Our happiness comes from three sources: One is our circumstances in life. For instance, if you win a lottery or meet the love of your life, you will be happy. Or, if you get in a car accident or a relationship breaks up, you will be sad. This accounts for only 10 per cent of our overall happiness.
The second is found in your DNA — a thermostat of happiness called “eudaimonia”. It is a contented state of being happy and based on the view that the source of happiness is internal and cultivated by living a life of meaning. This accounts for a full 50 per cent of our cheerfulness.
There is the final source which is more practical and which we have control over. It comes from how we think, what we do, our attitudes, how grateful we are, and the people we hang out with most. This accounts for 40 per cent of our happiness. Research shows that by focusing on these aspects of your life, you can actually raise your eudaimonia level.
So the question becomes, “Is it possible to significantly and permanently raise your level of happiness?” The consensus of researchers and philosophers says — it is! Here are some ideas how:
- By being grateful for everything you have, and what you have achieved. There are studies that show the best time to be grateful is within the first hour in the morning after waking up.
- By developing positive feelings about your past, the present and your future. By taking responsibility for everything you have, or do not have, and accepting that it is because of the choices you make.
- By building strong relationships, whether at work or home. We are herd animals and have a basic desire to connect with others we trust. This can be a great source of strength and pleasure.
- By knowing your core values and living by them with uncompromising commitment. Many people do not know their top three values, what their priority is nor understand the strength of their scruples which supports appropriate behaviours.
- Finally, by just changing how you think on a constant basis will change your future. With the advent of functional MRI scans (fMRI), we now have proof that changes in thinking can cause significant, measurable changes in brain chemistry.
A landmark study done by Dr. Christopher Peterson, psychologist at the University of Michigan showed that thinking pessimistically can do serious damage to your health.<
They followed a group for over 35 years and found that the people who were most pessimistic in their 20s, were significantly more likely to experience physical ill health between the ages of 45 and 60.
Even more significant, studies done using MRIs and Spect imaging showed that when you are in the company of negative, pessimistic people, your brain excretes chemicals that will depress you.
Researchers looked at 20 years’ worth of data on more than 5,000 individuals and found that if a person is in the presence of others who are optimistic and communicating positively, their brain will create endorphins that raises their spirits and makes them feel good.
Here is the interesting part: the subject did not even need to engage in the conversation; they just had to be close and listening. Maybe your parents didn’t realize the significance of their advice when they said, “Be careful who you hang out with, because it will determine who you grow up to be.”
But, what can you personally do? There are three actions you can take immediately to transform your thinking and your life:
- Remember that setbacks are temporary, they will pass and nothing is as serious as it seems at the time.
- Develop a belief that everything happens for a good reason, even the bad things, and will make you stronger in the end.
- Recognize when things do go wrong, they are often caused by a variety of events. Say to yourself, “What can I take control of?” Then do it.
My question for managers this week: “What environment are you creating in the workplace to keep employees happy and healthy?”