“Happiness resides not in possessions, and not in gold, happiness dwells in the soul”.
Democritus (about 2500 years ago)
“Happiness depends upon ourselves”.
Aristotle (about 2300 years ago)
Everyone seems to be telling us that happiness is something that comes from inside not from the world around us, but what can we do about that? How is this info useful to us?
Large scale studies of happiness have shown us a lot. Here are a few key points:
1. Only about 10% of long term happiness comes from life circumstances such as job, house, income, etc.
2. Your behaviour, how you live your life, accounts for about 40% of your happiness.
So even if you had all the genetic misfortune in the world, you can still control 50% of your happiness.
We know that change comes from things you do more than anything else, but what type of things?
A huge American study shows us how:
1. The things you do because you enjoy them, or because they yield a result as you do them, contribute greatly to happiness.
2. The things you do that generate a postponed result, or that you expect will make you happy at some later date, don’t contribute to long term happiness.
In psychology we call what gives immediate results – ‘intrinsic goals’, versus ‘extrinsic goals’ for what will lead to another result down the line. They can look the same, but they feel different.
For example: Running because you enjoy being out and feel good exercising, will contribute more to happiness than running because you expect it will keep you from getting a heart attack in 20 years. Both are good, both contribute to your health, but the first one also builds happiness.
People who do things that are ‘intrinsic goals’ have a higher basic level of happiness. When good things happen – a raise at work for example – happiness goes up for a while but in a month or two it comes back to the basic level. The same when something bad happens, it drops for a while and then returns to that baseline.
Building a higher baseline is what wins, as Buddha, Democritus, and Aristotle, as well as science all agree on. Listen to their advice. It’s something you can build, not something anyone else can do for you. And remember the good news – you enjoy the things that build happiness on the way, how easy does it get?
Change is easier than you think.