The Declaration of Independence tells us that we have a right to the “pursuit of happiness”. Unfortunately there wasn’t an addendum to that citing what to pursue. There are a lot of things in life that should come with a handbook, but finding what makes us happy is too subjective of a topic, leaving us to fend for ourselves. So we seek out and assign certain factors to put in our “happiness toolbox” and then cross our fingers and hope that they are sustainable. This very topic is a point of interest in Positive Psychology where researchers actually study what people can do to be happy and stay that way for longer periods of time. “What are the results?” you ask? Well, aside from an annoying genetic factor that suggests that we are predisposed to a certain level of happiness, it is where we find ourselves (our circumstances) and what we find ourselves doing (our activities) that determines how happy we will be (Sheldon, Lyubomirsky 2005). Now we can’t always change our situation in life, but we can certainly change what we do.
So does that mean that we are constantly chasing happiness? Yep, but we also chase dreams, chase shots, enjoy chase scenes, why not add another? This idea becomes overwhelming when you think of what you would want to go after in order to be happy. A new car? A kid or two? A Hawaiian vacation? Indulge me as I tap into my cynical side. I’m guessing that most people, when it comes down to it, would seek out something that results in obtaining more money. I’ve spent a little time looking up stories on lottery winners to see if they are really happy (pathetic, I know) and although there are some who do right with their money, there are some who found themselves over their heads, if not worse off for having that money. Boy do I feel better about not winning the lottery!
I can’t imagine that it is the big-ticket items or events that foster long term happiness. They are too hard to add to the toolbox (unless you win the lottery…). Which leaves us with smaller activities. Because the benefits of these activities tend to decrease over time, we need to seek more, but since they are little, it’s easier to find them and adopt them into our lifestyles. For example, Happy by Pharrell Williams, while just a song, has managed to make people happy all over the world. It is only 3 minutes and 53 seconds, but it’s enough to make people who have that unfortunate genetic low threshold for happiness or who live in less than ideal circumstances, smile or clap their hands to the beat. This is a powerful tool. If you haven’t seen it, I would encourage you to check out this video of Oprah’s interview with Pharrell so you can see how something as small as a song can have such a huge affect on those who listen to it.
The best line- Pharrell: “Why am I crying on Oprah?” Um, because it’s Oprah. It’s what she does.
So perhaps it is something as simple as a song, or a run through the neighborhood, or even hanging up a picture that your kid draws of you being hunted by wild animals, that you can add to your happiness toolbox. I think it’s the idea that you need to actively pursue many different things that are proven to make you feel good and then put them in the rotation to keep a higher level of happiness for longer periods of time. All right, now that I’ve said it, I suppose I should do it. Tool 1- blog (nailed it), Tool 2- hmmmmm.
Sheldon K., & Lyubomirsky S. (2005). Achieving Sustainable New Happiness: Prospects, Practices, and Prescriptions. Positive Psychology in Practice, 127-145.