“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony” – Mahatma Gandhi
In our recent survey on wellbeing, “feeling happy” was identified as being the most important aspect of their overall wellbeing – on par with feeling healthy and fit. But what does happiness mean? Is it the same for everyone? And how can we all take steps to feel a little happier?
What is happiness?
Most of us probably know when we’re happy. We can feel it! But you might use a load of positive emotions to describe it like joy, excitement, contentment, pride, to name a few. It’s not to say though that happy people can’t experience negative emotions such as sadness, anxiety or anger – but these are just less frequent.
Different views on happiness
Not all cultures view happiness in the same way. For example, when Russians were asked what they consider happiness to represent they described philosophical concepts like salvation, peace, natural beauty and a “mutual understanding amongst peoples.” On the other hand, Americans describe more concrete components like family, money, success, and fun.
Philosophers, musicians, world leaders, and everyone in between have all weighed in their own view of happiness. Here’s some of our favourite viewpoints…
"When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy.’ They told me I didn't understand the assignment, and I told them they didn't understand life."
Thich Nhat Hanh (Zen Master and spiritual leader)
“Many people think excitement is happiness…. But when you are excited you are not peaceful. True happiness is based on peace.”
“Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.”
Here, he describes happiness as more of a state of satisfaction, actually a neutral experience encompassing peace of mind, warm-heartedness, reduced distrust, a sense of sameness with fellow man and not better. Happiness is within, and there is a lot to be happy about.
Ed Diener (Dr Happiness)
Ed Diener – also known as Dr. Happiness – first used the term “subjective well-being ” to describe the academic study of happiness because it sounded more scientific.
According to Diener, happiness is a state in which there is:
- Frequent positive effects (pleasurable feelings)
- Infrequent negative effects (painful feelings)
- A sense that life is good
Diener says that people are happy if they think they are happy; or at least, each person is the best judge of whether they are in fact happy or not.
How can we measure happiness?
We can arrive at some measure of happiness simply by asking questions like
- “Are you happy”? or
- “How would you rate your happiness on a scale of 1-10?”
In our wellbeing survey, we did just that – asking people to rank their wellbeing against a 1-10 scale. Almost a quarter (24%) of our respondents evaluated their current state of wellbeing as a ‘7.’ This is an unsurprising result, as it’s not too high nor too low. It’s a good level of wellbeing.
However, an overwhelming 89% reported their wellbeing as below 9. This might make you question why most respondents do not believe they’re 90-100% well. Is ranking 7 on the wellbeing scale good enough for most people? If so, why is this an acceptable level of wellness to settle at?
What does happiness mean for our health and lifestyle?
Apart from focusing on mental wellbeing, happiness has a range of physical health and lifestyle benefits. Studies involving 275,000 people have demonstrated that happy people have stronger immune systems – and they may live longer. Overall, being happy seems to be as good as giving up smoking for longevity and health!
They tend to be more creative, are better leaders, more likely to marry and for those marriages to be fulfilling. The findings also reveal that happiness could equal helpfulness, as they’re more philanthropic (and make more money!)
Of course, there are medical, physical, and spiritual reasons why we might be not be happy and those things are very important. For example, mental health conditions, poor diet, toxins, pathogens, physical and psychological trauma, and social isolation can all play a part in someone’s ability to respond to emotions. For this article, we’ll focus on addressing ways we interpret our situation and how we can choose to see things in a different way in order to learn how to be happier.
What can we learn from happy people to be happier?
The very good news is there is quite a few things that can be changed in a lasting way in order to be to become happier. But a heads up – none of these changes come without some effort.
1. Practise acts of kindness
Be kind every day. People who volunteer or care for others are happier and less depressed. Caring can involve volunteering as part of an organised group or club, but it can be as simple as making eye contact and thanking someone for opening the door for you or reaching out to another person who seems lonely or is struggling. Pay it forward – you’ve got to give it to receive it.
Happy people are more forgiving than unhappy people. Holding onto feelings of resentment because of things or people that hurt us only serves to make us relive those experiences and we become good at doing that. To make the decision to forgive others releases us, but like anything else it takes some work to become good at it.
3. Savour the good times
Of course, the happiest people do still have their share of stresses. They may become just as distressed and emotional as you or me, but their secret weapon is the poise and strength they show to face the challenge. One way to do this is to savour life’s pleasures and counting your blessings.
Try keeping a gratitude journal where you jot down thoughts about what you appreciate in your life. Once a week is shown to be enough, as any more doesn’t tend to improve happiness.
Expressing empathy for another person means you can understand and share their feelings. If you can’t work out why someone is acting a certain why, you might find yourself judging them. Perhaps you think they’re overreacting? Just try putting yourself in their shoes and you might begin to see things from their perspective.
People who have one or more close friends they can rely on in times of trouble are happier. Active constructive responding is the ability to show genuine interest in what others have to say. It’s easy to mentally disengage from what others are saying in an attempt to come up with something more interesting to say next.
Responding encouragingly is a powerful way to nurture positive feelings. We all know the good feeling that comes when someone is really listening to you!
6. Eat well and keep moving
Regular exercise is associated with improved mental wellbeing and a lower incidence of depression. The highly regarded Cochrane Review, in an analysis of 23 studies on exercise and depression concluded that exercise had a “large clinical impact" on depression. Happy people make physical exercise a weekly and even daily habit.
Many studies are proving the ancient saying, “sound body, sound mind." The recent discovery of a ‘gut-brain axis’ is also showing that there might be a link between your digestive health and your emotional wellbeing. There’s even a possible link between excessive sugar consumption and depression.
7. Look forward
Having goals for the future can help motivate you and keep you happier. Whether it’s a short-term aim or lifelong objective, setting yourself a goal and committing to it is a key tenet to a happy life. It’s particularly motivating to imagine yourself achieving these goals – practising optimism works!
What makes you happy?
So, happiness isn’t about any one thing in particular – it’s personal and lots of little things are better than a few big ones. But like anything, change takes practise.
What makes you happy we would love to know your tips? Share our blog and let us know!
Take control of your health
Your mental and physical health are intertwined. You can’t maintain one without maintaining the other. With the Evergreen Life app, you can manage your mental and physical health easily by booking appointments online if you need one, ordering repeat prescriptions, and viewing your medical record – all from the palm of your hand. Take control of your health and download the Evergreen Life app today.
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Seliman Martin E.P, (2002) Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realise Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment, New York NY Free Press.
Frederickson, B. (2009) A positivity toolkit.
"Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (2003), Vol. 84, No. 2: 377–389.
Carter, C. (2008) "Forgive and... feel happier," Greater Good Magazine (online).
Lyubomirksy, (2010) The How of Happiness: A Practical Guide to Getting What You Want.