What is the secret to happiness?

I often ask my clients what makes them happy and I always get similar responses, “spending quality time with loved ones” is the most common answer.

Many research studies consistently suggest that positive relationships with people we care about is the highest predictor of happiness, something my anecdotal evidence backs up.

Of course, this is an oversimplification and happiness is an individual concept, but we get confused by messages from the media. We are told that beauty, money, cars, private jets and trainers will make us happy. It’s really important not to let someone else dictate what will make you happy, you need to identify your own happiness makers and then incorporate more of them in your life. 

Unfortunately, we often don’t do this very simple process of identification and implementation because it comes at a cost. Something is holding us back; we want the reward without the pain. The second most common response from my happiness question is, “doing something for themselves”, a hobby, such as playing the guitar, watching live sport, or horse riding but justifying the time or expense is a challenge. We know exercising more and sleeping better will increase our happiness but for some reason we continue to get to bed late and keep inventing brilliant excuses not to go for a run. 

However, we mustn’t fall into the trap of a checklist, if I just get a bigger house, just lose a stone, or get the right job, I would be happy. There are tons of motivational quotes out there to remind us that it’s all about the journey.

Psychologists, Brickman and Campbell proposed the concept of the Hedonic Treadmill in 1971. Their theory suggests that we have a default happiness setting and external influences can only change that setting temporarily. When someone wins the lottery, they feel very happy indeed – for a while! Then they revert back to their default setting. The same effect is shown when something negative happens, they feel sad for a while and then get back to their “normal”.

However, this underestimates the complex beasts that we are and is sadly negatively deterministic. Like the old adage ‘once a smoker, always a smoker’, I dislike that kind of fatalistic approach. More recent studies have shown that lasting change can happen. We can move our baseline and we may even have more than one baseline.

Sonja Lyubomirsky in her book, “The How of Happiness,” says that 50% is predetermined by your genes, 40% is your thoughts, actions and attitudes and 10% is external circumstances. A more positive theory and, therefore, what we need to change to have the biggest impact on our happiness levels is our interpretation of life, our attitude to trying new things, our resilience to negative external influences and the view we have of ourselves. Not easy stuff and not a quick process, but achievable none the less.

Making an effort to spend more time with those you love and nurturing them is one thing we can all do with perhaps little cost, it could be the first step to improving your overall mood. If you would like to go a step further and receive help to banish excuses, gain motivation, sleep better or get a more positive interpretation of life please get in touch via my contact page.