Some people say that happiness itself isn’t really a thing – but we all know it when we feel it. What is true is that it’s never a permanent state that you can ‘level up’ to.
Your mood constantly shifts in the ebb and flow of life, but you’re not powerless in the face of events. There are ways you can create the conditions for those uplifting, energising moments of real happiness – read on to find out how…
Stop Moving The Goalposts You want to be successful, everyone does, but the trappings of success – status and money – are often a trap, because we grow into our new status and wealth. What we were impressed by, and happy with, often shifts once we get used to it. It’s human to always want more.
‘So many of use are looking outside ourselves for something to make us complete,’ the author of Inspirators, Pete Cohen tells RSNG.
‘So we think if our business is successful, if we hit these targets we will be successful. There is this constant anxiety for people because they never think they are where they need to be.’
Instead, practise living in the moment, and keep a gratitude journal, and you will find there are many reasons to be happy, right now, rather than always looking to the future.
You can consciously increase the value of beneficial experiences, with potential to create moments of happiness, by enriching and absorbing them into your own mind
Drink In Experiences Author Rick Hanson has noticed that experiences can only have lasting value if we fully absorb and appreciate them – but people are surprisingly bad at doing that. It’s as if your default setting never fully downloads, or installs your experiences.
Fortunately, Hanson believes that you can consciously increase the value of beneficial experiences – that have the potential to create moments of happiness – by enriching and absorbing them in your own mind.
How, then? ‘Lengthen: stay with it for five, 10, or more seconds. The longer that neurons fire together, the more they tend to wire together. Protect the experience from distractions, focus on it, and come back to it if your mind wanders,’ Hanson writes in his book Resilient.
Enriching can even work with experiences you’ve had before, if you freshen them. ‘Look for what’s interesting or different about an experience. Imagine that you are having it for the very first time.’
Then, consciously install the experience in your mind: ‘Tune in to whatever is pleasurable, reassuring, helpful, or hopeful about the experience. Doing this will tend to increase the activity of two neurotransmitter systems – dopamine and norepinephrine – that will flag the experience as a “keeper” for long-term storage,’ says Hanson.
Shift Your Mindset Evolution has hardwired you to respond to immediate threats, which is fine when fire-fighting problems, but less useful when finding a compelling purpose to live your life. The problem is that research shows those of us with a definite purpose are measurably happier.
‘The author of Think And Go Rich, Napoleon Hill said that he thought only 2% of people are inspired by a compelling vision, and have a definiteness of purpose, but we all can, although it isn’t easy,’ Pete Cohen tells RSNG.
Change often comes from unhappiness, or disaster. ‘Human beings do have the capacity for change but most of us change through desperation as opposed to being inspired and experiencing joy about something they are going to do or create.’
This can, actually, be positive but it depends on how you react: ’We tend to see the best in people when people are in a bad place – they tend to rise up and do things they wouldn’t normally do,’ says Cohen.
‘The real Inspirators might have been driven by fear or loss but ultimately they will have been driven by a vision of doing something better.’ So, put time aside to dream, to come up with ideas and form your own vision.
Of the 800,000 people who took their lives in 2012, 80% were men
Talk And Ask For Help Pressure is the enemy of happiness. Men, in particular, are good at the kind of tunnel vision that gets things done, but it doesn’t always serve our happiness and mental health well.
‘Men are at their best when they are driven by something,’ says Pete Cohen. ‘Men are very good at focusing on things to the exclusion of everything else. That’s why we’re good at hunting – we couldn’t get distracted. But the fact is that men need to talk.’
The fall out from unsustainable mental pressure, of all kinds, on men is truly terrifying. ‘Of the 800,000 people who took their lives in 2012, 80% were men,’ points out Cohen.
So, be prepared to admit your unhappiness and you’ll feel better for it, and more able to take happiness from where you can find it.
Draw On The Power Of Your Network We usually think of networks in a career or work context, but our social networks have the power to make us happy. We’re social animals and a 2010 Brigham Young University review of 150 studies on 300,000 people showed that those of us with strong social ties – defined as a few friends with strong connections – have a 50% better chance of survival.
But don’t just passively sit and wait for a chance to build your social network, especially if you have moved somewhere new or old friends have less time to spend with you.
‘Be proactive and creative in connecting people in your network. Decide on something cultural you would like to do – e.g. go to the theatre or see a film or art exhibition – and invite people who you believe will get along and whom you'd like to get to know better.’
‘The dynamic of giving and receiving drives social networks,’ write Claire Dale and Patricia Peyton in Physical Intelligence.
Whatever route to new moments of happiness you take, whether that’s finding a new purpose, maximising your everyday experiences, or leaning on the shoulders of your friends, remember that no one can be happy all of the time – but we all have the power to change our own minds, for the better…
WHAT NEXT? Want to find out more about how you can upgrade your mental wellbeing? Then check out these insights from the ‘Dr Of Happiness’ Andy Cope’s new book.
Comments are for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations.