Happy has been on my list of documentaries to watch for quite some time. I finally got around to it a few days ago, and have to say it’s one of my new favorites! It was full of interesting facts, theories and kept my attention the whole time.
Here’s some of what I took away:
50% set point / range (genetic): this is the general range of happiness we’re all born with
10% circumstances: income, social status, where you live, age
40% intentional activity (this is just a theory): things we can do on a regular basis to become happier
Isn’t that interesting to think that your circumstances only make up 10% of your happiness? It provides hope for those born into unfavorable circumstances. The ‘set range’ of happiness we’re all said to be born with also makes a lot of sense to me. Some people are just eternally upbeat. The leading psychologists studying happiness theorize that the remaining 40% is more under our control. We can do things to make ourselves happier.
The most important type of intentional activity to increase happiness is to constantly vary what you do. Try new things often, even if it’s something as simple as trying a new coffee shop or trying a new sport. We inevitably adapt to every new situation, no matter how wonderful or bleak.
Happiness is controlled by the neurotransmitter dopamine. We slowly lose dopamine synapses starting in our teenage years, so we need to seek out experiences that release dopamine. Physical activity is one of the best, especially if you do it in novel ways. Have you wondered why there’s an increase in themed 5k races like The Color Run, mud runs and zombie runs?
Another important key to happiness is experiencing “flow.” In the documentary this was described as “the psychology of optimal experience…the synergy of aspects of consciousness.” It’s often something that requires you to be fully present, like playing an instrument, rock climbing or cooking a complex meal. When you’re proficient enough at the activity, you almost intuitively know moment by moment what you have to do, so you fall into the flow of actions. People describe it as feeling in control and forgetting their worries. I could see it as a disconnect from the ego and the ultimate way of being present. Researchers have found that people who experience flow on a regular basis are happier than those who don’t.
Researchers found that those who can recover from adversity more quickly than others also tend to be happier. Negative experiences affect everyone, but these people are able to move on more quickly.
You’ve probably heard that money doesn’t buy happiness. Well, that statement turns out to be both true and false. The difference in happiness levels between an annual income of $5k and $50k is dramatic, but $50k vs. $500k doesn’t make much of a difference. And remember, you’ll make the most of that money if you’re using it to experience new things like traveling to a new country. Earlier I mentioned that you will adapt to your situation. This is also true for the more money you have. It’s called hedonic adaptation: “whatever level of material goods and wealth you have, you will adapt to it and want/need more to get the good feeling.”
So other than new experiences, how can we achieve more happiness and life satisfaction?
- Having intrinsic goals vs. extrinsic goals. These are in opposition with each other. Intrinsic goals are those related to personal growth, community contributions and meaningful relationships. These people report more satisfaction, less depression and less anxiety. (The exact opposite of what is reported by those with materialistic goals.)
- Having compassion. To experience compassion, try starting a gratitude journal (once a week vs. every day even makes a difference), increase your acts of kindness, start volunteering, etc. Acts of kindness are the most effective compassion tool to increase happiness.
In summary, the documentary states that these are the building blocks of happiness:
“Happiness is not just about feeling more blissful. Happier people tend to function better, be more
productive and even live longer.”
I highly recommend watching the full documentary to learn more. These are just some of the highlights!
Have you seen ‘Happy?’ What did you think?