IS HAP­PI­NESS ALL ABOUT PER­SPEC­TIVE?

Some of us are nat­u­rally hap­pier than oth­ers, but you can work to up your hap­pi­ness quo­tient

The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - DANIELLE BRAFF

Megan Novot­ney was shocked to be preg­nant six months af­ter giv­ing birth to triplets.

The Chicago-area stay-at-home mother had a choice: She could wal­low in the fact that her life had be­come an end­less cy­cle of di­a­pers and bot­tles, or she could do some­thing to try to make her­self a lit­tle hap­pier.

“You lose your­self as a per­son once they ar­rive,” Novot­ney said. “Now, I’m able to put my­self first, and it makes me a bet­ter mom, and bet­ter teacher, a bet­ter wife. When the plane is go­ing down, you put your own mask on first.”

You can choose to be happy or you can choose to be un­happy — and that choice is up to you, said Gretchen Ru­bin, au­thor of “Bet­ter Than Be­fore” and “Hap­pier at Home,” and host of the pod­cast “Hap­pier with Gretchen Ru­bin.”

About 50 per cent of hap­pi­ness is ge­net­i­cally de­ter­mined, so some peo­ple will nat­u­rally be hap­pier than oth­ers, Ru­bin said. The next 10 to 20 per cent of hap­pi­ness re­sults from life cir­cum­stances: age, mar­i­tal sta­tus, in­come and ed­u­ca­tion, Ru­bin said, es­ti­mat­ing her per­cent­ages based on mul­ti­ple stud­ies by Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia re­searchers. That re­main­ing 30 to 40 per cent? It’s all you.

She said we each have a range set, from one to 10, with 10 be­ing the hap­pi­est.

“You might be four to seven, and some­one else might be seven to 10,” Ru­bin said. “Even when they’re blue, they might not be so blue, but you can al­ways be lifted to the top of your range.”

The trick is to know how to get there. If you don’t know how to be happy and you’re not a nat­u­rally happy per­son, you may be stuck at four, and that’s just de­press­ing.

For ex­am­ple, many peo­ple in­cor­rectly be­lieve that shop­ping is the key to their hap­pi­ness, said Karl Moore, au­thor of five books in­clud­ing “The 18 Rules of Hap­pi­ness.”

“It pro­vides the tem­po­rary high,” Moore said, “and once we’re used to the new level of hap­pi­ness that comes with the ac­qui­si­tion, it be­comes the norm.”

Oth­ers as­sume that hav­ing chil­dren will make them hap­pier, and this also isn’t true, said Ruut Veen­hoven, pro­fes­sor of so­cial con­di­tions for hu­man hap­pi­ness at Eras­mus Univer­sity Rot­ter­dam in the Nether­lands.

“Mar­riage be­comes less ro­man­tic and life choices more con­strained, and these neg­a­tives tend to out­weigh the ev­i­dent pos­i­tives of hav­ing chil­dren,” Veen­hoven said. “The rea­son that most par­ents had ex­pected other­wise is coloured in­for­ma­tion, both in the me­dia and from their moth­ers, who are ea­ger to be­come grand­moth­ers and have for­got­ten their per­ils of the past.”

Even win­ning the lot­tery or in­creas­ing your in­come doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily equate to hap­pi­ness, Veen­hoven said. Once in­come rises above $75,000, life sat­is­fac­tion doesn’t in­crease, ac­cord­ing to a study by Prince­ton Univer­sity re­searchers. It goes back to the re­tail the­ory: that you be­come ac­cus­tomed to what­ever you pur­chase but also be­cause you have to log many hours at work mak­ing that money, which makes peo­ple un­happy.

But there are other easy ways to be­come happy quickly, and these don’t cost any­thing, Ru­bin said.

Go­ing out­side is an easy fix, she said.

“There’s light even on the cloud­i­est day, and it lifts your mood,” Ru­bin said.

A Univer­sity of Michi­gan study showed that strolling through na­ture can lower stress, and can even be a non­phar­ma­co­log­i­cal ap­proach to de­pres­sion. If you’re stuck at your desk, you can sim­u­late the out­door ef­fect by sim­ply look­ing at a pic­ture of a na­ture land­scape, ac­cord­ing to a study pub­lished in the Korean Jour­nal of Ra­di­ol­ogy. Re­searchers found that those who looked at green land­scapes had height­ened ac­tiv­i­ties con­nected with pos­i­tive mem­o­ries.

Hang­ing out with cheer­ful peo­ple can also do the trick.

Hap­pi­ness is a feel­ing, and it’s con­ta­gious — so if you’re around peo­ple who are happy, you’ll prob­a­bly be in a good mood. Un­for­tu­nately, the flip side is also true, Ru­bin said.

A study pub­lished in the Pro­ceed­ings of the Royal Society found that each happy friend in­creases your chances of hap­pi­ness by 11 per cent, al­though each un­happy friend doubles your chances of be­ing un­happy.

“We’re con­stantly pass­ing emo­tions back and forth to each other,” Ru­bin said. “If they’re hap­pier, they will help lift you up — it won’t take you all the way, but it will tend to pull you that way.”

But you can sur­round your­self with mis­er­able peo­ple and still re­main pos­i­tive be­cause you’re the only per­son in charge of your own emo­tions, said Moore, who be­lieves that these con­ta­gious feel­ings can be quashed.

“Only you can de­ter­mine your state of mind,” he said.

One way to ad­just your state of mind is to stop feel­ing sorry for your­self, Moore said.

“That’s a mas­sive block to peo­ple’s hap­pi­ness,” he said. “Self-pity eats up ev­ery­thing around you, and it leaves you feel­ing bitter and twisted.”

If you want to truly ex­pe­ri­ence hap­pi­ness, Moore said, you sim­ply need to let go of your self-pity, and start feel­ing grate­ful for what you do have, whether it’s a warm home, a cup of tea or a free coun­try.

“You will nat­u­rally pro­pel your hap­pi­ness,” he said.

In Novot­ney’s case, she stopped feel­ing sorry about be­ing stuck at home with four ba­bies liv­ing off one in­come. In­stead, she fo­cused on rea­sons to be grate­ful, such as be­ing able to home-school the chil­dren.

And once she began tak­ing care of her­self through prac­tic­ing yoga, she found an in­stant morale boost.

Say­ing “yes” to classes or other ex­pe­ri­ences is an easy way to in­crease your spir­its.

A study from San Fran­cisco State Univer­sity found that ex­pe­ri­ences — rather than ma­te­rial items — make peo­ple happy be­cause the mem­o­ries from those ex­pe­ri­ences can last for a very long time.

The ex­pe­ri­ences don’t need to be lav­ish, and they don’t even need to take you out of your home.

Any­thing that deep­ens an ex­ist­ing re­la­tion­ship or broad­ens one has been shown to make you hap­pier, Ru­bin said.

So re­con­nect­ing with old friends, start­ing a book club, go­ing to a re­union, throw­ing a party or meet­ing some­one for cof­fee will make you happy.

“Even fleet­ing con­nec­tions with peo­ple boost the mood,” Ru­bin said. “Go talk to some­one face to face in­stead of send­ing an email.”

And remember that life is fleet­ing, so you should take ad­van­tage of ev­ery mo­ment.

KRIS­TEN NOR­MAN, CHICAGO TRI­BUNE

Megan Novot­ney with her chil­dren: She fo­cused on rea­sons to be grate­ful to give her­self a morale boost.

“The 18 Rules of Hap­pi­ness,” by Karl Moore

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