It’s true that the majority of our happiness is out of our control. 50% is due to our genetic makeup and 10% to our environment. But that means the remaining 40% is entirely within our control! That’s huge!
So on a scale of 1 to 10, how happy are you?
Regardless of your answer, you can move that number closer to the happier end of the spectrum just by making small shifts. Our habits of the mind are just that – habits. They can be broken and healthier habits can be chosen to replace them. Even optimism and forgiveness can be learned (see Seligman’s book Learned Optimism, Kushner’s How Good Do You Have to Be or Worthington’s Five Steps to Forgiveness: The Art and Science of Forgiving). We can create daily practices of gratitude and kindness and make a point of savoring special or even ordinary moments in the present or future.
Taking care of our mind and body is also critical to our happiness. We all know we’re supposed to exercise our body and eat healthy food, but what about our mind? Our mind needs exercise and nourishment too in the way of mindful practice (being in the present moment, not the past or the future) and focusing on the positive. Our mind’s negative habits are the psychological and emotional equivalent of perfecting the art of watching TV and eating Girl Scout cookies. Mindfulness, gratitude and focus on the beauty of the present moment are what nourish our spirit. Though meditation is the mac-daddy workout for mindfulness, other mindful practices such as yoga, tai chi or prayer are also great exercise for our mindfulness muscle.
Finally, our connection to others and the natural world should also be nurtured. Relationship skills are not routinely taught, yet are an essential life skill. Forming healthy, meaningful relationships and giving to others in an authentic way is well worth the investment of time and effort. Furthermore, connecting to nature takes neither time nor practice. We simply need to be present and appreciative when stepping outside.
So you see, happiness is not really that complicated though it often seems so hard or even impossible to attain. Excessive focus on status, money, problems or our inadequacies is a misuse of our 40%. Instead, prioritizing mindfulness, positive emotion and connection helps to maximize your 40% in the best way possible.