Why are some people inherently happier than others? Does it start at childhood where children first learned at home with their parents? More importantly, why does it seem that children are happier than most adults? If you could recall a happy time in your childhood, you’d probably think of many occasions. But as we get older and responsibility starts to set in, we push happiness to the background and let other things get in the way.
Famous Greek philosopher, Aristotle once said, “Happiness depends on ourselves,”. He asserted that happiness is a long-term goal—achieved throughout the course of a lifetime—rather than something that promises instant gratification. While this may hold more accurately for adults – based on experiences – we can also teach our children to apply this ethic to their lives; teaching them that happiness can be long term and comes from within. There’s something to be said about choosing one’s own happiness, for being happy truly is a choice. It’s not always about status or money or getting the best things. Happiness stems from the innate desire to let things go, to not dwell on things or circumstances that can drag us down.
In a 2012 article for Harvard Business Review titled “The History of Happiness”, history professor Peter N. Stearns of George Mason University stated that while happiness seemed to have improved over the years due to incline of social and cultural status as well as improved health systems, it is a perceived form of happiness that stems from possessions of things rather than something else. And that something else is “that happiness depends on ourselves and not on our circumstances.” But throughout the recent years happiness has also seen a gradual decline and that seems to stem from “poor social support, both governmental and associational.”
Happiness is difficult to measure and can range from person to person, and even day to day. Modern studies expand on Aristotle’s work by focusing less on what happiness is and more on how happiness can be increased and sustained in our lives. According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, a psychology professor at University of California–Riverside, conducts most of her research in a relatively new field called “positive psychology”. She estimates that only 10 percent of our happiness is attributable to external circumstances like socioeconomic status, marital status, ethnicity, religious beliefs and age. This seems counterintuitive; people tend to assume circumstances play a much larger role in our happiness. But Lyubomirsky asserts there’s a wealth of evidence to support her conclusion, including a study showing that “Americans who earn more than $10 million per year are only slightly happier than nonwealthy office or blue-collar workers.”
So how do we become happier, you might ask? Is it from becoming wealthier and a rise in social status? Or is it living humbly with less possessions to worry over? In a research conducted by Professor Lyubomirsky, she found that truly happy individuals construe life events and daily situations in ways that seem to maintain their happiness, while unhappy individuals construe experiences in ways that seem to reinforce unhappiness.
If you look at the pie chart above, happiness can be mostly controlled by our own actions rather than our circumstances. And while we can’t really do much with our genetic disposition, we can do things in our daily lives to live happier. Things such as doing acts of kindness, nurturing your social relationships and learning to forgive those who have hurt you all help in the long run. These are wonderful lessons to learn for adults, but what about with children? Very young children are still learning that their actions cause consequences which may affect their lives and those around them. That is why it’s crucial for children to learn at a young age that the things they do or say can hold great impact. Children learn best by hands on experiences and every thing they experience and see is a learning lesson.
Below are some ideas you can do to be happier. While you can not always seek happiness, practice these exercises daily to help you get a better and healthier life:
Practice mindfulness. It is a state of being aware of the moment and who you are. Take your time to enjoy the simple things in life such as delicious food, beautiful artwork, or a great book.
Be in nature. Being out in nature such as mountains, parks, and oceans, help connect us to what is innate. We are all a part of nature and if we listen closely, we can hear the trees rustling, feel the gentle breeze that caresses a flower, and see the waves move symbiotically with the wind.
Be kind. The easiest and yet the hardest thing to do is be kind when you are facing adversity. It’s easy to be kind when things are going well but it’s even more important to remain kind when things are not. Be kind to yourself and be kind to especially those who need it.
Reduce screen time. In this new age where practically everyone has some kind of electronic equipment on them, learn to reduce the limit of such distractions so that you don’t become dependent on them. Keep your phone with you but don’t make it a bad habit of checking it every 3 seconds. Don’t spend all of your downtime watching videos on your tablet or laptop. And set timers for your children to limit their usage as well.
Be proactive. Make plans ahead of time by writing them down so you can have access to your list. When you have an idea of what you are going to do today or a week from now, you won’t feel as stressed when that time comes.
Eat healthy foods. Nutritious foods such as vegetables and fruits are full of important vitamins and minerals to keep your mind and body healthy. When you’re sick, your natural mental and physical states could cause more distress and stress.
Limit alcohol or cut out alcohol. Alcohol is a temporary fix and can only give you a temporary idea of happiness. Plus, it will drastically ruin your health and livelihood if you become dependent on it.
Get plenty of health-inducing exercise. Taking relaxing walks, gentle running, and any kind of health building exercises such as Taiji and Yoga will help you long term. Try to limit excessive weight lifting and anything that can tax your body.
Think positively! There can always be something that can get in the way of your inner happiness and peace. Remember that you are in control of your own actions and no one should dictate whether you should be happy or not.
If you have children, whether young, old, or in between, remind them of some of these practices. Children are like sponges – they soak up everything around them so show them and teach them that happiness begins within themselves and they’ll grow to appreciate the little things in life when they’re older.
*Sources: :Delicious Living Magazine/New Hope Network
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