Can We Learn to be Happy?

According to different research studies, close to 50% of all differences between people’s levels of happiness depend on a fixed range or a set reference point, in other words our biology or genetics.

These studies also showed that only 10% of discrepancies in levels of happiness can be explained by differences in life circumstances: being rich or poor, healthy or sick, being beautiful or plain (according to society). This means, only 10% are considered social factors.

The remaining 40% of our happiness depends on our behaviour that makes up our thoughts and actions in our everyday lives.

So, how can we learn to be happy?

The first program for learning to be happy was pioneered by the psychologist Dr. Michael Fordyce. His theory is based on a very simple premise: If you can do what happy people do, then you can also be happy. After analysing people who are subjectively considered happy, he came up with a list of 14 fundamental traits for his training program.

These include:

  1. Be more active and keep busy.
  2. Spend more time socialising.
  3. Be productive at meaningful work.
  4. Get better organised and plan things out.
  5. Stop worrying.
  6. Lower your expectations and aspirations.
  7. Develop positive and optimistic thinking.
  8. Focus on today.
  9. Work on a healthy personality.
  10. Develop an outgoing and social personality.
  11. Be yourself.
  12. Eliminate negative feelings and problems by not bottling things up.
  13. Nurture close relationships.
  14. Value your happiness.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, a university professor of psychology and author, proposes her own program which is also based on a list of activities that one can start developing to live a happier life:

  1. Express gratitude. To be happy, we should value and be grateful for what we have. This will help us enjoy our positive experiences and avoid complaining.

    One simple exercise to introduce the habit of being grateful can be done with the following activity: before going to sleep at night, go over three good things that happened during the day that you are grateful for.
  2. Be optimistic. It is suggested to create a journal where you write about your “best possible selves”. This involves visualising and writing about how we want to be in the future (not material aspects but our behaviour and attitudes that we would like to develop).
  3. Avoid social comparisons. Comparing ourselves to everyone else is sure to make us feel badly. The challenge is to become the best version of ourselves apart from what everyone else does. When we are bombarded with comparisons, we can focus on our positive aspects and good memories or ideas.
  4. Be kind. Studies highlight that being generous and considerate towards other people considerably increases our own happiness.
  5. Care for your relationships. Dedicating time to communication, showing support and loyalty are some activities that effectively increase our happiness.
  6. Develop coping mechanisms. Coping refers to keeping in mind that there will always be pain and stress as a result of negative things that happen. Denying this reality only produces conflicts and for this reason, it is recommended to seek methods for expressing our pain and handle it in a positive way.

    There are many kinds of coping mechanisms that can be good for different people. These may range from having a good conversation to any kind of artistic expression like writing or painting.

  7. Learn to forgive. People who learn to forgive show a decrease in their negative emotions and an increase in their self-esteem and hope. There are a variety of exercises for learning to forgive such as writing an apology letter or visualising the forgiveness scenario.
  8. Enjoyment can be defined as any thought or behaviour capable of generating, intensifying or prolonging pleasure. Activities like celebrating successes no matter how small, reminiscing about successful experiences with family and friends and among many other positive things.
  9. Make commitments. Commitments to oneself and properly identifying personal objectives are directly related to the degree of personal satisfaction and self-esteem.
  10. Take care of your body. Meditation, physical activity and proper hygiene are habits that help us feel better.

The American psychologist and professor at Harvard University, Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, is currently considered a world reference on teaching happiness. The following are just some of his many suggestions for living a happier life:

  • Do physical exercise. Thirty minutes of exercise a day is the best antidote for sadness and stress.
  • Eat breakfast. This helps to activate your energy and thoughts as well as carrying out your daily activities successfully.
  • Make a list of the things that make you happy. He recommends that you write down 10 things on a piece of paper that make you happy and that you feel grateful for.
  • Be assertive. “Ask for what you want and say what you think”.
  • Spend your money on experiences not on things.
  • Face your challenges “don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today”. He also recommends writing down a list of weekly tasks to complete.
  • Post nice memories, phrases and pictures of loved ones around your house or work: on the fridge, on your desk, bedroom walls, etc.
  • Acknowledge and be kind to other people. Simply smiling can change your whole mood.
  • Walk confidently standing up straight with your shoulders moved slightly backward and focus on the path ahead. This can help boost your mood.
  • Listen to music.
  • Eat a little bit of everything.
  • Dress yourself so that you feel attractive.
  • Wear comfortable shoes because if your feet hurt you, you will most likely be in a bad mood.

So, what do you think about all of these suggestions? What do you do that makes you happy? Share your opinion and leave a comment below!

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