I read a quote the other day that said “happiness is going to bed & looking forward to tomorrow”. I’m sure most of us feel like this at least sometimes… Maybe on a Friday night knowing the next day is the weekend. But is it really possible to feel like this every night? Should this be our goal in life? To always feel ‘happy’ and excited and cheerful?
The research says that being happy doesn’t necessarily mean only ever feeling positive emotions. In fact, the true definition of happiness is not about constantly smiling and feeling positive but rather having an overall feeling of content and living a meaningful life, and feeling the full spectrum of emotions as part of this. This makes sense when you think about it because without feeling sadness how would you really be able to appreciate feeling joy? It also just doesn’t seem realistic with all that goes on in the world to never feel anger, grief or pain.
So what should we be aiming for then? Well according to American Psychologist, Barbara Fredrickson, a ratio of 3:1 of positive emotions to negative emotions is the ideal. So you might feel annoyed, stressed or angry throughout the course of the day but as long as you feel hopeful, inspired, excited, interested or amused three times as much then you would be considered ‘flourishing’ or having an overall sense of happiness.
But I think there’s more to happiness than simply feeling positive emotions more often than negative emotions. And rather than thinking of happiness, I think it’s more useful to consider your overall wellbeing. One model that I really like is the Sovereign Wellbeing Index which considers aspects such as how often you use your strengths, how purposeful you feel your life is, how strong your social relationships are, and how engaged you feel in daily life. Sovereign are doing a really cool initiative where they’re measuring the wellbeing of New Zealanders to get a snapshot of what our quality of life is like and what could be done to help Kiwis get more out of life. Take the quiz at mywellbeing.co.nz to see how your wellbeing compares to other New Zealanders.
So what can we do to improve our happiness and overall wellbeing?
According to the Mental Health Foundation of NZ, there are 5 key ways to wellbeing:
Give – whether it’s volunteer work or giving your time to a friend or family member, giving makes us feel good and helps us to feel a sense of purpose in life.
Be Active – I always remember Elle’s quote in Legally Blonde… ‘Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t.’ Of course being active doesn’t have to mean doing cross fit or boot camp 5 times per week. For me, I just love to go for walks with friends. I know I always feel good afterwards. Probably because I’m also doing the next one below…
Connect – feeling connected to others is a basic human need. Whether it’s being with friends and family or even smiling at a stranger on the street, making connections is a powerful way to boost your mood.
Keep learning – the happiest people are always curious for new information, experiences and opportunities. Learning doesn’t have to stop when you finish school or university… Learning could even be happening right now as you read this blog!
Take Notice – gratitude and being present in the moment have got to be 2 of the most key ingredients to feeling true happiness and joy. I heard once that it is impossible to feel depressed and grateful at the same time, so if I’m ever feeling down I try to think of something to be grateful for. There are actually so many things for every single person to be grateful for when you think about it no matter what’s going on in your life.
And here’s a fun fact – for every one happy friend in your social network, your own chance of being happy rises by 9%. So you’d better share this post and spread the happiness tips!