Everybody just wants to be happy. With all the advances we’ve seen in the past one hundred years, you would think we would be the happiest bunch of people in history. But we’re not! So why aren’t we? Hearing about a recent suicide really got me thinking about our difficult search for happiness.
We should be the happiest we’ve ever been. Unfortunately, it appears to be the opposite. One in ten Americans take antidepressant medication now. The number of women in their forties and fifties taking antidepressants is one in four. The most common psychological illness among children in America is anxiety, and one in twenty-five children take antidepressants. The rate of antidepressant use among Americans has increased almost 400 percent in the past two decades.
One thing that is painfully obvious is that we tend to look for happiness in all the wrong places. We have this idea that more money is the answer, or a new house, a different job, or fame. We have seen so many examples of how wrong that way of thinking is.
When Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, he used the phrase “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” An interesting fact that helped me to rethink happiness is that back then, the word pursuit did not mean “to chase.” It was used to describe the practice of something. Examples would be the pursuit of medicine, or the pursuit of law, to describe the practice of both. It is very helpful to shift your thinking from pursuing, or chasing, happiness, to actively practicing happiness. Happiness is not just something that happens to you. It is something that you make happen.
According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., author of the great book The How of Happiness, there is a scientific approach to increasing your happiness. Interestingly, 50% of a person’s happiness is determined by genes, only 10% comes from our life circumstances, and amazingly, 40% comes from activities we choose. How cool is that? We have a great deal of control over our level of happiness.
She lists and explains a dozen activities proven to boost happiness. The first is something I’ve written about numerous times… expressing gratitude. It’s simple, quick, free, and can be done anywhere. Thinking about the things you are grateful for in your life boosts your level of happiness (along with your immune system).
She also says you need to stop overthinking and making social comparisons. This is a big one. Stop comparing yourself to your neighbors and friends. You should be striving for constant self-improvement, meaning competing against yourself, not others. There will always be someone who has a bigger house, a fancier car, or makes more money than you do… always. So, stop comparing, and your happiness will go up.
The last activity she lists, and one of my favorites, is taking care of your body and soul. The acts of meditation, exercise, and going to church all improve happiness. Engaging in the wellness lifestyle that I teach will, along with numerous other benefits, boost your happiness.
We are getting sicker, fatter, and sadder as a society. These things don’t just happen. While you may think the answer is found in a pill, or are waiting for your happiness to just spontaneously improve, you have to start actively practicing happiness. A happier, healthier, and all-around better you requires some effort. Start today with one of the above-mentioned activities and feel a lift in your level of happiness. Pick up Dr. Lyubomirsky’s book, and get excited about the fact that you do have control over how happy you are.