Happiness. There are thousands of books on the subject. Books teaching us how to be happy to explaining why we’re not. Everyone just “wants to be happy” but what does it even mean? Everyone’s definition is different as happiness means different things to different people. Most of us though would rather not be alive than be alive and miserable. For most of us, happiness is essential for life. Yet there are a lot of people out there who believe being miserable is the key to happiness. Working at a job you hate because it’s prestigious and gives you money makes people happy because society thinks highly of them and that’s what they want. I’m not one to tell people how to be happy but that just doesn’t seem healthy.
Our society has morphed into one of instant gratification. We see each other on Instagram, our curated lives and we try to make our best versions of ourself to get the most amount of likes so people KNOW we are happy. People complain that nobody puts sad photos on Instagram or real-life photos. Well, do you put sad moments in a frame and hang them on your wall? I don’t think so. I don’t see that as the problem, I just see competition on who is the happiest, most glamorous, most liked and most followed.
So, if everyone’s happiness definition is different, how can we make sense of anything? What determines if someone is really happy? Genetics plays a small but important role in everyone’s happiness levels. Studies have shown that the gene, 5-HTT is linked to predisposing people to being naturally happy. It is involved with the transport of serotonin. You have two of these genes and if one is longer, or if they both are, it leads to a more efficient release of serotonin. However, that doesn’t mean you’ll never get the blues nor does it mean if your genes are shorter, you’ll never be happy. It only means that people with longer 5-HTT genes may be more inclined to be optimistic and look at the positives and may influence people’s reaction to stressful situations in life. You have to take into account that happiness is far to complex to be so black and white. These studies are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the study of happiness.
Don’t fret if you find yourself to be more pessimistic and glum, though your body may have give you the short end of the gene-the brain also gives you neuroplasticity which means it can learn from experiences. You can actively ‘rewire’ your brain to choose happiness. Here are some ways that can be done via Rick Hanson, author of ‘Hardwiring Happiness’.
One of the first steps is to recognize your negativity bias. For example, you may get 100 compliments in a day but remember the one negative one instead. Our brains are really out to get us and are on the lookout for bad news. This comes from our ancestors and the fact that they had a pretty rough go of it. They did not have the luxury of turning on Netflix after a long day of searching for food and running from animals in the wild. Even though we aren’t on a constant lookout for predators, our brains are still wired as such. So what can we do to fight this hardwired response? Hanson says to not over analyze or spend too much time thinking about the negative. Your brain is already doing that for you. Focus on positive things as well when you get negative feedback. Choose the battles you obsess over by remembering the positive.
Another tip Hanson gives is to not just think positively, but think realistically. Many wonderful things happen to us daily and often we don’t allow ourselves to stop and enjoy them. You had one argument with your significant other over the weekend but a hundred good times during the week, once again don’t obsess over the negative.
Lastly, Hanson says to follow the 10 second rule. When you receive a compliment, relish in it for at least 10 seconds. In my two cents, remember to say thank you instead of being self-depreciating. To me, that’s taking the value of what the other person said and squashing it. Anyway, when someone says something positive about you, soak it in for 10 seconds. That’s about the time it takes he says for short-term memory to buffer long-term storage.Make those synapses wire together to strengthen your brain.
I have a few more tips of my own for you that you can start trying out immediately! I’ve always been prone to happiness and while I have no idea what role genetics plays in it, it’s a subject that has always interested me. Here are a few things I’ve learned that work for me that can hopefully be beneficial to you.
I’ll Only Be Happy If
That sentence is the beginning of the end. Like a video on loop, if we tell ourselves this then nothing will make us happy. Even once we achieve X, we’ll be onto Y and Z and the alphabet begins again for the rest of our lives. We cannot chase happiness. Sure, would I love a million dollars in my bank account (heck, I’d take an extra thousand!) but should I base my happiness on just that? Of course we want to succeed and achieve things but find what you can be happy about now, consistently and let everything else be a bonus.
What Is Your Criteria For Success
Is it only wealth? Sometimes we get caught in the trap that our criteria for happiness is the same as our criteria for failure. We tie happiness to a specific outcome which can cause problems as life constantly throws us curve balls and things don’t always go as planned. Being happy during the process and despite the outcome leads to a healthier sense of self and our goal. For instance, I am searching for a position in a career I enjoy. Even though I have heard quite a few no’s since I’ve started, I cannot let it get me down. I cannot base my entire sense of happiness on whether or not I get my dream job. What I can do though, is be proud of the journey I’m taking, the progress I’ve made and everything else in my life that brings me happiness.
What You Have Now Was Once A Goal
As I said before, it is human nature to be ambitious and want to achieve more. I have goals and dreams I want to succeed at as well but I understand it is also human nature to not use those 10 seconds to appreciate our achievements and move onto the next thing. We want a better apartment and more space when once the apartment we are living in now was our dream. We want a new bag or a new coat when the coat we have now once made us so happy (and still keeps us warm). Those two examples are two from my own current situation. Though I still want those things I am pushing myself to remember that I still do truly love my apartment and that I still really like my old coat even though I may want a new one. Recognizing and appreciating what we already have goes such a long way to bringing us happiness daily.