Popular folklore would lead us to believe that Benjamin Franklin once said, “The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.” Unfortunately, Franklin probably didn’t say this (evident in the fact that the Declaration of Independence gives people the right to pursue happiness—not the Constitution), but whoever made it up had the right idea. More accurately (let’s hope), philosopher Aristotle said, “Happiness depends upon ourselves.”
Some people think happiness is completely reliant on circumstances, but, like Franklin’s misquote, that is also folklore. Actually, according to the Mayo Clinic, only about 10 percent of happiness is determined by circumstances. Furthermore, about 50 percent of happiness is genetic. That means that 40 percent is totally up to you. And fortunately, there are everyday acts you can do to make yourself happy—regardless of your situation. And we’re not making this up, as psychologists who study happiness, known as positive psychologists, have concluded that people can actually learn how to make themselves happy. If there was ever a lesson worth learning, this is it!
“I have a positive view of people. People have strengths, and when you’re stronger, you can do what you need to do on your own,” says Dr. Hugh A. Forde of Forde Positive Psychology in Ocala. Forde believes in an approach where he can teach individuals how to be resilient, better managing their minds and learning tools to build their own lives.
Forde, who has been a licensed psychologist for over six years, teaches his clients relaxation and coping skills to deal with the everyday stresses of life. He says that while different strategies work for different people, research suggests that doing things such as avoiding social comparison and having gratitude may make people happier. He also advises people not to overthink or listen to their negative internal voice, or as he calls it the “poisoned parrot”—you know, that nagging, negative voice in the back of your head that pops up whenever you doubt yourself or are afraid? That’s the poisoned parrot. And Forde says you can do something about silencing that inner voice.
“Learn to recognize the poisoned parrot and get rid of negative thoughts,” he says.
While striving to be happy, it’s equally as important to remember that happiness isn’t a destination—it’s more like a process that we have to actively work at. Research shows that it can also be beneficial, as happiness can make us more creative, sociable and even healthier.
Many people often look for support in their quest for happiness. Unfortunately, there’s a misconception that only people with diagnosable conditions or extreme life problems can benefit from therapy, but rest assured that isn’t the case. If you are just looking to be a happier person overall (who isn’t?), then talking to a professional might help.
“In the real world, there are a lot of shoulds and should nots,” says Dr. Forde. “When you come in here (his office), you can say whatever and not be judged.”
The Pursuit Of Happiness
The key to being happy isn’t too far away. In fact, there are a number of things you can do right now to increase your level of happiness. Try these simple things and we bet that your heart will warm, your frown will fade and you’ll feel that incredible emotion that we call happiness.
Mind Your Time
Too many people waste the opportunity of the present moment by dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Don’t be one of those people. Instead, practice mindfulness—being completely in the present. A study in which a group of biotech workers practiced being mindful for eight weeks found that mindfulness had a positive effect on mood. Try focusing on what’s important right now rather than stressing over last week’s didn’t-go-so-well work presentation or next month’s travel plans.
“Children have neither past nor future; they enjoy the present, which very few of us do.” -Jean de la Bruyere
Put A Smile On Your Face
Several studies (legit, scientific studies) have suggested that simply smiling can make people happier. Even if you aren’t in a particularly good mood, just forcing yourself to smile may actually cheer you up. Fun Fact
Not only can smiling make you happy, it can also make those around you happy. Research shows that smiling is contagious, as seeing a smile signals the brain to automatically smile back.
Get By With A Little Help From Your Friends (And Family)
No man is an island. Sure it’s cliché, but it’s true. Friends and family provide support when you’re down, share excitement when you’re up and lend an ear when you just want to chat. Surround yourself with positive people that make you happy—it’s human nature.
“Cherish your human connections—your relationships with friends and family.”
Do What You Love And Love What You Do
Have you ever started doing something enjoyable, became completely immersed in it and suddenly noticed that hours had passed? What you experienced is “flow,” and having more of it can contribute to your overall happiness. Psychologically speaking, flow refers to the state of being fully and effortlessly concentrated and satisfied. Kind of like LeBron James during playoff games or Meryl Streep whenever the director yells “action.”
Read All About It
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
It’s Better To Give Than To Receive
You know that amazing mood you’re in after you give your mom a lovely gift or when you volunteer at your favorite animal shelter? That, my friends, is happiness. Quick science lesson: When people help others their bodies release serotonin and endorphins, naturally giving us the feeling of pleasure. The hormone oxytocin is also released and is thought to make people want to be more generous. So go ahead and give—it’ll make the recipient, you and your body happy. That’s a win-win-win situation.
Fun Fact: When it comes to charitable donations and volunteering,
Utah is the most generous state in the nation. Salt Lake City, the state’s capital, was ranked as the most generous metropolitan area.
Research shows that expressing gratitude and being thankful for what you have can make you a happier person. Try writing thank you notes, being appreciative of life lessons or keeping a gratitude journal.
“Happiness is itself a kind of gratitude.”
-Joseph Wood Krutch
Work Up A Sweat… And A Smile
Remember those endorphins that are released when you help someone? Well, they’re also released after an intense workout, which can produce what fitness enthusiasts refer to as a “runner’s high.” Find a sport or workout routine that you enjoy, and go for it!
Read All About It Exercise for Mood and Anxiety: Proven Strategies for Overcoming Depression and Enhancing Well-Being
by Michael Otto and Jasper A.J. Smits
Catch Some Zs
Getting a good night’s sleep might seem like pretty basic stuff, but many people aren’t receiving enough of the precious slumber that our bodies require to properly function. Not surprisingly, sleep deprivation can affect your mood throughout the day, leaving you depressed, irritable and antisocial. An average adult needs seven to eight hours of quality sleep a day.
Fun Fact: A recent study found that sleeping right after learning something new will increase your chances of remembering the material.
Live On Purpose
Research suggests that there might be a link between living a purposeful life and being a happier person. One study found that individuals who reported having a meaningful life also reported fewer feelings of pain and anxiety. Not sure what your purpose is? You might need to look no further than your social interactions, as research also shows that a purpose is usually linked to relationships.
“Many persons have the wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.”