I thought I would write about something that really got me thinking a couple of months ago when I first enrolled in my “Science of Happiness” course through the Greater Good Science Center.
At the time, I had just finished an audio book (I find that audio books are great companions for my morning commute) You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Living and Awesome Life by Jen Sincero.
The book began with the preface that if you just believe in sending out your intentions to the Universe, wait, and they will miraculously come true. If you could just vibrate on a higher plane, yadda, yadda, yadda…I nearly returned the book but stuck it out. The rest of the book was really about the author and her magical transformations into awesomeness that didn’t seem that grounded in the reality of daily living and for most of us, limited bank accounts. In the end, the book left me feeling worse than when I started. I swore that this would be the last self-help book I would read not backed by actual research and science.
I was still on a quest, but in a different way, which is why I was grateful to come across the “Science of Happiness” course. Instead of trying to will myself into happiness, I had to follow my instinct to stop trying so hard. Signing up and taking the course brought back memories of college where I simply learned information to interpret and take with me into the real world. I loved the articles by dedicated researchers in the fields of positive psychology, happiness, and wellbeing, as well as the weekly happiness practices we were asked to do.
One of the first things I learned is that although 50% of our happiness based on genetics (argh), there is a big portion that is not (yeah). Surprisingly only 10% of happiness is circumstantial, such as our job status, wealth, and material possessions. So, that leaves us with a whopping 40% of unaccounted for happiness potential. And this is where the fun begins.
So what do we do? Lahnna Catalino, Ph.D., who is a postdoctoral scholar in psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine has the answer in what she calls ‘Prioritizing Positivity’. Catalino contends (check out her article on the subject) that instead of chasing the illusive idea of happiness (that includes being a Pollyanna all the time), we can raise our levels of happiness by choosing situations that promote positive emotions on a day-to-day basis.
This resonated deeply with me, I felt like it took me off the happiness hook. Phew! I remember the days when I was just about obsessive about being happy and positive all the time and drove my friends completely bonkers. It left me emotionally and mentally exhausted, and depressed to say the least.
I like action and what I like about Prioritizing Priority is that it gives me the power to choose a circumstance that can result in a positive experience over just thinking or wishing for it – a lot like sending those intentional vibrations out into the Universe and hoping for the best. Listen, we can’t avoid the ups and downs of life (that’s actually a good thing) but we can certainly mitigate the downs by doing things that we enjoy to do. A number of books on the market by renown researchers in the field of positive psychology (such as Tal Ben-Shahar’s Happier) have exercises designed to flex these muscles.
So what does your 40% look like? Are you stuck on how to begin? In my fitness seminars, I coach folks to write down all the things their body loved to do as kids to inspire them for fun fitness ideas. Try this with your life. What are the things that you love to do? What have you given up or sacrificed that had brought you joy and contentment? For some, it can be hiking at the local park and for others it could be tinkering with electronics. For me right now, it’s yoga training, spending time with those that I love, and writing this blog. There is no one-size-fits-all here. Only you know the answers. It can be small things like being kinder to your colleague or thanking the barista with a smile when you get your cup of coffee each day.
Begin by making that list, you have nothing to lose. Once you have your list, begin to see where you can fit in your top items. Maybe some choices are the ones you do everyday for 10 minutes, maybe others for an hour a couple of days a week. The idea is to design your day, your week, your month, your year, with the things that make you the most content.
Here’s an example of my list in no particular order:
- Laugh as much as I can every day
- Do at least one Down Dog yoga pose every day
- Cuddle with my boyfriend
- Lift weights
- Teach and take indoor cycle classes
- Teach and facilitate classes and seminars at work
- Cook from scratch
- Walk in nature
- Speak to my Aunt Ellen once a week
- Learn and practice yoga arm balances and inversions
- Read a novel
- Take Butoh dance workshops
- Lunch with colleagues
- Lunch dates with my best friends
- Research happiness
Things that I am aspiring to do or haven’t done in a while that I’d like to incorporate into my life:
- Writing material for a new show
- Perform on stage
- Write poetry
- Paint / make artsy things
- See live theater
- Listen to live music
- Research physical theater
- Take my best friend’s kids out on dates
- Organize a Butoh Salon
- Cross Country Ski
- Meditate every day