It’s one of life’s big questions… What is happiness? And how can we achieve more of it? As a Happiness App, we probably ought to have a point of view on the issue, so here goes…

In a nutshell, it’s complex. Everyone is different and will find happiness in different things, but it’s basically a combination of two things; experiencing more positive emotions than negative ones, and feeling satisfied with how your life is going in general. How happy you feel is something only you can really know, but a good chunk of what makes you happier is due to the way that you think about and react to the world. No matter who you are, or what your circumstances, you can increase your levels of day to day happiness by working on seven specific life skills. We call them the Seven Pillars of Happiness. We believe Happiness is a practice. Want to find out how? Read on… 

HAPPINESS IS 50% LUCK

Let’s start by looking at the word itself. In most European languages, English included, the word for happy used to mean lucky. German still uses the same word, “Glücklich” for both. And what is hinted at by etymology has been borne out by hard experimental data in psychology experiments. A good chunk of what’s responsible for our general day-to-day levels of happiness is precisely that. Luck. Delivered to us by the combination of our parents’ DNA. Some people are simply genetically more likely to get through the day with a smile and a whistle, while others will be more mopey on account of their genes. Nothing much we can do about that. 

But that’s by no means the whole picture. If you’ve done any research on the internet around the idea of happiness, you’ll probably have seen  a nice neat pie chart originally proposed in a 2005 paper by researchers Sonja Lyubomirsky, Kennon M. Sheldon, and David Schkade, which suggests that happiness is 50% down to your genes, 10% due to your life circumstances, and 40% down to intentional activity. As you might imagine, anything as seemingly neat and simple as a pie chart with percentage for something as complex as happiness has sparked lengthy debate in the academic community, and rightfully so. Putting aside methodological questions like the fact that the data comes pretty much exclusively from middle class white people, neither your circumstances, your mindset, nor your genetic makeup exist independently of each other. These waters are murky and well muddied,  but whatever the split is really, the fact remains that while our circumstances no doubt have a big effect on how happy we feel, it’s not quite as big as we think. Rich people ARE happier, but not by as much as you’d imagine.  

Hedonic Adaptation

Hedonic adaptation

Much of the reason that “stuff” doesn’t make us happy in any lasting way is down to something called hedonic adaptation. We are just too good at getting used to how things are in our life for them to make that much of a difference over time. A new iphone is great and all, but there’ll be another one out in a few months, and we’ll know all about it. The shiny new job we land eventually becomes just work. The new car is soon just the car. What actually makes the difference between people’s levels of day-to-day happiness is much more influenced by how we react to the world around us, than by the stuff in that world. 

Happiness is enjoying the journey

It’s a cliche because it’s true. Happiness is not a destination, it’s something that happens on the journey, if we can convince ourselves to take our eyes off the prize long enough to notice it. It’s about our experience, day to day. And it can be measured, or more accurately self-reported by looking at two basic areas:

Positive emotions

Do you feel the nice emotions (you know the ones.. joy, excitement, pride etc.) more frequently than you feel the nasty ones (anger, jealousy, hurt). 

Life satisfaction

Do you feel like you are progressing nicely towards the life goals you have set yourself? Are you satisfied with how it’s all going?

Ultimately how happy we feel is something only we can tell ourselves. Happiness Is  hard to put your finger on, or draw a pie chart about, but most of us know it when we feel it, and learning to recognise the things that give us positive emotions, and contribute to our life satisfaction gives us a serious advantage when it comes to making our lives more enjoyable.

THE SEVEN PILLARS OF HAPPINESS

Pillars of happiness

So if we can have an impact on how happy we are in life by changing how we look at the world, and how we react to it, then what kinds of skills are needed? We based the Mindshine App around the seven abilities which we feel are indispensable in this pursuit.

1) Self Awareness

What works for a Californian High-schooler is not necessarily going to work as well for a granny from Beijing. We are all different, and ideas of what creates happiness vary hugely from person to person, and culture to culture. The most fundamental skill you can develop if you want to increase your happiness is self-awareness. Remember, only you know if you’re happy, and if you don’t know who you are, or who you want to be, or what you’re feeling, or if you’re progressing, you won’t do a very good job of knowing what needs changing.

2) Productivity

Once you know who you want to be, and how you want to develop. You’re going to need to do the work to get you there, and this work is going to go a whole lot smoother and quicker if you have the right tools under your belt. Also, self-development and achievement bring with them their own prizes in the form of motivation and satisfaction. Progress brings happiness.

3) Resilience

It’s not all going to be plain sailing. You’re going to have to deal with setbacks and stress on this personal journey. Happiness is not wallowing in the inevitable problems on the way, it’s learning, and bouncing back better.

4) Mindfulness

At the end of the journey it’ll be too late to enjoy yourself. Learn how to enjoy the moment, don’t miss the good times because you’re so focussed on the future. Learn to regulate your nervous system, deal with stress better, and live happy in the now.

5) Positivity

How you feel about your life is a story you tell yourself. Tell a good one.  It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

6) Self-Belief

So much of what makes us unhappy comes from the crappy way we have learned to speak to ourselves over the years. You are worth it. Treat yourself with love and compassion. Silence the inner critic. Encourage yourself. Learn confidence.

7) Connection

We are social animals. Our happiness is enormously dependent on how connected we are with ourselves and those around us. Fuller, better, more open relationships  are vital to a happy life.

HAPPINESS IS WORK

Perhaps the most important thing to say after all that, is that the path to happiness isn’t easy. Although it is a little easier for those lucky few who won the 50%(ish) genetic lottery! There are no shortcuts. Like saving money, or losing weight, or learning the guitar, if you want to improve your day-to-day levels of happiness, then you have to put in regular effort. And just like those other things, the progress is incremental, and sometimes happens so gradually you barely notice, but if you can do regular bits of work in these seven areas of your life, you’ll soon start to feel the difference. Ultimately, we believe that 

Happiness isn’t a feeling, It’s a practice.


Download the Mindshine app (iOS or Android) for more mindfulness and happiness exercises that help you find out what you believe and who you are.

Check out the first part about Belief Systems, or how to turn positive stress into personal growth.