Key to Happiness

What makes you happy?  I recently received an email with that question as the subject line.  The email was actually an advertisement for a week-long vacation cruise to the Bahamas, but it got me to thinking about my current state of happiness.   As a kid I remember singing the song: 

“If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands…If you’re happy and you know it, your face will surely show it, if you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.” 

Pharrell Williams hit song “Happy” has sold millions of copies.  He also encourages us to, “clap along if you feel like a room without a roof”.

I don’t see many people clapping as they go about their daily lives.  In fact, on a recent trip to the grocery store, I made it a point to count the number of people with smiles on their faces.  I came up with 3.  

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The subject of happiness is nothing new.  Our forefathers talked about the pursuit of it in Declaration of Independence.  Today, there are hundreds of books, movies, and music out all to makes us feel happy, but the pursuit of happiness isn’t easy.  

I think we can all agree that more money and materialistic goods in no way guarantee a happy life.  My mom used to say, “the grass isn’t always greener on the other side”.  There is the assumption that having children, getting a new job, or having the “right” friends will also equate to increased happiness, but the results are not always favorable.  

Some research has shown that the tendency to be happy is inherited and that not everyone has a sunny disposition, but there are things we can do to bring more joy into our lives.  

In the book, The How of Happiness, writer Sonja Lyubomirsky states that 50% of our happiness is genetically determined, 10% is affected by circumstances, and the remaining 40% is subject to self-control.  

In other words there are things we can do to put ourselves on a path to happiness.  Here’s a few examples:  

* Forgiving those who do us wrong.  Bitterness only leads to more anger and frustration.  

* Being grateful.  It’s proven that being grateful improves satisfaction.  

* Don’t be self-centered.  Helping others improves our own self-esteem and can set us on a path of happiness.  

* Don’t compare.  Constantly comparing ourselves to people who are smarter, wealthier, or better looking, won’t increase our happiness level. 

I’m not going to argue, that email I received is tempting.  A Caribbean vacation cruise sure sounds good right about now however I do believe in addition to the list of things above we can also spread happiness to those around us.  

The latest happiness research from Stanford University, the University of Houston, and Harvard Business School shows that to achieve an increase in happiness, people need to establish concrete, attainable goals aimed at helping other people. 

The study suggests setting out daily to make people smile.  A simple goal that is attainable within 24 hours.  I tried it and it worked!  Rather than deciding that you will help the less fortunate, decide to donate two bags of groceries to a food pantry every week.  

I realize I can’t change the world, but I can donate my time and resources to local organizations like the Bethlehem Food Pantry or the Union Mission.  

If we each set out make the world a better place one small step at a time, our happiness meters are bound to climb. After all, that’s something money can’t buy.  

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