I’ve been reading a lot of books on the idea of happiness. And yet, yesterday I thought to myself: after all these books I’m still not really sure how I’d define happiness. What does it mean to be happy exactly?
Strangely enough, soon after asking myself that question, I read a definition of happiness by Marci Shimoff, author of the book ‘Happy for No Reason.’
She says: “I define true happiness as an inner state of peace and well-being regardless of external circumstances.”
There’s a infinite number of amazing, inspiring, quotable quotes about happiness out there, but this one really takes the cake. It’s such a simple and elegant suggestion that our happiness has nothing to do with what’s happening in our life (good or bad), it relies entirely on how we process those good and bad things.
Another quote reinforces this: “Look within for happiness, not to external circumstances.”
Here’s three things I learned about happiness:
1. We all have a base happiness level.
Society teaches us that more money and more stuff is more happiness. Well, it sort of is, but it’s temporary. We go up, then we return to our base level. Similarly with a traumatic event, we experience pain and sadness but eventually we’re somewhat back to our base happiness after some time.
There are many people who have very little in terms of material wealth experience a very high base happiness, and vice versa- there are those who seem to have everything money can buy but appear to be grumpy and unhappy regardless.To illustrate this point, I drew up this diagram with a very powerful and complicated drawing program (ehh okay it’s Microsoft Paint):
2. Happiness is 50% genetic and the other 50% is up to us.
So if you happen to get really unhappy genes, that’s one half, but when the other half of our happiness is completely under our control, we have a really big say in how happy we are.
3. Happiness increases / decreases are less extreme than we think they’ll be. When someone wins the lottery, they don’t experience as extreme of a happiness boost as they would expect. And similarly a football player who loses the Superbowl game is only sad for a few days at most and is usually back to normal.
4. We can boost our base happiness with daily exercises
The right side of my chart shows a slow increase of base happiness. It’s completely possible to increase our base happiness with some daily exercises. Just like toning those biceps, you can work out the happiness muscle. You can try:
- Acts of kindness (for friends, family or strangers)
- Daily happiness journal
- Regular physical exercise
- Smiling for 3 minutes straight in the mornings
I want to repeat that first quote because it sums everything up so nicely:
“I define true happiness as an inner state of peace and well-being regardless of external circumstances.”
So next time you think, “if only I had a new car I’d be happy” or “once I finish school everything will be great” or “if only I could travel more,” try and focus on what makes today great. We can’t wait for happiness to manifest in the future, rather, you need to find happiness in the present, and find the good in any experience.