Happiness is loaded word. It means different things to different people, but its pursuit is a common thread among all of us regardless of gender, ethnicity, or age. Humans crave it. Maybe it’s because we’re addicted to the ‘feel good’ chemicals the brain releases when we’re happy (endorphin, oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine). Maybe it’s just part of being human. Yet, only 53% of the global population reports being happy and 300 million people suffer from depression. We may all want to be happy, but we’re not very good at achieving it.
A funny thing about happiness is its temporary. When we feel it. Life is glorious. We’re walking on sunshine. When we don’t. We feel empty. The world gets heavy. Since it comes and goes so quickly, we associate it with objects or experiences. We tell ourselves that weekend trip made us happy, we need to get out of town more. Or that car makes us happy, we need to buy more. Or fill in the blank. By tying our happiness to things and experiences, we put ourselves on a treadmill, constantly running towards the next thing or experience that will make us happy. It works – for a while. Then it becomes exhausting. Eventually we hop off the treadmill all together and are forced to get comfortable with the here and now. Cue the mid-life crisis.
It’s not surprising we’re obsessed with happiness. Not only does it feel good, it’s everywhere we look. Think of all the phrases and quotes we know by heart. Money can’t buy happiness (although recent research is disputing that). Happiness is inside us all (Trolls is amazing). Don’t worry, be happy. (Perhaps the best music video of all time. Hint Robin Williams!).
It sounds so simple. We can’t buy it, we all have it, and we just need to be it. In reality, happiness is elusive. There are countless books and speakers out there with advice, and a lot of it is very helpful. The common themes are to be grateful, exercise, have purpose in your life, and enjoy the moment. I try to practice all these things and like to believe they help, but something comes first. Before all of that, we must choose to be happy.
Dr. Mark Rowe explains how 50% of our potential happiness comes from genetics, 10% comes from our life’s circumstances, and an impressive 40% comes from within. That means if we do nothing, the best we can hope for is 60% of our potential happiness. But if we choose to act, (i.e. the list above), we can get closer to 100% of our potential happiness. The morale is – we can choose to move the needle. Of course, bad things will happen to us, but we CHOOSE how to react to them. We CHOOSE if we hold on to them (resentment). We CHOOSE to invest in our 40% (or not).
Remembering that we can influence our level of happiness is essential. It doesn’t mean being happy will be easy, but it does put us in the driver seat. It makes us responsible for our own happiness. And that’s a responsibility I will gladly own.
I’ll leave you with the wise words of Mark Rowe said, “Knowing that positive change is possible through the power of your own efforts can become the foundation of a self-fulfilling prophecy.”