Our Intentional Activities Are The Key to Happiness

key to happiness

40% of our happiness is determined by our behavior. In fact, these intentional activities are the key to happiness.

I’m currently working through the Optimal Living 101 program by Brian Johnson, and he has stated that if there were one book (of the hundreds he has read) that he would recommend, it would be “The How of Happiness” by Sonja Lyubomirsky.  He states that the book will give you the key to happiness.  After such a high recommendation, I had to purchase it.

After reading it, I felt that it might be an appropriate book to present to you all as it might be helpful in some way with respect to your affair recovery, improving your relationship and of course improving your overall happiness level.

Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside claims that to her knowledge this is the first how-to-become-happier book authored by someone who has actually conducted research revealing how people can achieve a greater sense of happiness in their lives.  It is a bit scientific but not in a hard to understand way at all.  The science backs up her recommendations.

She has devoted her career to studying human happiness while trying to answer questions such as: What makes people happy?  Is happiness a good thing?  How can we make people happier still?  Why are some people happier than others?  Is happiness sustainable?  These are all questions that she addresses in her book.

According to her research, happy people:

  • Are more productive at work and more creative
  • Make more money and have superior jobs
  • Are better leaders and negotiators
  • Are more likely to marry and to have fulfilling marriages, and less likely to divorce
  • Have more friends and social support
  • Have stronger immune systems, are physically healthier, and even live longer
  • Are more helpful and philanthropic
  • Cope better with stress and trauma

 

Factors That Influence Happiness

The crux of her research suggests that our individual level of happiness are influenced by three primary factors, as depicted in the graphic below.

 key to happiness

 

1) Our Genetic Set Point

Fifty percent of our happiness derives from a genetically determined “set point,” Lyubomirsky writes:  “The set point for happiness is similar to the set point for weight. Some people are blessed with skinny dispositions: Even when they’re not trying, they easily maintain their weight. By contrast, others have to work extraordinarily hard to keep their weight at a desirable level, and the moment they slack off even a bit, the pounds creep back on.

So those of us with low happiness set points will have to work harder to achieve and maintain happiness, while those of us with high set points will find it easier to be happy under similar conditions.”

2) Our Life Circumstances

Life circumstances” determine a mere 10% of our happiness, Lyubomirsky continues:  “Only about 10 percent of the variance in our happiness levels is explained by differences in life circumstances or situations–that is, whether we are rich or poor, healthy or unhealthy, beautiful or plain, married or divorced, etc. If with a magic wand we could put [a group of people] into the same set of circumstances (same house, same spouse, same place of birth, same face, same aches and pains), the differences in their happiness levels would be reduced by a measly 10 percent.”

Lyubomirsky notes that this finding runs contrary to many of our efforts to obtain happiness:

 “One of the great ironies of our quest to become happier is that so many of us focus on changing the circumstances of our lives in the misguided hope that those changes will deliver happiness… An impressive body of research now shows that trying to be happy by changing our life situations ultimately will not work.”

Why do life changes account for so little? Because of a very powerful force that psychologists call hedonic adaptation…“Human beings are remarkably adept at becoming rapidly accustomed to sensory or physiologic changes. When you walk in from the bitter cold, the warmth of the crackling fire feels heavenly at first, but you quickly get used to it and may even become overheated…”

This experience is labeled physiological or sensory adaptation. The same phenomenon, however, occurs with hedonic shifts–that is, relocation, marriages, job changes–that make you happier for a time, but only a short time.  Even folks that have won the lottery report a year after winning the loot that their happiness levels are no more than people who had no such luck.

Although we may achieve temporary boosts in well-being by moving to new parts of the country, securing raises, or changing our appearances, such boosts are unlikely to be long-lasting. The primary reason is that people readily and rapidly adapt to positive circumstantial changes.

The implication is that almost all efforts to increase and maintain happiness through changes in life circumstances are doomed to fail. Even the most positive changes will eventually be taken for granted as we adapt to them, and their long-term impact on our happiness will be minimal.

3) Intentional Activities

The remaining 40% of our happiness is determined by our behavior. In fact, Lyubomirsky considers the intentional activities as the key to happiness.

We can’t alter our genetic set points, and changes in life circumstances don’t have a lasting impact on our happiness, but we can increase and sustain our happiness through intentional activities.

If we observe genuinely happy people, we shall find that they do not just sit around being contented. They make things happen. They pursue new understandings, seek new achievements, and control their thoughts and feelings.

Knowing this is great news as it means that all of us could be a great deal happier if we carefully scrutinized the precise behaviors and thoughts that very happy people naturally and regularly engage in.   Some of Lyubomirsky’s observations are that happy people…

  • Nurture and enjoy their social relationships
  • Are comfortable expressing gratitude
  • Are often the first to help others
  • Practice optimism about the future
  • Savor pleasures and live in the present moment
  • Make physical activity a habit
  • Are often spiritual or religious
  • Are deeply committed to meaningful goals

 

Now That I Know What the Key to Happiness is, How Do I Become Happier?

Lyubomirsky concludes that there are several “evidence-based happiness-increasing strategies whose practice is supported by scientific research.” These include:

1. Expressing Gratitude.  Count your blessings by expressing gratitude for what you have (either privately –through contemplation or journaling –or to a close other) or convey your appreciation to individuals whom you’ve never properly thanked.

