Aha! Parenting Blog

Practical solutions for real parenting problems

Do You Want to Be Happier?

"For people who won the lottery -- and a lot people think that's the golden ticket to happiness -- within a year of winning the lottery, they've returned to their original happiness set-point level. Shockingly, the same was also true of people who became paraplegic. Even when bad things happen, within a year they had returned to their original happiness set-point. The really important thing is our happiness set-point. That set-point is 50% genetic, so you're born with that. It's only 10% based on your circumstances, and the other 40%, which is the part we can really do something about, is based on our habits of thought and behavior. Just like you can raise the thermostat at home to get warm on a cold day, you can actually raise your happiness set-point to become happier, and you don't have to become thinner, richer, or smarter to do it." -- Marci Shimoff

Did you know that we all have a happiness set-point, and no matter what happens to us, we tend to hover around the same happiness level for our whole adult lives?

But we can change our set point. Research shows that we can develop constructive habits that create happiness: managing our moods, positive self-talk, finding joy in daily details, practicing gratitude, cultivating optimism, connecting with others. Note that most of this is about managing our thoughts and attitudes.  Since all emotion is stimulated by our thoughts, we can change how we feel just by changing our thoughts.  

Sound hard?  No harder than playing the piano. Like any other skill, it takes daily practice.  In the beginning, you'll have to work hard to get anything that sounds like music, but in a year, you won't believe how much happier you are.  So why not start being happier right now? 

1. Smile! Smiling makes us happier, even when we force it. The feedback from our facial muscles informs us that we’re happy, and immediately improves our mood. Not to mention the moods of those around us, and that feedback loop uplifts everyone.

2. Find a positive thought and focus on it. It won't make "unhappy" things go away, but it will increase your sense of well-being -- and therefore your ability to deal with difficulties more resourcefully.  Whenever you notice you're in a bad mood, offer yourself some tenderness and wallow in the sadness or other feelings for a few minutes -- really let yourself feel them.  Then, consciously move on.  Take a deep breath, remind yourself that you can always revisit these feelings later, and find something positive to look forward to.

3. Count your blessings.  Research shows that people who make a habit of cultivating gratitude raise their happiness set-point.  One easy way is to come up with at least three things you're grateful for every night before you go to sleep and every morning before you get out of bed.  But you can use gratitude to change your mood all day long.  Instead of "These kids are driving me crazy with all their noise!" how about "I'm so glad my kids are healthy and exuberant.  Now, how can I help them find a good outlet for all that energy?"

4. Get your energy going.  Nothing lifts my mood like a pillow fight with my kids. Or you could try an impromptu game where you try to take off each others' socks.  Any physical activity gets your endorphins going and improves your mood.  If it includes a nice connection with other people, it's even more effective.

5. Laugh. The old saying that laughter is the best medicine turns out to be true. The more we laugh, the happier we are! So the next time you and your child want to shake off the doldrums, how about a Marx brothers movie marathon? 

Want more ideas on how to reset your happiness set point?  Want to help your child get happier too?  (Happier kids make for happier parents!) Check out my article Teaching Your Child the Art of Happiness. 

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