Want to be happier? I have good news and bad news. First, the bad news: Research shows that approximately 33-50% of your level of happiness is hereditary. Your genes dictate your “happiness set point.”
Now, the good news. According to psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, 10% of your happiness is due to life circumstances and 40% is the result of your own choices and personal outlook: your career, your relationships, your friends, your activities, your level of health and fitness…
So even if you have a relatively low happiness set point, you still have significant control over how happy you feel. The key is to exercise that control by making choices and developing habits that make you happier.
Easier said than done?
Surround yourself with positive people
Like Jim Rohn says, we’re the average of the five people we spend the most time with. Spend time with negative people and your outlook will become more negative. Spend time with a chronic devil’s advocate and your attitude will go all to hell. .
Good friends encourage you, support you, and lift you up when you’re down. They see the best in you, and that helps you see the best in yourself. That’s also true for our co-workers, and is why it’s so important to have great colleagues at work. It’s not just that we spend a lot of time with them, we essentially become them.
You can’t choose your family, but you can choose your friends. Choose people who make your life better – and happier.
See perfection as the enemy of happiness
Your career doesn’t have to be perfect before you can be happy. Your marriage doesn’t have to be perfect before you can be happy. Your kids, your home, your car, your clothes… nothing has to be perfect.
And that’s a good thing because nothing can ever be perfect. Setting a bar you’ll never reach only ensures you’ll never be satisfied, fulfilled, or happy.
Instead think about what you already have. Think about what you’ve alreadyaccomplished. See where you are today not in terms of where you think you should be…. but as a great platform for achieving even more.
Then focus on doing well. Focus on doing great. Focus on excellence—not perfection, but excellence.
And know when to smell the roses—because you have a much bigger garden than you let yourself think.
Focus on now, not later
“What if?” is like kryptonite to happiness. “What if I get fired? What if my business fails? What if something happens to my family? What if….”
“What if?” thinking is great if it results in a plan.
“What if?” thinking that only results in worry and stress and distraction is a waste of time.
If you can’t control tomorrow, don’t worry about tomorrow. Just worry about making today great, because the best way to be happier is to enjoy every moment as it comes.
Compare yourself to yourself, not to other people
Comparisons are a zero-sum game you will always lose: no matter who you are, there will always be someone smarter, or richer, or more attractive, or more successful. Someone will always have “more.”
(But no one will have what you have.)
So stop comparing yourself to other people and start comparing yourself to yourself. Work to be a better version of you than you were last week, last month, and last year; that way when you look back you’ll love seeing how far you’ve come.
And you’ll feel a lot happier with, and about, yourself.
Do unto others
“It is better to give than to receive” has a scientific basis: studies show providing social support can be more beneficial to the giver than the receiver.
Not only is helping a person in need gratifying, the act is also an explicit reminder of how comparatively fortunate we are… and that’s a wonderful reminder of how thankful we should be for what we already have.
You can’t control whether other people help you. But you can control whether you help other people – and that means you can control how happy you are, since giving always makes you feel happier.
Live your life
“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
What other people think—especially people who aren’t important in your life—doesn’t matter. What other people—especially people who aren’t important in your life – want you to do doesn’t mater.
You have hopes. You have dreams. You have goals. Regardless of what other people might think or say, make the choices that support those hopes and dreams and goals.
Don’t look back and wish you’d done things differently. Decide what you want, decide how you want to live, decide what is best for you, your family, and the people you love… look forward and live your life in the way that supports what you truly want.
Have the courage to be who you are. You’ll be much happier now… and much happier later.