The Secret of Happiness

Fifty percent of happiness in humans is derived from genetics. I’m one of the lucky ones; I’ve got the “happy gene”. But what about that other 50%? What do we need to do to go all the way to bliss?

According to The Psychology of Happiness by Michael Argyle, there are many reasons why you should want to concentrate on being happy: You’ll have a higher chance of marriage, a lower chance of divorce, more friends and stronger support from these friends, increased creativity and productivity on the job, higher income, stronger immune system and a longer life to name a few.

Ten percent of that remaining half is situational, i.e. job, money, class, education. Then you have that final 40% that YOU can totally control. Happiness is something we all want, and that 40% is the secret to making it happen. With all of the side benefits, deciding to be happy is a pretty powerful thing.

In the book it states that “Joy is the emotional side of happiness.” It goes on further to state that there are many negative moods such as sadness, depression and anger, but what we best describe as joy is really the only positive one.

Studies on the causes of joy have found that 36% comes from relationships with friends, 16% comes from successful experiences and only 9% comes from the physical pleasures like food, drink and sex. And if you’re worried about becoming one of those “she’s sooo annoyingly happy people”…don’t. People like happy people more than unhappy ones. It’s a fact. Here are some more:

1. Get Your Get Up and Go On

According to the book, exercise and sport is “the easiest and most powerful” way of creating joy. When you exercise, your brain releases neurotransmitters that alleviate pain, improve memory and boost your mood. That why you’ll hear doctors often call exercise an anti-depressant. Research also shows that a “10-minute brisk walk can cheer people up for 2 hours,” and longer exercise can elevate your mood into the next day! Pick something you like to do because if you don’t, that defeats the purpose.

2. The Yellow Shoe Theory

One spring, I fell in love with a certain pair of yellow flats. I bought them. Soon I bought yellow clothes to match cute yellow shoes, including a yellow dress. Soon boyfriend was picking me up one evening on his bicycle (yes, I was surprised too) to go out on a date and I was wearing said yellow dress and shoes. As we headed down the street to our favorite bar, me on his seat and him “standing” behind pedaling, an old man watering his garden yelled out after us, “You look like a perfume commercial!” I felt like a perfume commercial all summer long. To this day I call it my Golden Summer. Yellow is one of the hot colors in fashion, so finding the right pair of yellow shoes should be a cinch.

Wearing sunny yellow makes me happy. Maybe it’s because people are in a better mood when the sun is shining. Yellow flowers brighten up any room. Painting my walls a soft buttercup makes me smile. And don’t even get me started on lemonade…

3. The Smile

We all know about Julia Roberts’ smile. The one that made her a star when Richard Gere told her to in Pretty Woman and it went from ear to ear. But what about yours? Babies starting at two months and a heck of a lot of kids wake up with a smile. When did we stop waking up with a smile?

Smiling releases endorphins and, as they say, “lights up your face” and your mood. Do you know that even those born blind will smile when they experience a joyful moment? People of every race smile when they are happy. It’s the one universal gesture. Humans smiled before they spoke. The unspoken friend or foe question was answered with a smile.

Smiling is contagious. Did you know that there is actually a name for a real smile? It’s called the “Duchenne smile” which involves smiling with the eyes, the upper face and the mouth. If someone is pretending to be happy you won’t see them using their eyes and upper face. Hmmmm.

4. Your Happy Song

Do you have one? If you don’t find one because studies prove that cheerful music is another easy way to bring on joy. Keep your happy song in your car, on your iTunes, play it all the time. If it’s truly your HS you can’t wear it out. And don’t be afraid to sing it at the top of your lungs. Mine HS is “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” by the Police. My sister Susan loves, Blind Melon’s “No Rain” and my niece loves Jack Johnson’s “Bubbly Toes.” Find out what your friend’s happy songs are too. Music is a great thing to share.

5. Cook with Some Friends

Eating is a basic biological need and it does bring us pleasure, but apparently it only in that 9% fulfillment range, so if you add some friends the joy quotient grows! Whip something up that you’ve never tried before and get everyone in the kitchen cooking and see how much fun that is.

6. Have More Sex

Sex is a part of relaxation, because if done right, the whole body relaxes afterwards, but during a whole lot of good things happen too. Sex produces dopamine, which is like a natural drug to the brain for a happy mood. This body-producing chemical is part of our “rewards system.” Endorphins are also released during orgasm, a kind of euphoria our body sends out to reduce pain, usually accompanied by a satisfied smile and if you’re lucky, some spooning. They don’t call it afterglow for nothing.

7. Get Your Sleep – Eight Hours

I know, I know, in this day and age we are crazy busy. I’m guilty too. I average about six hours of sleep Monday thru Friday and then wonder why I crash all weekend long. So what do I have to do? Shut off the TV and get my butt in bed an hour earlier. I’ve been trying that for the past month and you know what, I do feel so much better. Sleep is very important to happiness.

8. Join a Group and Not a Facebook One – a Face-to-Face One

It’s time to be a social butterfly. Friends, it seems, are our greatest source of happiness. Tap into your inner-extrovert, genetically the happier group, and develop better social skills. Join a group, a team or a club. Many activities like dancing, singing, sports or any hobby, bring joy just on their own but when combined in a group setting that capacity for happiness is doubled.

9. Help others

In The Psychology of Happiness Argyle writes, “experiments on altruism find that it is a source of positive emotion to do things for others in distress.” Even nursery school children help or share. Believe it or not, volunteer work on a scale of joy is just behind dancing (the highest ranked) and ahead of every other leisure activity. Isn’t it incredibly nice to know that giving back is so important to humans? There’s hope yet!

10. Money is not the Answer

Really, truly forget that money will buy you happiness. It doesn’t. It’s been proven over and over again in numerous studies. There is a very low correlation between the two. The poorest countries statistically have a lot of happy people. Even lottery winners are not happier, so let’s chuck that myth right out the window now and give ourselves a break in the “living up to the Joneses” land.

If you actually do all these ten things you will build one happy memory on top of another and that can add up to a very happy life. Do you know we actually recall happier events better? If something made you happy once, chances are it will again.

And if you weren’t happy today, be a ‘Pollyanna” and look on the bright side: there’s always tomorrow.

(Image via Shutterstock).