We tend to define our lives by the pursuit of happiness. Will my job make me happy? Will my partner make me happy? If I have more money, will this make me happy?
But we fail to realise that happiness is not some nirvana we can only access when all our desires fall into place. Neuroscience dictates that 40% of our personal happiness is absolutely in our control, 10% is due to personal circumstance and 50% is in our genes.
The creators of the 'Action for Happiness' movement, along with the founders of behavioural change website 'Do Something Different' passionately believe in this research and want to teach others how to take this control into our own hands.
They believe that if we were all more proactive about our happiness then we would actually make the world a better place, and reduce this misery.
So backed by this science, they have created a six week Happiness Programme.
As a willing guinea pig, I signed up to what was essentially a series of text messages assigning me a task to do each day that would help me see how I could lift my own mood. These tasks are tailored to your needs and based off a questionnaire that assesses your range of behaviours and habits, and how flexible you are at changing these.
It took a few weeks for things to really fall into place, but at the end of this programme I've realised two very important lessons that proves absolutely, you can control your own happiness.
1. Happiness is the result of action
Within this, there are five helpful tips:
Do things for others:
'Action for Happiness' share that research has proved that doing something for someone else activates the same part of our brain as treating ourselves. When an act of kindness is carried out our brain associates this with pleasure, connection and trust. And the bonus is, endorphins are released in both people involved.
Connect with people:
'Action for Happiness' state that people with strong relationships are not only happier, but also live longer. If we build strong connections we obviously create more love and meaning in our lives and boost our self worth.
Happiness is also contagious. If you're happy and you connect with another person, their happiness increases by 15%. When that person connects with another, the second persons happiness increase by 10%. The third contact? 6%.
So get off Facebook, which is proven to increase feelings of depression, and network in the real world with real people. Spread that happiness.
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Exercise not only treats but also prevents depression. The endorphins released when completing physical activity can immediately lift our mood, along with improving your ability to sleep. Another bonus? It gives you the opportunity to unplug from technology!
Taking time to stop and appreciate what you do have, and what is great about your life can really help you navigate your way through hardship. In fact, psychological research shows that you can increase your happiness by a whopping 25% when you practice gratitude.
Expand your mind:
When you're engaged in a task and learning new things, you get a sense of accomplishment and pride which boosts your self-worth and, you guessed it, your happiness. According to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, when you're absorbed by a task even if you're left tired at the end, you emerge happier and energised, a condition he calls 'flow'.
2: Happiness is simply just a title for a set of coping skills
Society tends to view happiness as an end point or a singular, ultimate, achievement. But what I've learnt from the programme is that this idea of happiness is sadly very misleading. Happiness is really about being equipped to cope with life's ups and downs. It's a set of skills you have to learn so that when a challenge persists, you can navigate your way through.
Science has proved that these set of skills are absolutely able to be learnt too and it's due to the neuroplasticity of our brain, which shows we can actually learn to be more empathetic, appreciative and compassionate. Skills that make us happier.
'Action for Happiness' share plenty of facts relating to the idea that happiness is the result of mastering coping skills. They explain that if you have a 3-to-1 ratio of positive emotions you develop resiliency to adversity and are better able to achieve as a result. With an optimistic outlook you are better able to cope with tough situations.
So by taking action inspired by this programme I've definitely begun training my brain to react with positive thoughts.
While I haven't mastered all of the tasks above I have implemented more exercise and gratitude into my life. I'm walking to work and have even started running again. I find when walking to work and listening to music I'm able to practice gratitude.
With these two tasks alone, I have felt an intense lift in my mood and can say unequivocally that being involved in this happiness programme has genuinely, made me happier.
To get involved click here.