2. Cultivating Optimism.  Keep a journal in which you imagine and write about the best possible future for yourself or practice by looking at the bright side of things.

3. Avoiding Over thinking and Social Comparison.  Cut down on how often you dwell on your problems and compare yourself to others.

4. Practicing Acts of Kindness.  Do good things for others, whether friends or strangers, either directly or anonymously, either spontaneously or planned.

5. Nurturing Relationships.  Pick a relationship in need of strengthening and invest time and energy in cultivating it.

6. Developing Strategies for Coping.  Practice ways to endure or surmount a recent stress, hardship, or trauma.

7. Learning to Forgive.  Work on letting go of anger and resentment towards others who have hurt or wronged you.

8. Increasing Flow Experiences (being absorbed in the present).  Look for activities at home and work that truly engage and challenge you.

9. Savoring Life’s Joys.  Pay close attention, take delight, and go over life’s pleasures and wonders –through thinking, writing, drawing, or sharing with another.

10. Committing to Your Goals.  Pick one, two, or three significant goals that are meaningful to you and devoting time and effort to pursuing them.

11. Practicing Religion and Spirituality.  Becoming more involved in your church, temple, or mosque, or reading and pondering spiritually-themed books.

12. Taking Care of Your Body.  Engage in physical activity, meditation, smiling and laughing.

In the book Ms Lyubomirsky describes in great detail precisely what these somewhat generic terms mean in this context, provides a rationale for why they work (typically drawing upon examples from her research), and explores what they might look like in practice.

She doesn’t say that these are the only meaningful happiness strategies, but separately they meet her standard for being “evidenced-based,” and together they constitute a list sufficiently broad “so that every individual could find a set right for him or her.”

One important element that is noted by Lyubomirsky is that she believes it’s essential to choose happiness strategies that best address the sources of our unhappiness, that take greatest advantage of our strengths, talents and goals, and that can be adapted most readily to our needs and lifestyle. She offers a Person-Activity Fit Diagnostic and encourages readers to focus on the four strategies with the highest “fit scores.” 

It’s evident through Lyubomirsky’s years of research that our intentional activities have a profound effect on how happy we are – even after suffering a significant trauma such as infidelity.  Even the happiest people (in her research) have their share of stresses, crises and tragedies, but their secret weapon is the poise and strength they show in coping in the face of challenge. 

It’s clear that the key to happiness involves establishing new healthy activities, such as savoring the moment, looking on the bright side or practicing forgiveness as they make a good deal of difference in our happiness, but the key is to make it a habit of doing them.  Once done, you can have the power to achieve real and lasting happiness.

For more information or to purchase “The How of Happiness,” click here.

 

 

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5 Responses to Our Intentional Activities Are The Key to Happiness

  1. ChangedForever October 1, 2012 at 7:54 pm #

    The title caught my eye. (Good for you Doug to work on bettering yourself.) i never know if my H is doing anything to help himself…
    ‘Intentional activities…’ I always considered my H’s affair and actions during and after i found out as ‘intentional.’ So it took a few moments for me to digest this article’s title.
    I always thought i was good at practicing all of the 12 steps mentioned in this article….still am, except for that dang number 7….
    Its just hard/in fact impossible…to let go of not so much the anger towards my H…but towards the AP…just not gonna happen…. Oh well, will have to settle for being the best at only 11 of these points (i can live with that.)

    • Doug October 2, 2012 at 7:29 am #

      Thanks ChangedForever. Yes, the reason for the title doesn’t really appear until about two thirds of the way through. That makes it a real nail biter. ;-) Anyways, number 7 can certainly be a tough one for those trying to recover from infidelity, but I’m sure you realize that you can’t force it if you’re not ready. Just remember that Lyubomirsky feels “…it’s essential to choose happiness strategies that best address the sources of our unhappiness.”

  2. Natalia October 2, 2012 at 1:19 pm #

    I need to work on #7 and #12. I’m on the road to forgiving my H for his “intentional activities” and I’ve started taking care of myself. Looking forward to completing these 2 tasks. Thanks Linda and Doug for this post.

  3. Hopeful October 2, 2012 at 3:36 pm #

    7 is hard but I’ve realized not doing so is like poisoning myself. There is comfort in maintaining a self-righteousness hatred, especially of the AP, but, alas, those people don’t matter at all (provided your partner has fixed their issues and created appropriate boundaries). That person probably had a massive mental illness or issues they are suffering and even if not, who cares.

    So, forgiving is only useful to me.

  4. Amanda November 7, 2012 at 6:33 pm #

    I somehow missed this blog about finding the keys to
    happiness. I agree with these 12 steps.
    Step 12 is something I have neglected these past few
    months, and I can now feel it in my clothes, but it gives me a new goal to work towards. I can’t believe how easy a couple pounds is to put on. I regret not using this past summer towards my advantage, I normally lose weight
    because of being so busy. I was busy but the wrong type of busy, I had taken a couple of classes and the inactivity did a number on me.
    I had a memory of when I lost 28lbs in 3 weeks, because of
    the past, I remember those pounds fell right off, now that my life is settled I need to find a healthy way to lose
    that weight again. Darn sweet tooth.

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