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Across the globe, seekers of happiness look to media, food, clothing, and even the next Marvel movie for a source of happiness. These things may bring immediate pleasure, or a sense of satisfaction in having your curiosity satisfied once you know whether or not the Avengers can successfully defeat the next cosmic threat. But when it comes down to it, we tend to be pretty uninformed when it comes to what will help us to feel happy in the long term.
What if you learned that a large part of our happiness can be specifically attributed to how we design our day-to-day lives? And by “design”, we mean “create… and construct according to plan”. That’s right, simple decisions and patterns can amplify long term happiness. In other words, we can strategically design a happy life.
The Proof is in the Pudding
…or pie, that is. In 2005, researchers David Schkade, Sonja Lyubomirsky, and Kennon M. Sheldon released their findings in a shocking study. According to their research, factors that determine our overall happiness fall into three categories on a pie chart. 50% of our overall happiness is determined by our genetics, 10% by our life circumstances, and 40% by our intentional activity.
That significant 40% is where we’ll focus our efforts today. Intentional activity covers all of the day to day choices we make, like how often we go outside, how we choose to spend our evenings, or what time we go to bed. By strategically and intentionally selecting activities that will optimize happiness, overall happiness can increase by 40%.
Strategically Designing a Happy Life
We’re sparing the “make good choices” lecture as it goes without saying that working hard, and choosing a life of integrity does wonders for your overall happiness. Let’s take a dive into the simple yet powerful ways that you can increase day-to-day happiness through intentional activity.
Shorten Your Commute
Something as simple as shortening your daily commute can have an immediate and drastic effect on your overall happiness. The key here is to spend as little time possible in frustrating situations—like being stuck in traffic or tailgating the slower car ahead.
According to one study, your commute should be no longer than 16 minutes for ideal happiness. Living close enough to your workplace to have a quick commute is helpful, and avoiding major highways all together provides an extra boost in happiness. In today’s marketplace, many employees are able to find remote work that doesn’t require a commute at all!
Invest in Your People
And by people, we mean the ones you care most for. Good friends and family provide a sense of consistency throughout life—they make the good times great and the bad times…better!
Having strong relationships with others is shown to lessen anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses, as well as boost self-confidence. Daniel Gilbert, a Harvard Social Psychologist hit the nail on the head when he said, “We are happy when we have family, we are happy when we have friends, and almost all the other things we think make us happy are actually just ways of getting more family and friends.”
So next time you’re tempted to work late or become a weekend hermit again, consider putting effort into the relationships whose return on investment is hundredfold!
The doctors had it right: exercise is vital, but not just to our physical health. It plays a major role in immediate and prolonged happiness too. Exercise can immediately boost your mood by releasing endorphins that trigger a more positive mood and outlook while also lessening pain.
In a study described in The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor, consistent exercise was found to drastically lower chances of depression relapse. In a Journal of Health Psychology study, researchers found that exercise dramatically improves one’s body image, even when the weight and shape of the body doesn't change at all. Get out, get moving, and feel a positive boost in your brain!
Make Friends with Mother Nature
Has it been a while since you’ve paid a visit to good old Mother Nature? Just like in real life, you're bound to feel the blues without a little TLC from mom. Research shows that spending time in nature can increase overall happiness, and even contribute to a feeling of meaning and purpose in life.
As an added bonus, vitamin D is most effectively absorbed through your skin, which is why getting into the sunlight is so important. Vitamin D is crucial for overall health and wellbeing, but most people aren’t getting enough of it. So go grab some sunlight (but don’t get burnt—a little goes a long way).
Always Have Something to Look Forward To
If your “fun” calendar is blank for the next several months, it’s time to do some planning! Having events to look forward to, whether big or small, increases happiness. Plan that movie night, trip to the zoo, or even the Europe vacation you’ve always dreamed of! Research described in The Happiness Advantage concludes that anticipating a trip can make you even happier than the trip itself! The simple act of planning something that you can look forward to is that powerful.
Put the Phone Down
If a screen seems to be your constant companion, it may be time to block out some non-screen time. A study by San Diego State University shows that “after a daily hour of screen time, unhappiness rises steadily along with increasing screen time” in teens. Researchers have published similar findings related to adults, where social media is a major happiness killer.
Declutter…In All Areas
Tackling that “monster closet” is refreshing, but mental decluttering is important too. Minimalism is beneficial in all areas of life because it focuses on what matters most and rids us of what is distracting or unimportant. Even more than tidying your space, declutter that calendar to make time for the sweet, simple moments and memories that count. Declutter your mind from the opinions of the masses and instead focus on building relationships with those you care for.
Increasing Happiness in the Workplace
For a lot of people, a significant portion of their time is spent at work. Depending on your field of work, you may be required to work on a screen longer than you’d like, or maybe you are unable to get outside frequently. Here are some strategies for designing a happy work environment and feeling more job satisfaction.
Take It One Task at a Time
Research shows that workers who multitask, or switch between various tasks in a short amount of time, are less productive and less happy at work. Multitasking causes feelings of stress, anxiety, and a lack of accomplishment. A better alternative would be to implement time blocking, where you block out certain areas of your day for specific tasks or projects, allowing you to focus on one thing at a time.
Offer to Help
Some professionals will shy away from offering help to colleagues because they anticipate being more stressed by adding another responsibility to their plate. However, Donald Moynihan studied how helping others makes us happier and gives us a more positive outlook in general. No matter the position, professionals who make an effort to help others regularly are better off than those who are stingy with their time.
Appreciate Your Coworkers
Cultivating a work culture of appreciation can turn away the Sunday night blues and help you better enjoy and engage in your work. Complimenting someone actually causes a physical reaction in the brain that eases stress and improves relationships. Happy employees create other happy employees
One study by the Journal of Happiness concluded that those who regularly express gratitude not only increase their happiness and life satisfaction, but also experience a decrease in depressive symptoms.
You can learn more about cultivating recognition and appreciation in the workplace here.
One Final Piece of the Pie
As much as you try to strategically design a happy life, there will always be occasions when things don’t go the way you planned them. Flexibility is key here. Do your best, choose the things that bring real happiness, and enjoy them.
Whether in work, school, or family life, you’ll never regret making strategic decisions that lead to happiness. So when life hands you lemons, whip out that recipe and make some lemon meringue pie.
Best of luck to you as you start designing your happy life!