The Pursuit of Happiness

Be happy. Just be happy. Go be happy. Go find your happiness. Let your happiness lead you.

If you’re rolling your eyes, I get it. If only it was that simple. For some, it is that simple. And I would say they probably always had it and they are genetically predisposed to Be Happy.

For the rest of us, the pursuit of happiness is just that, a pursuit.

What is being happy?

I’m not sure we even know what we’re looking for and that we’d recognize it if we stumbled upon it. 

hap·pyˈhapē  -  feeling or showing pleasure or contentment

Not very helpful is it? Thankfully others felt the same way and dug deeper. Sonja Lyubomirsky, positive psychology researcher, describes happiness as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.”

Now we’re getting somewhere. It’s not the state of elation, which seems to be the few times we recognize happiness. Instead, it’s a much softer, quieter sense of contentment and living in purpose. Something we don’t typically recognize or acknowledge is occurring unless we create time to pause and reflect on the current state of being. I think happiness is more about satisfaction.

If you were raised to think “satisfactory” was anything but satisfying, that it’s synonymous with mediocre, not doing your best, or not doing good enough, then you might not know when you’re happy. Because your version of happiness needs to be something that is closer aligned to excitement and elation. These are tough experiences to always be “in” and sound a bit exhausting too.

Before we can BE happy, we need to learn to recognize happiness. It’s quite possible it’s sitting next to you right now, hanging out and waiting for you to say hello.

Why are we on the pursuit of happiness?

Research suggests happy people make more money and are more productive at work. They are more creative, more likely to get married (and have fulfilling marriages) and have stronger relationships with family and friends. And to top it off, they are better at coping with stress and trauma, more resilient, have stronger immune systems and live longer. So who wouldn’t want all that?!?

Did happiness create these wonderful characteristics in people or did these individuals already have these traits and therefore they are happy? Luckily psychologists wanted to know the causality as well. Lyubomirsky found that our happiness is roughly determined by the following:

  • 50% by our genes (predetermined)
  • 10 % by our life circumstance (out of our hands)
  • 40% depends on our daily activities (totally up to each one of us) – whew!

When I first learned this I wanted to know my genetic disposition. Where is the blood test that will tell me my genetic happiness scale so I know how hard I need to try to be moderately happy? I wanted a happiness version of the cholesterol test. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. Happiness is subjective and totally dependent on my own personal perception- darnit!

However, recently a test has been developed to try to answer if your personality determines your happiness. The test uses the Big Five personality traits: Extraversion, Neuroticism, Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, and Openness to Experience, and compares this to an individual’s well-being. Instead of just being asked “Are you happy?” (since many of us probably don’t realize it), it asks deeper questions regarding satisfaction with life, purpose, relationships and autonomy. The real stuff happiness is made of – intriguing stuff. If you’re curious, take the test here.

I have to admit I was a little irked hearing extraverted folks are happier (being more of an introvert), but when I found out it had more to do with the nuanced side of extroversion; enthusiasm verses assertiveness, I felt a bit better. Apparently more enthusiastic folks are happier than assertive folks – hmmm, enthusiasm wins over bullish behavior (a topic for another blog).

Regardless of where you may fall on the genetic or personality scale that may (or may not) determine your happiness, we all want MORE happiness, right? So much so that Happiness has become a marketable commodity, just search Amazon for ‘happiness’ and you’ll see over 430k results.

Where do I find happiness?

It’s inside you. I know, not very helpful. Although its true, it makes me giggle a little when I say it.

This is exactly the question all the books on Amazon are trying to answer. But hopefully, by now you get that happiness is probably more available to you than you previously acknowledged. But if you still aren’t convinced, don’t worry; I’ll share a couple of my favorite tips and resources.

  • Breath. Really, just breathe for a bit. Deeply, richly, slowly, and quietly. Now contemplate life a bit. Think about what’s going right. What’s working (or at lease not totally failing). What are you grateful for?
  • Move around. Exercise. Do it regularly and consistently. Lots of studies show it increases happiness and self-esteem, reduces anxiety and stress, and can even lift symptoms of depression. I just like the way I feel after I exercise.
  • Connect with someone. Laugh. Repeat. Laughter gives such an amazing boost in any situation and brings in lightness. It gives us the room to take a step back and not take the situation or ourselves so seriously. And laughing with someone builds connection.
  • Cultivate synthetic happiness. I won’t try to explain here, just please watch this Ted Talk

There are LOTS more suggestions of things you can try to find happiness and bring it into your daily life. Good suggestions. And remember, it’s probably sitting next to you right now waiting for you to engage. If you don’t see it, try these out first before dropping a few hundred bucks on Amazon looking for the quick fix. If you do want more ideas, I’m happy to send them to you for free, just reach out.

If you want to take a Happiness Quiz, go here. And if you do, I encourage you to spend the $6 for the full report. Also, remember not to label yourself into a box, we can all shift if we are motivated.

As for me, I’m pretty happy with my happy test results. Not every day is a breeze but I know I have the coping skills and connection to friends to carry me through the rough spots. If you want a partner to help you do the same, I’m here.