Happiness is something we all strive for, but do you know the benefits it can bring; how happiness is a skill that can be learnt; and why all forms of happiness are not equal?
The benefits of happiness
Research shows happiness - positive emotions that fill you with a sense of wellbeing and contentment - is protective when it comes to your health. It strengthens your immune system, makes you less likely to experience depression, reduces aches and pains, protects your heart, combats disease and disability and even means you live longer.
Stress triggers biological changes in our hormones and blood pressure (e.g. feeling upset or angry can raise your blood pressure), but positive emotions seem to undo these effects, helping us recover more quickly, lowering blood pressure and risk for cardiovascular disease. Happiness also defuses difficult emotions - you can't feel positive and negative emotions at the same time (think of when you're able to look back at something tough and laugh!).
Happiness is not just good for your health it broadens your focus and expands your thinking. When you feel happier, you see the world with more possibilities and become more open to what's around you - it's like moving to a better vantage point. Happiness even means you'll have more friends as happier people are seen as more likeable and approachable!
Happiness is in reach for everyone. And the route to get there is often much simpler than you think. You have a choice in where you focus your attention and you can make a conscious choice to be positive. This means seeking out and noticing the good stuff rather than dwelling on or predicting the bad.
Although it might feel like happiness is down to what happens in your life, research proves that only 10% of our happiness is due to our external circumstances. With as much as 40% being linked to our intentional daily activities and the choices we make. More simply what we do or choose to do (the other 50% of our happiness levels is thought to come from our genes).
You don't have to wait for happiness to strike, happiness is a natural product of our choices, particularly the small choices that all of us make every day without noticing. You can learn to be happier with practice (a bit like learning an instrument); and brain scans show that with these practices not only do we feel happier (and reap the benefits) but it even changes the neural pathways of our brain.
If you want to make changes in your life so that you feel happier, it's the small steps that really count. And the good news is that you can start with them straight away. And small steps can lead to big changes.
The best route to happiness
Although any form of happiness is good, there are some routes to happiness that are more lasting. So we should be about aiming for the right kind of happiness. Research shows we quickly adjust to new life circumstance - for better or worse - and consider it normal. Although the human capacity to adjust can be helpful if things get harder, it also means that we quickly get used to many of the things that make us feel good.
This is called the "hedonic treadmill" - when you chase happiness it doesn't actually get you anywhere. The good feelings wear off and you end up no happier than you were before. The best route to happiness is not a direct one. It's like chasing the pot of the gold at the end of the rainbow - it keeps moving over the next hill.
It's therefore important to make your happiness choices wisely. Investing your time in doing things that lead indirectly to happiness (rather than a happiness fix). Where the feeling lasts and builds. For example investing in your relationships, practicing gratitude, choosing experiences over material items or helping others.It's these sorts of activities that give the greatest benefits.
Finally it's important to remember that happiness is not a permanent state, no-one feels happy all the time and that we all have a different definition of what happiness is and the things that make us happy. The key is to working out what makes you happy.
5 Day Happy
Thanks to all of those that took part in my 5 Day Happiness Challenge. I really hope you've enjoyed it and that you noticed a difference from completing the tasks. If you haven't signed up yet you can still take part here.