Society, it seems, is obsessed with happiness.
Who doesn’t want to be happy? I mean, when did you last catch yourself saying “Gee I wish I was sad/angry/anxious/embarrassed/proud”?
There’s good reason to want to feel ‘happy’. Happy people, scientific research finds, are less likely to suffer chronic pain, they have better cardiovascular health and a strong immune system; they’re more likely to live longer.
Happier people, according to a lead researcher in the science of happiness, University of California psychology professor Sonja Lyubomirsky, are more sociable, energetic, charitable, grateful and optimistic. They’re cooperative, productive and resilient.
Wow, of course we want to be happy!
It is true that some people are by nature ‘happier’ than others.
Our genetics account for about 50% of our propensity to be happy or not. Life circumstances—our wealth, our looks, our health, our physical and social environment—account for another 10%. That means we can directly influence 40% through intentional activity: our thoughts, our actions and our behaviour!
The importance of feeling
But if you’re wanting to be happy all the time, expect to disappoint yourself because it’s neither natural nor realistic. Variety is the spice of emotional life! There’s even a term for it. Emodiversity.
We are healthier when we feel a range of emotions, good and bad.
According to a study of more than 37,000 people, published in Journal of Experimental Psychology, those who experience the largest range of emotions are physically and mentally healthier.
What piqued my interest further, and is kind of counter-intuitive, was that the diversity and frequency of emotions matters and makes a difference, not so much the type of emotion.
The researchers suggest we look to nature’s biodiversity to understand why that is so. Biodiversity increases resilience, making it unlikely for a single predator to wipe out an entire ecosystem. Following that approach, while prolonged sadness may lead to depression, experiencing sadness and anger may prevent a complete withdrawal into self, for example.
While we can accept that we can’t be happy all the time, we can improve our chance of experiencing happiness.
American researcher Lahnna Catalino recommends prioritising positivity by deliberately scheduling activities into your everyday that trigger pleasure.
That’s not a dissimilar concept to practicing laughter yoga really. We laugh as an exercise, not leaving laugher to chance, waiting for something amusing to occur during the day.
How do you prioritise positivity?
Start with a list of activities you enjoy. Big and small.
Now, look at your diary. Weave little actions into your daily living. Sprinkle them throughout the week. Those little moments can help you ride out rough tough times.
(c) 2019 Heather Joy Campbell
This blog was inspired by Science of Happiness studies offered as an online learning initiative of the University of California, Berkeley. Heather Joy Campbell is a certified laughter yoga teacher based in Brisbane, Australia. She runs workplace and community stress-busting and teambuilding workshops using the platform of laughter yoga and trains laughter yoga leaders across Queensland. She hosts a weekly suburban laughter club.