Updated 31 January 2014

Find your happy place

Your happiness level isn't set in stone, and it's a myth that you're either born naturally happy or you aren't, says Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness.

If you believe your happiness hinges on finding a better job, or you suspect you’re destined to have a downbeat disposition because your dad had one, think again.

“Your happiness level isn’t set in stone, and it’s a myth that you’re either born naturally happy or you aren’t,” says Dr Sonja Lyubomirsky, professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, and author of The How of Happiness.

For the past 18 years, Lyubomirsky has been conducting research on what makes people happy and ways they can be happier. Her conclusion: Only 10 percent of your happiness is influenced by life circumstances, such as your financial situation or marriage. And while genetics determines 50 percent of your happiness, a full 40 percent is within your control because it is influenced by what you do and how you think in your daily life. The first step: Choose to be happy. Then, take matters into your own hands.

Here’s how:

1. Do little acts of kindness for others Buy a friend flowers or help a colleague with computer problems. “Being kind and generous leads you to perceive others more positively and fosters a heightened sense of cooperation in your community,” Lyubomirsky explains. This in turn helps you feel connected to others, which contributes to a sense of belonging and well-being. Plus, “when you commit acts of kindness, you may begin to view yourself as an altruistic and compassionate person,” she adds, which can make you feel more confident, optimistic and useful.

2. Cultivate gratitude “By relishing some of the gifts of your life, you will be able to extract the maximum possible satisfaction and enjoyment from your circumstances,” Lyubomirsky says. So start a gratitude journal, in which you jot down three to five things you’re grateful for each day -- whether it’s that your spouse did the dishes after dinner, your best friend is always there for you or your leaky roof is finally fixed. Whenever possible, express your gratitude to the person who sparked the feeling as well. The gesture will make you both feel happier.

3. Set meaningful goals Pursuing a goal that you value gives your life a sense of purpose and gives you a feeling of control over your life. Plus, “following intrinsic goals -- goals that you pursue because they are inherently satisfying and meaningful to you - gives you something to look forward to,” Lyubomirsky explains.

4. Develop good coping skills “Having good coping skills will prevent bad stuff from affecting you disproportionately,” says Lyubomirsky. Start by cultivating strong problem-solving skills: brainstorming potential solutions, weighing the benefits and drawbacks of each and choosing the best course of action. That way you’ll be prepared when faced with a troubling situation that you have some control over. Then, for situations that you can’t change, learn how to distract yourself, reframe a problem in a more positive light or accept the situation gracefully.

“Some people are really surprised that they can make such a difference in their own happiness,” says Lyubomirsky. But the encouraging truth is, “How you think about yourself, your world and other people is more important to your happiness than the objective circumstances of your life.” By taking these steps, you’ll savour the positive experiences you have, minimise the bad stuff that happens and infuse your life with a greater sense of meaning, satisfaction and optimism.

- (Stacey Colino, Live Right Live Well/Health24)


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