International World Happiness Day

Everyone wants to be happy – it’s something that we all share as human beings. However, on this International World Happiness Day, for many of us, a quest to reach exhilarating happiness highs often ends in disappointment. This is because happiness is not a destination or endpoint that we can reach and hold on to. It’s the art of living day to day and finding joy and contentment in the present moment.

We often hear people say, ‘I’ll be happy when…’ or ‘When this work project is over, I’ll be happy then…’ or ‘When we go on holiday, I’ll be happy then….”. We have cultivated this society of waiting, waiting for things to start or to finish before we can finally feel a sense of happiness. And that’s the thing, there is always something else, there will always be another thing we work towards or feel we have to get to before we can be truly happy. We enter this vicious cycle of never being truly present in our days and forget the importance of the process of life.

“Life isn’t about having, it’s about being… The ‘If I just had X, I would be happy’ syndrome is a mass delusion. When you look for happiness in mere objects, they are never enough. Look around. Look within”

– Nick Vujicic

The 20th of March 2022 marks World Happiness Day. Since 2013, the word ‘happiness’ has occurred more frequently than the term ‘Gross Domestic Product’ (GDP). Research has shown that happiness has come to the forefront for researchers, practitioners and key policymakers. Across the world, the frequency of the occurrence of the word ‘happiness’ has seen an increase across languages (Figure 1.1.). There have been huge drives to push wellbeing initiatives in the workplace, community, sport and education. We now have a whole science dedicated to the study of happiness and wellbeing called Positive Psychology which was founded by Professor Martin Seligman. Seligman advocated that the science of psychology spent too long focusing on the study of weakness, disorders and deficits after World War 2. Now, there is a new era of psychology exploring human strengths and potential. Happiness, wellbeing and life satisfaction are terms that are interchangeably used, however, they offer the same underlying aim which is to encourage each and every human to lead a meaningful, happy and purposeful life. 

Figure 1.1. Frequency of the occurrence of happiness across languages

Key message:
Happiness is not a destination, it is our day to day living, with each day taken one at a time as we learn to accept the highs and lows of life.

Different Types of Wellbeing

Yes, we have two main different types of wellbeing, they are called hedonic and eudaimonic wellbeing. Hedonic wellbeing refers to the focus on the pleasure element, the avoidance of pain and the attainment of pleasure. It can also be referred to as our subjective wellbeing and our evaluation of life. Imagine hedonic wellbeing as having a glass of coke, fresh lemon and ice on a sunny day, it hits you right at the sweet spot and cools the body for a short period of time. However, this sensation doesn’t last and next thing we want something else. While eudaimonic wellbeing refers to our meaning, self-realisation and drives towards something greater than ourselves. This type of wellbeing is also referred to as Psychological Wellbeing as it focuses on the strengths and resources, authenticity and purposefulness we derive from life. Research has shown that eudaimonic wellbeing, having a sense of purpose and meaning in life is more important for positive wellbeing than searching for hedonic hits.

Key message: We have two types of wellbeing, hedonic (pleasure) and eudemonic (meaning). We get more from life from creating meaning and purpose, rather than searching for pleasure. Find activities and build a life that gives you meaning and purpose. 

We Adapt to the Good

Ever feel like you adapt to situations? Imagine you were given excessive amounts of your favourite chocolate bar every single evening, no restrictions and the amount was endless. How long before you get used to or adapt to the positive feelings elicited? This is similar to athletes or high performing individuals who adapt to the thrill of chasing a particular goal until it becomes not enough, and they want more. In positive psychology, we often refer to the hedonic adaption whereby individuals have their own unique happiness setpoint or ‘baseline’ and regardless of what happens in their life they return to this point after time. Interestingly, researchers believe that this setpoint is influenced by genetics. From twin studies, this is estimated to be around 0.50.

However, our genes aren’t the only thing playing an influence on our happiness. The Sustainable Happiness Model proposes that there are three factors influencing our happiness, setpoint (baseline, as discussed above), one’s life circumstances and the intentional activities one engages with on a daily basis. As discussed above, the setpoint is thought to account for 50% of the variance in one’s happiness. A person’s circumstances account for 10% of individual differences in happiness such as demographics, personal experiences and life statuses like education, relationship, health and income. Then the final factor is intentional activities, this is by far our favourite messaging as it is the intentional things we do on a regular basis that are proposed to account for 40% of our happiness. This can be things such as exercise, meeting a friend, writing in a diary or pursuing meaningful projects. Although there are some disparities around the exact figures which fall into the three factors, this model offers individuals a chance to recognise different areas of life which can contribute towards greater wellbeing. 

Key message:
Through intentionally planning everyday activities, we can boost our happiness. Plan your day with activities which give you a sense of meaning and joy.

Happiness Tools

We have three very simple and effective tools which can be used in everyday life to promote happiness. These include:

  1. Three Good Things
    Every day write down three things which went with reasons why. This can be before bed every night, at the dinner table, or first thing in the morning to align your thoughts to be present and to the good in life. Research has shown the three good things exercise improves happiness up to 3-months after completing the exercise. It is simple, brief and you can do it anywhere in less than 3-minutes. 
  2.  Write it down
    Start the day with writing down ‘I can’ and ‘I will’. Journaling how you feel, what you are thinking and writing some of your thoughts down can be a really effective way to self-regulate and understand how you are feeling. Get a nice journal, get some colours and document your feelings. Our brains naturally focus on danger and threat to keep us safe. Rewire this by writing down three things you’re grateful for every night. Scientists have suggested that building in this habit can bring lasting inner happiness as we refocus on the good stuff in our lives.
  3. Pause and Reframe your Thoughts
    Take time to be present – pause, take a few deep breaths, notice your surroundings, and connect with your emotions on a deeper level. Practising mindfulness has been proven to enable you to experience happiness on a more regular basis, and on a deeper level. If you catch yourself experiencing thoughts which aren’t helping you, reframe the thought into one which is constructive… for instance, ‘I am not good enough’, ‘I am learning a new skill and I am going to give myself time to learn’.

Happiness is a state which is never consistent. Imagine our happiness like a heartbeat, the heartbeat goes up and down, there is no straight line while we are living. Learning to accept the pulses, the pumping of blood through our veins is us learning to accept life for what it is. Create your own sense of meaning along the way and enjoy the adventure!