When future generations look back, they will likely view this period in time as one of immense challenge. 2020 has brought us a global pandemic, race riots and death and suffering on an incomprehensible scale. There is no one untouched by Covid-19. We are, all of us, subject to the daily demands of lockdown, shielding, home-schooling, anxiety and lack of human connection. We have been forced to adapt the way we work, attend school, live and love each other, quickly and without much warning. In many ways, this has demonstrated our ingenuity and our ability to draw from internal resilience. Anecdotally, however, the challenges we have faced in recent months have also led to a sharp increase in people struggling with their mental health. Even those who never had before. Some experts predict a mental health pandemic to follow coronavirus. Now is not generally a time when we imagine people are generally feeling very happy or hopeful. And yet I am blogging today about happiness.
Happiness has principally been the subject of empirical research within positive psychology. It is usually assumed that psychologists are only concerned with disorder. This is not the case. Positive psychology is defined as “…the scientific study of positive human functioning” (Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). I am fascinated by it. The reason for this, is that happiness is one of these concepts that we truly misunderstand. The language we use around happiness is interesting too. It is something we talk about striving for or pursuing. Language like that, suggests that we never catch it, or that happiness is just beyond our reach. Perhaps there is something in that notion. I have often heard people say, I’ll be happy when….(insert blank). And when you ask people what would make them happy, they will tell you variations on themes of the following.
Being in a relationship
A bigger house
Meeting our body ideal
Landing the perfect job
However, this simply isn’t true. These things, are merely our material circumstances and they don’t actually make us much happier. According to the research summarised in Sonja Lyumbomirsky’s book ‘The How of Happiness’, only about 10% of our happiness is determined by our circumstances. The other 90% is broken down into two parts. It turns out 50% of our happiness is as a result of our genetics. We have a predetermined happiness baseline that is static. The final 40% is made up of what is termed our intentional activity. This is such an important finding.
What it means, is that we can be happier by choice. We can choose to engage in intentional activity that shifts our internal happiness gauge up a couple of notches. To do that, we need to set our intention to practice being happy in the here and now, with what we already have. I’ve watched over the last couple of years as gratitude has become this ‘trendy’ thing to do for mental wellness. But practicing gratitude daily, living in the present moment and making meaningful connection with others is not a fad. Far from it. If we can think positively about our life as it is now, in the present moment, that has the potential to have a powerful impact on our feelings of happiness and fulfilment in life.
If setting some intentions around these things can increase your happiness by 40%, isn’t that worth a try? Happiness is a choice it would seem. What are you choosing today?
Seligman, Martin E.P.; Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (2000). “Positive Psychology: An Introduction”. American Psychologist. 55 (1): 5–14.