Happiness is a choice. Just like misery.
Happiness comes from within and is sustained by deep purpose. It is also good for your health and longevity.
In a recent study, researchers from UCLA and UNC examined how positive psychology “happiness” impacts human gene expression. Surprisingly, your type of happiness makes a big difference on the effects on your body, mind and genes. It turns out that happiness falls into two types:
- Eudaimonic well-being—Happiness that comes from having a deep sense of purpose in life (think doing well while doing good for others or the whole, you fill in the blank).
- Hedonic well-being—Happiness resulting from a response to a stimulus or behavior (think “he/she with the most toys wins”).
Both types are “happy,” but depending on the type of happiness there are profound and different effects on the human genome that impact health, longevity, and satisfaction. Researchers determined that those with eudaimonic well-being (deeper purpose happiness) have lower levels of inflammatory gene expression and higher levels of anti-viral and anti-body genes than those with hedonic well-being. In an interview with Science Daily, Steven Cole, a researcher with UCLA and author of the study, indicated that “…what this study tells us is that doing good and feeling good have very different effects on the human genome, even though they generate similar levels of positive emotion.”
So, the question is how to get there and sustain the type of happiness that goes beyond superficial, temporary good feelings to those of deep, life-long contentment and a productive, healthy and happy life.
Here are the 12 steps to achieving sustainable happiness:
1. Small stuff—don’t sweat the bad. Celebrate the good.
Life is full of small irritants that can and will ruin your day if you let them (be it instances that can leave you irate on the road, public and entertainment events, lack of facts, reality and reason in our politics, superficial/entitled people all around). Don’t let them. When these things happen go calm and celebrate the instances and people that stand out and can, literally, make your day (the person that let’s you merge in traffic, goes out of her way to help you on the phone, moves his car to give you a space, calls you back and follows up, helps when you need it).
2. Big stuff—devote your time, passion and energy
Find what gets your engine going and pursue it (writing, art, music, the environment, eradicating hunger/homelessness, our animal friends, education, equality and fairness, health and wellness). Resist the urge to only gripe privately (although some limited private venting is essential). Participate in the broader conversation and combine it with actions to change minds/things and make them better. It is a one-step-at-a-time proposition and one person can make a world of difference.
3. Do not settle for ordinary love.
Don’t settle in your relationships, be it a love connection, child/parent, siblings, family, or friends. Resist the temptation of easy shallow relationships in favor of deep, meaningful, and sustained ones. It takes more effort but the rewards are exponentially greater. If love should be unconditional, it will carry you and others on life’s journey.
4. Get out to nature as often as you can.
Humans need to maintain a connection with nature. It’s in our DNA and part of the evolutionary process. It also brings us many health and wellness benefits including: lowering blood pressure, fighting off depression, beating back stress and even preventing cancer.
5. Always err on the side of kindness.
Healthy self-worth/esteem is not tied to dominance and being “better/right.” Honey gets you much farther than vinegar (a cliché, but true). Self-awareness and attention to your impact on others brings cumulative satisfaction and contentment.
6. Think of the larger and smaller pictures and how they fit together.
View life as a combination of big picture and small details. Both are important and greatly influence happiness. Both can and should be observed in context with each other. Self-awareness is a muscle. Develop it.
7. Laugh, laugh, and then laugh some more.
Don’t take yourself too seriously. Life is a trip and a hilarious and absurd one at that. Go with it and learn to see the fun in the rollercoaster ride and the lack of actual meaningful control. We all need lots and lots of positive silliness in our lives.
8. Work to live, don’t live to work.
Your work is just work. It should not define who/what you are. Keep your passion pure and make a living at it, if you can. If not, pursue your passion while keeping work as a necessity for living, not as your life.
9. Focus on controlling your actions and reactions, not others’.
Controlling how we act and react to others is the only way to effect change. It’s a powerful tool that can enhance our relationships and increase our long-term happiness. Be positive, clear, respectful and friendly and see what happens.
10. Sex is great. Sex with love and a deep connection is much better.
Our sexual organ is the brain. It’s where we feel and experience joy and pain, the whole range of emotions as well as the orgasmic waves, physical and emotional, that we are all addicted to. Take the time and build a deep emotional connection. You will be rewarded with better and better sex.
11. Accept and love yourself and others for who you/they are
Always be who you are. Others will respond in kind (the ones that are true) and you will learn to also accept them for who they are. Authentic, honest relationships all around will keep us young, healthy and happy. There is absolutely no upside to anger, but a great upside to passion.
12. Remember, it takes 10,000 hours to become good at anything.
It takes 10,000 hours to get good at anything (Mozart was one famous exception). Put in the time and hone your craft, passion, skills and chosen profession. Learn from failures and successes, keep growing and evolving your whole life.
And always remember: happiness is contagious and loves company. Choose happiness.