Confirmed by Global Research but Easy to Manage on a Personal Level
It turns out that discovering what keeps us from being happy is not only a personal issue, but an issue that world bodies, policy makers, leading economists, environmentalists, and researchers, all around the world, are interested in addressing. What is promising is that the leaders in many of these disciplines (or professions) are beginning to work together to help make each one of us—and our 6,999,999,999 fellow earthly inhabitants—happier!
Over the past 30 years or so, the research on happiness and well-being has grown to be quite extensive. For example, there are different ways of scientifically measuring happiness (happiness index, subjective well-being index, life satisfaction index) and many things contribute to our happiness. Certain things, like governance and its impact on our lives, are out of our immediate control, or the time it would take to make a change means it is essentially out of our control. But many things we do have influence over, and small changes on our part can lead to big changes in how we feel.
According to the 2012 World Happiness Report, co-authored by Jeffrey Sachs, there are many factors that contribute to our happiness or our “misery.” ((Helliwell, J., Layard, R., & Sachs, J. World Happiness Report. (2012). From www.earth.columbia.edu)) In this article I discuss five factors that research has shown can affect our happiness and that we have some control over. The order in which they are listed does not reflect any significance, as I see that they all serve equally in determining how happy we feel.
Where we live has been scientifically proven to affect how happy we are. ((Helliwell, J., Layard, R., & Sachs, J. World Happiness Report. (2012). )) Certain aspects of our home’s physical environment or location may be out of our control due to, for example, financial or other constraints. We are not always able to make immediate changes to the neighborhood we live in, the environmental challenges we face, the distance traveled to work (or school), the people in our household or the country we live in. What are we able to change?
Look around your home, your room. There are always opportunities to make even modest changes that add up to big changes in how you feel. Is repainting out of the question? Hang a few inexpensive scenes of nature or other uplifting images on the walls. Is the furniture looking worn, but tight finances prevent new purchases? Add a pretty doily, runner, cushion or some other little touch. If it’s already second or third-hand furniture, paint a design or even affix wallpaper! Take a look here for other ideas, like removing clutter.
Another thing we can do is add ambiance. Play music, not just any music, but music that elevates your spirit. While silence is golden, and moments of silence that allow us to reflect or contemplate are invaluable, music can literally heal much of what ails us.
Our work environment is important because whether we have a job, work for ourselves, or are seeking employment, the bottom line is that work takes up several hours of our day. If our work conditions are miserable, so are we. The research confirms, regardless of what our job is, that satisfying, quality work helps us to feel happier. ((Helliwell, J., Layard, R., & Sachs, J. World Happiness Report. (2012). From www.earth.columbia.edu))
Employers are catching on to this. In my place of work, seminars and workshops on topics like “Leadership in the Workplace,” “Working Successfully with Teams,” “How to Approach Difficult Teens,” and “Caring for Aging Parents” are promoted on a weekly basis. Employers know that when individuals are happy, in and out of the workplace, everyone benefits.
But if we can’t make immediate changes to our work environment, what can we do? Similar to what we can do in our home environment, but on a smaller scale, we can add little touches—for instance, we can place an inspiring picture or a flower in our workspace or play a little music (if it doesn’t disturb others) to uplift our mood. You may also want to look at Abhinandan’s article on work and life balance.
Not surprising, 30 years of research corroborates what we have known for centuries: Our mental state affects our ability to experience happiness. ((Helliwell, J., Layard, R., & Sachs, J. World Happiness Report. (2012). From www.earth.columbia.edu)) What is new is that world bodies, like the U.N. and UNESCO and global policy makers would like mental health to be placed at the top of the agenda, just as economic, environmental, and safety concerns are.
Addressing the world’s (and our own) mental health needs is not so easy. Some of what we experience may be out of our control—genetic predispositions to depression or pessimistic thinking are two examples. But there are many things we can do to keep our mind happy—chasing away negative thoughts, reading inspiring books like The Jewels of Happiness, learning how to meditate, and … the easiest of them all—smiling! You can read what Mother Teresa said about the importance of a smile.
While it doesn’t take research to tell us that our physical health affects how happy we feel, it is reassuring to know it’s a universal principal that was confirmed with global research. Physical ailments and chronic pain take away from our quality of life and our ability to feel happy. ((Helliwell, J., Layard, R., & Sachs, J. World Happiness Report. (2012). From www.earth.columbia.edu)) Some of what we feel may not be within our control to change, like hereditary diseases and chronic pain.
We do know that lack of exercise means less oxygen to the brain and to the cells of our body. By the same token, we feel happier and our body feels better when there is more oxygen circulating through our system. We’ve heard it time and time again—a regular routine of physical exercise (tailored to your capacity) keeps a check on many of our different health outcomes. Research has proven that cardiovascular (heart) health, blood fat (cholesterol) levels, blood sugar levels and even conditions of chronic pain all benefit from regular exercise.
If certain limitations in your life prevent you from taking on an extensive or rigorous exercise routine, make it a point to take a few minutes out of your day, to get the blood circulating through your body. Look for opportunities throughout the day where you can extend yourself, even just a little bit. Take the stairs, jump rope for a few minutes, do a few jumping jacks, leg-lifts, push-ups or sit-ups. No need to buy weightlifting equipment—lift soup cans, bottles or jugs of water for several repetitions.
Let’s not forget the outdoors—perhaps create a little garden.
These mini workouts can be done within snippets of available time, at home or in the office—and it’s all free! Don’t let the cost of a gym membership or the fact that you work long hours keep you from taking on a little bit of daily exercise—it will help you feel happier!
For hints on other things, such as getting a good night’s sleep (which is now called sleep hygiene) and setting up daily routines, checkout Adam’s article here.
Relationships with Others
Researchers now call this social capital—the quality and quantity of our social relations. Our social capital affects our happiness and it’s a global phenomenon. ((Helliwell, J., Layard, R., & Sachs, J. World Happiness Report. (2012). From www.earth.columbia.edu)) When we don’t know others that we can turn to, when we don’t have people in our lives with whom we feel mutual trust and respect, it affects how happy we are. If our social capital is made up of many casual relationships, then it’s not really social capital. For me, the key word is quality, not quantity. At different times in our lives, we may not be in total control of the people that surround us.
Building friendships and quality relationships requires work. Sometimes what is needed on our part is just a change in perspective to help us deal with the challenges of creating and keeping meaningful relationships. My article on working harmoniously with others may give some additional insight.
The World Happiness Report summarized different aspects of what contributes to peoples’ misery and what makes people happy. Some are very big things, which are not easy to solve—things that are beyond our control. But on a personal level, we can make small changes in different aspects of our lives that can take us further along the road to happiness.