My son’s bib reads, „Happiness is hugs“. Buddha once said, „There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.“. An article by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz in the New York Times states, „A study of thousands of millionaires conducted by researchers at Harvard Business School found that happiness levels increase when people’s net worth exceeds $8 million.“ He went on to say that passing the $8 million mark provides a happiness boost: „But the effect was small: a net worth of $8 million gives a boost in happiness about half the size of the happiness boost from getting married.“ Conclusion: finding a partner makes you happier than $8 million.
Many perspectives and ideas exist about what makes people happy, yet it seems that some people are simply happier than others, no matter what they have or do. We often believe that happiness will magically appear if we just achieve a certain goal, find a new love or finally get to go on that holiday again.
But all these goals usually make us happy only in the fairly short term. Researchers refer to happiness as „subjective well-being“ because it is based on how individuals feel about their personal lives. The well-known happiness researcher and Harvard professor of positive psychology Shawn Achor has recognised: „Happiness is a work ethic. It’s something our brains have to train for, just like athletes do.“ In numerous studies with thousands of participants, he has since been able to find out that we can reprogram our brains like a computer to become happier. Since our brains can only devote a limited number of resources to experiencing the world, it is actually up to us to choose whether we want to experience pain, negativity or stress, or look at things with gratitude, optimism and a sense of purpose. While we cannot change reality simply by sheer willpower, we can change our perception of the world and thus our reactions to circumstances. „We need to understand that 90% of our long-term happiness is not determined by the external situation, but by the way our brain processes the world. And if we change that, if we adapt our formula for happiness and success to it, we can even shape reality,“ Achor says.
Consciously choosing to be a happy and grateful person is a good option in every way. When our brain is in a positive mood, our intelligence increases, we no longer waste energy thinking about fears, our creativity triples and our productive energy increases by 31%. We are healthier, more balanced, more resilient and, above all, happier.
It just takes 21 days for the pattern of positive thinking to be permanently ingrained in our brains.
Gratitude plays a decisive role in this. Many people keep gratitude diaries, which have become quite popular. Those who are not so fond of writing can also introduce a gratitude round at the family table. Each family member names three things for which they were grateful in the last 24 hours. With this „task“ in mind to name something in the evening, you now scan your everyday life for positive things instead of threats. Be aware of everything that triggers gratitude in you and after 21 days you will become noticeably more optimistic. Anticipation also increases the release of endorphins. If we don’t have time for a holiday or a dinner with friends, we might as well plan the date and mark it in our calendar. Whenever we need a happiness boost, we simply remind ourselves of the upcoming event by looking in our calendar to effectively stimulate the pleasure centre in our brain.
Neuroscientists have also found that monks who have practised meditation have developed their left prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for feelings of happiness. So meditating makes you happier. Even mini-meditations of just 2 minutes of conscious pause daily, in which you concentrate only on your breath, work small miracles.
One of the most important investments in your happiness is your social network. „Once people focus on forming meaningful relationships or increasing the importance and depth of existing relationships, happiness increases in proportion to those social connections,“ Achor knows. So just when you least feel like it, it’s worth calling a friend, writing a nice email or meeting up for a coffee. And the best thing about it: if we actually try to make our lives happier, we can also positively influence the lives of up to 1000 other people around us.
Therefore, let’s decide for a happier world and thus make it a happier one.