(Reprinted from 2015) In which a skeptic succumbs to sheer weight of modern evidence about the foundation of happiness.
Here’s the nitty gritty message taught by the Science of Happiness MOOC from UC Berkeley. A surprising proportion of our happiness is under our own control. If you score a person’s happiness out of a possible 100, maybe 30% is a result of our own actions. Actions we can choose. Actions of mind as well as body.
These statistics (whaddya mean, 30%?) do my head in and arouse skepticism if not paranoia — so don’t ask me to explain them. All the same, I take it on trust that we can learn to behave and think in certain ways that increase our general satisfaction with life.
Here are four undisputed biggies which pop up consistently across many studies, trivial and massive, short and very long. According to the great They (as in They Say), most people who do these four things are more likely to be happy. I know that was an unreferenced comparative and a philosophically and scientifically meaningless statement. Still, you get the gist.
4 magic tricks to make yourself happier, provided you happen to be the mythical average person
- Exercise enough. That’s possible, yes it is. (Exercise, as a universal aid for aging bodies and brains, takes high priority in my personal boot camp.)
- Sleep well. That’s easy … for some. (I’m rather good at sleeping. I practise every night.)
- Have enough money — sufficient for the necessities of life. When that’s a problem, it’s obviously not an easy one to fix. But for many of us, “enough” is a matter of perception. Minimalism and decluttering your life overlap good old-fashioned thrift, and gives you a nice feeling.
- And here’s the easiest trick of the lot: just hang in there. Grow older. After hitting 50, the average person’s subjective level of life satisfaction begins to rise. Physical health declines with age but happiness increases, huh? Who knew? Actually, rather a lot of people by now. The latest research to confirm this counter-intuitive trend comes from the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research.
The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey: Selected Findings from Waves 1 to 12
The big four are well proven happiness predictors. Do we really need any more picky proof? Why not just do what we’re told? There’s more to it, naturally — this is just a starter kit.
Image in the public domain, from Internet Archive Book Images