actions, as it relates to your happiness, you can start getting down to the serious business of developing an effective happiness habit. This will make sure you are always maximizing that 40 percent you control and constantly shifting the scales of happiness in your favor.
So how do we do that? We do that by understanding the facts of happiness and practicing the habits that contribute to consistent happiness.
Happiness is contagious.
So many studies have reinforced the idea that seems so obvious when experienced; being around happy people makes you happier and being around sad people makes you fucking miserable. No shit. Just try to maintain positivity when you are sitting around someone who is constantly dragging a rain cloud around over their head. It’s really hard to keep that sadness infection from spreading. In the same regard, try to keep your mopey, depressed bullshit spewing when you are surrounded by positive people. It’s equally difficult not to contract the mood.
The studied math of the contagion of happiness is shown in the image to the right.
We can see that, the more close social contacts that we have that are happy, the bigger percent of happiness gain we can see personally. Close friends that are happy produce a 15% increase in your happiness. Friends of friends that are happy produce a 10% increase in your happiness and the friends of those friends that are happy produce a 6% increase in our happiness. Happiness spreads, like ripples in a pond after a rock is thrown in, everyone can feel the emotional waves of others around them and they are affected by those things. So a really good habit to get into is surrounding yourself with positive, happy people. They will rub off on you, they will cheer you up, they will inspire and motivate you. That is the point of having friends, to support your quest for becoming a better person; so make sure you have the right ones around.
This single, solitary habit has completely changed my relationship to life and happiness. Focusing on the positive is not easy an easy habit to maintain and we can blame evolution for that. You see, we have an evolutionary negativity bias. Simply put, our brains are wired to constantly detect danger and potential harm and to react more strongly to these negative things than any positive things. This negativity bias served a purpose once. It is much more beneficial to survival to have a mind focused towards problems and negative stimuli when you are living in a treacherous, danger ridden world. I better have a constant, vigilant awareness of the fucking saber tooth tiger that could attack my family than in deriving a quiet joy in the time I get to spend with my little caveman family.
The problem is, that negativity bias doesn’t serve such a dramatic purpose anymore, as a lot of people’s lives have taken a dramatic turn for the safer and less constantly treacherous. So we have to fight this negativity bias by balancing the scales of awareness. And we do this by practicing gratitude. Studies have shown that it takes a 5-1 ratio of positive to negative actions/thoughts to balance the scales of awareness and bring out your inner happiness. So an easy practice I recommend is, every time something negative creeps into your awareness, counter that with 5 thoughts of gratitude. Too much to start with? Fine. Then just get into the habit of starting and ending your day with 5 things you are grateful for. This one habit alone might completely change the way you perceive the overall happiness quotient of your life.
Embrace the Pain
Life is painful. It is such a dysfunctional relationship, the one we have with life. It can beat the living shit out of us one moment and then lift us up and hand us some grand, lucky fortune the next. The best thing you can do is embrace the pain of the bullshit and let it strengthen you while you remain vigilant and open for those memorable moments that make it all worthwhile.
When you learn to lean into your pain points and not let them control you, you learn courage, strength and confidence and those things go a long way in to upping your baseline of happiness. When you start believing that you can suffer a whole lot of life’s common pains and difficulties you start to realize that the power they hold over you in the form of fear and anxiety slips away like water off your back and you are left with an indomitable, resilient spirit that will look forward to life’s discomforts and fears as means to growth. Pain is a great teacher and embracing it is a habit that will make your happiness less subject to the fluctuations of life’s little foibles.
Excuse the Assholes
How long have you let a momentary slight from some stranger stick in your head long after the moment passed? You get cut off in traffic and that contaminates the entire day. You get a pissy cashier at the grocery store and you are instantly soured for hours. This once again relates to our negativity bias and it is a constant problem that we all face everyday. The best way to face it is to just excuse the general assholery of the world.
Everyone is dealing with the monumental struggle of their own shit filled existence and they carry that around with all the time. Sometimes it spills over into their interactions with you. They most likely don’t intend that or want it to, but it does, and the best way for you to not let it affect you is just fucking get over it. You do the same shit sometimes to people and you don’t know what is happening in anyone else’s life. You don’t know if their dog just died, or they are going through a brutal divorce or they just got some seriously bad health news that they don’t know how to deal with. Give people the benefit of the doubt and excuse their shitty attitude as often as possible. It makes life a lot easier and it will make you a lot happier.
Ignore the Static
We look at Facebook and we see all the edited, glossy, bullshit highlights of other people’s lives and, when faced with the messy, dirty, unedited director’s cut of our own, we unfairly reason that our lives, with all it’s ups and downs and constant struggles, is somehow less than everyone else’s. Obviously that is not true.
One of the best ways to make yourself happier is to stop comparing your life to anyone else’s. Social media has made it way too easy for people to march out their greatest hits reels . When we see these we think it’s all they have in their life and we think we must be doing something wrong with ours. Well, whatever you see from your friends on social media is just a blip of their life. They are not positing the bad shit. The everyday struggles of mind and body. The lingering conflicts and difficulties that they have to endure in order to get the snippets of those great highlights they post. Ignore the CGI happiness of social media and remember that we are all in the same boat. We all ride the same waves. Sometimes it is smooth sailing and other times you grab on to something and you weather the storms.
It’s no secret that being active is a sure fire way to generate happiness. Doing exercise releases so many feel good chemicals like endorphins and serotonin and reduces levels of the stress based ones like cortisol and adrenaline. Establishing a regular exercise routine is a great habit to create that will get you as close to constant happiness as you will ever get.
An exercise habit offers so many compliments to a happiness habit. You will look better. You will feel better. You will eat better. You will build confidence, strength (mental and physical), discipline and ritual. You don’t have to get crazy. Start with 30 minutes a day of good old-fashioned exercise. Cardio, weights, whatever. Just get off your ass and get moving.
A habit that is sure to produce endless supplies of happiness is the habit of giving to others. It is nearly impossible to feel anything but happy when you take the time to acknowledge the hardships of others and give back in a way that alleviates their hardship. If that means volunteering at a soup kitchen, joining a program for troubled youth, carrying groceries to the car for an elderly person, whatever. Big or small, the habit of giving back is one that fills you up with happiness and one that should be revisited as often as possible as part of a happiness habit.
Here is the final truth of happiness you should know before you rush off to chase perpetual cloud 9; you can not be happy all the time. It’s not possible. Anyone who says they are happy all the time is ignoring some of the serious pain and misery of life and that is just as unhealthy as ignoring all the joy in life. Don’t strive for a constant state of happiness. Strive to make your default mood and attitude one of greater happiness and ease. When you reset from a struggle or from a joy your goal should be to have created a happiness habit that always has you returning to a set point of generally happy and ready for the next difficulty or pleasure.
Yes, life is going to beat you down. You are going to feel depressed and sad and worn out sometimes, but don’t always be that person because if you are, it’s your own fault. You have every opportunity in the world to create a happiness habit that supports you in your life and provides a constant baseline of happiness, and that is what we are all really looking for when we are searching for that ethereal concept of happiness. Something that lasts. Something that is not dependent on anything else. And something that is our own. All the materials for that sort of happiness are already inside you, now go build it.