One thing that we all strive for is happiness. It is one of the aspirational yet elusive things that human are constantly seeking. I, for one, see happiness a life goal that I been hoping to achieve given my default temperament of melancholy. After consistent pursuance of this blissful state, I came to realised that happiness will never be a constant state in a human being life. It will come and go like tide of waves into our lives. I always remember the story Dr. Wayne Dyer wrote in his book, “The Erroneous Zones” about a cat who believes that his happiness is his tail and if only he can catch his tail, he will be happy. But he realised if he keep chasing it, it always run away from him. However, when he go about his way, the tail just follow him obediently. Dr. Wayne Dyer concluded that happiness cannot be found in richness, travel, success and most of the things we are aiming for in hopes that it may result in happiness. Instead, happiness can be found in enjoying and appreciating the beauty of the normal everyday. To dig deeper into my quest for the answer to happiness, I enrolled in this online course in Coursera entitled The Science of Happiness taught by Dr. Laurie Santos of Yale University. I have learned so much in that 10 week course which I hope to condensely share in this post.
HOW WE ARE ALL WRONG ABOUT HAPPINESS
Just like the cat, we got it all wrong when it comes to happiness. We seek all the wrong things that we thought will make us happy. On the top of your head, things like having awesome stuff, good job, lots of money, finding true love, having the perfect face or body and getting good grades (if you are a student) would be the answer to our unhappiness. But researches show that achieving any of these are the answer to our unhappy life. One of the main reasons why we are often unhappy is because of Miswanting. Miswanting refers to the fact that people sometimes make mistakes how much they will like something in the future. People have problem in forecasting what will make them happy in the future. People tend to mispredict the duration of their good and bad feelings. We don’t realised we sabotage our own happiness but chasing the wrong things in life thinking that will make us happy if we reach them.
There are a few annoying features in our minds that destroys our chances for happiness besides miswanting. Another is that our minds don’t think in absolutes. Our minds judge relative to our reference points and most often than not, we have horrible reference points. We look at celebrities, life of the rich & famous and the filtered posts of #blessed influencers as our reference points to what happiness looks like.
The 3rd annoying feature in our mind that we are built to get used to stuff. Things or people that make us ecstatically happy initially, this high doesn’t last for so long. Try to recall the time you bought that expensive branded bag and the feelings you have years after the purchase. Even with relationships, there is a study that the romantic emotions and lovey-dovey feelings you have for your partner normally last for two years and after two years, your default emotion in life, be it a happy state or sad state, will take over. This mind feature is called Hedonic Adaptation. It is the notion that after positive (or negative) events (i.e., something good or bad happening to someone), and a subsequent increase in positive (or negative) feelings, people return to a relatively stable, baseline level of affect (Diener, Lucas, & Scollon, 2006).
The 4th reason why we have trouble in being happy is that we don’t realised that our minds are built to get used to stuff. We are not self-aware of our lack of knowledge in pursuing bliss. We still chase all the wrong things. We still buy all the branded stuff or awesome gadgets hoping it will cure us from our state of unhappiness. We keep jumping into new relationships hoping to get the happy-ever-after we dream and ending it eventually after being heartbroken.
HOW WE CAN BE HAPPY
So now that we know that we are actually the deterrents to our own happiness and that most of the things we aspire for that we hope would result to happiness are completely wrong, it would be good to know what exactly are the recipe to real happiness backed up by science. Dr. Laura Santos shared the things we should work on to achieve happiness. She calls it the Rewirements because we need to rewire our brains to be more happier and stop getting derailed by our brain’s annoying features. Here are few things we can work on to be a little bit more happier:
- Signature Strength – Know your signature strength. Take the Character Strength Quiz here. There are 24 character strengths: (from www.topuniversities.com)
- Wisdom (using your experience and knowledge in order to make good decisions and judgements – examples include creativity, perspective, and curiosity)
- Courage (being able to control your fear in a difficult or dangerous situation – examples include bravery, perseverance and honesty)
- Humanity (simply being human – examples include social intelligence, love, and kindness)
- Justice (being fair in the way you deal with people – examples include fairness, leadership, and teamwork)
- Temperance (being in total control of your own behavior – examples include self-regulation, and forgiveness)
- Transcendence (experience that goes beyond normal limits, or the ability to achieve this – examples include hope, gratitude, spirituality, and appreciation of beauty and excellence)
Studies shows that if you use your top character strengths in new ways or in your profession, you will find greater bliss and more purpose in life.
2. Savoring – Taking the time to savour the things you enjoy or things you are doing presently. I would look at it as practicing mindfulness where you become more present with the now. Enjoying what you have at hand and savouring the whole experience. Some encourages the use of documentation the present moment with a photo or writing the experience down like journaling.
3. Gratitude – Expressing gratefulness for the people in you life and the things in your life either through lists or letter. You can do daily gratitude lists in the morning or before sleeping. There are gratitude apps for these purpose or you can do the old fashion way with a paper and pen. Many people praised the benefits of this simple practice and noted their happiness level increased as they continue this habit.
4. Kindness- Increasing your random acts of kindness. Though being a recipient to your kindness will increase their happiness, the giver of these acts of kindness benefit from the feeling of bliss and a sense of warmth wonderful feeling after their selfless gesture. That is why do-gooders get addicted to this sharing and caring for humanity mentality that it inspire them to create organisations and communities to give more to those in need.
5. Social Connection – Making connections with strangers and acquaintances along as scheduling time for the people in your life. We are encourage to connect with people even if it means giving a smile to a little girl in the train station. Though with this pandemic, we are all hiding our smiles behind our masks. It could also be striking conversations with people beside us in airport seats or MRT. There is in fact a study about the increase of level of happiness for people who were asked to strike conversation with the person beside then in MRT ride and a control group who would continue their routine of keeping to themselves. You will be surprised at the benefits of talking to strangers can result to a positive impact to your well-being.
6. Exercise – Increasing your physical activity to at a least 30 minutes a few times week can be a cheap happy pill. Exercise can increase endorphins which is also known to be a happy hormone. People who frequently exercise note declinein their mood if they fail to keep up with their regular fitness schedule
7. Sleep – Having a good quality sleep for at least 7-8 hours per night can provide mental clarity and can improve mood tremendously. We all know that lack of sleep can make us cranky but we still didn’t see a connection between sleep & happiness. If we have a proper sleep every night, it will provide a good mental state that would prevent us from low moods, lethargy and bouts of rage.
8. Meditation – Meditating for 5-10 minutes if you are a beginner and you can increase the duration of your meditation as you continue your practice shows improvement in a person’s wellbeing. Several apps like Calm, Headspace or Simple Habit are great apps to start your meditation practice.
Dr. Laurie Santos admits that knowing these facts is half the battle. She calls it the G.I. Joe Fallacy. We may be aware of the ingredients to happiness but it take effort to actually work on it daily. It is a constant struggle to make it about to practice these rewirements. There is an app Rewi designed by Dr. Laurie Santos to help rewire our habits and track our progress.
We think happiness should come easily but it looks like we are the ones that are making things more complicated to reach our happy zone. We have to remember that happiness is not a constant emotion. It would naturally wax and wane in our emotional state depending in our circumstances. Being human gives us this cauldron of emotions that we can feel and experience throughout our lifetime. But if we want happiness to a dominant emotion in our mental state practicing these retirement will achieve just that. Stay happy everyone!