How To Be Happier
I recently had a conversation with a terminally ill patient that changed my thinking. We've had some insightful conversations over the past few months. When we were chatting on this occasion about happiness and his health he explained how he felt happier when he was able to achieve a little bit each day and then shocked me, he finished up by saying "but put it this way, I'm not unhappy." Even he was surprised by the way he felt.
THE HAPPINESS SET-POINT THEORY
The happiness set-point theory refers to our level of self-reported happiness and well-being. It's determined by heredity and personality traits. Our baseline happiness will change transiently with certain life events, but after some months it almost always returns to a baseline.
Despite what we'd expect, winning the lottery, wealth accumulation, marriage and career advancement don't make us happier long term. Science has shown that after just six months most lottery winners return to their baseline level of happiness. Science has even shown that paraplegics eventually return to the same levels of happiness they had prior to their injury.
WHAT MAKES US HAPPY LONG-TERM?
According to the largest and longest standing collection of statistics on happiness, one thing that increases the happiness set-point is consistently pursuing altruistic goals: meaning taking compassionate action and helping others, makes us happier.
Not only can it increase our set-point for the long term, it can also cause short term happiness.
Perhaps when we take the focus off ourselves and help others we have a greater sense of purpose. This purpose can help our lives feel more meaningful and enriched.
This is if our compassionate action is taken because we want to and not to avoid feelings of shame: I really should do it even though I don't want to or pride: what will people say if I don't .
In the Set-Point Study it revealed the happiest people have the most activation in the front part of their frontal lobes. This area is associated with compassion, empathy, planning and intelligence.
The connections in this area can be strengthened through a regular meditation practice. Meditation is one method proven to increase our baseline happiness.
Loving-Kindness (Metta) meditation is a special type of Buddhist meditation that cultivates compassion and care towards others and ourselves. It has been proven to improve positive emotions. This guided Loving-Kindness walks you through how to enhance feelings of love, care and compassion.
Maybe happiness is not a realistic aspiration. Can we really be happy all of the time? Science indicates that investing in compassionate practices for ourselves and others could be the answer to improved well-being.