How to grab The Happiness Advantage with both hands
Studies consistently show that we rate our wellbeing as the most important thing in our lives – more important thing in our lives – more important than success or income, and often even ranking above family ties and personal connections.
However, more often than not, we tend to focus on the need for a better job, more money, to lose weight but never to improve your wellbeing and happiness.
Despite what we may initially expect, wellbeing is not directly related to status, level of income, education, gender or race.
So, the young admin assistant cycling to work in their old tennis shoes may be as happy as the executive driving to the office in their top-of-the-range car.
The pursuit of happiness fascinates psychologists as much as it intrigues media journalist, Hollywood film makers and society at large.
Research suggests that we may be born ‘happy’
Inheriting up to 50% of our cheerfulness and our subjective wellbeing from our parents.
According to studies, we are all born with a certain level of happiness, known as the ‘hedonic set-point’.
Fortunately, for most of us, our set points are usually above zero – i.e. on the happy side of neutral.
Around 10% of our happiness is circumstantial – where we live, what we earn, etc. and a whopping 40% comes from intentional activities – the things we choose to do.
In a study of more than 2,300 individuals, social psychologists David Lykken and Auke Tellegan at the University of Minnesota, USA, found that almost 90% rated themselves as having high levels of subjective wellbeing and long-term happiness.
It could well be, then, that as we human beings evolved, those of our forebears who were grouchy or miserable faired less well in the struggle for survival and had less luck in the mating game.
This idea led the researchers to suggest that humankind has evolved a bias towards positive wellbeing simply through the process of natural selection.
Having what positive psychologists call the ‘happiness advantage’, or an optimistic, positive mindset, has been shown to help doctors improve the speed and accuracy of diagnosis by almost 20%.
Raise the hit-rate of salespeople by over 37%, increase the productivity and job satisfaction of office workers by more than 30%, boost creativity and build resilience.
There’s another thing too, that affects our happiness.
Whether you’re feeling good or tend to see the glass as half empty, research points to one thing above all else that boosts happiness time and again: gratitude.
Having an attitude of gratitude – simply recognizing and being thankful for things in our life – has reliably been shown to boost levels of dopamine in our brains, generating feelings of being alive and outwardly exhibiting signs of happiness.
Instead of cutting out chocolate biscuits or trying to grab that extra money from a promotion, focus on making changes that really matter; your wellbeing and happiness.
The Happiness Advantage Exercise
Try identifying five things that you are grateful for in your life right now.
Perhaps an old friend who’s always there for you, a fancy dinner out, a delicious home-cooked meal, your stable job, a loving family, the fact it’s a sunny day… what are you grateful for?
Just as with any other habit, in order to rewire our brain and gain the happiness advantage, we need to stick with this new approach for at least 28 days.
So, grab a notebook and place it by your bed or coffee maker, or somewhere you’ll see it each day.
Take a few moments every day for the next four weeks to record what you’re grateful for.
In just 28 days’ time, your actions will have turned into habits and helped to maintain those elevated dopamine levels, bringing smiles to your face and happiness to your heart.