By Jenna McCarthy
Merriam-Webster defines happiness as a state of well-being. Dictionary.com calls it a condition of pleasurable satisfaction. Do you want to know what I call it? Pretty much a luxury. After all, if you’re homeless or hungry or in prison or suffering any sort of discomfort, you’re not worried about something as intangible as happiness, right? Think about the last time you had a massive hangover. Even if every last thing in your life was going swimmingly, you probably didn’t lie on your couch counting your blessings with each throb of your head. You couldn’t. You were too busy popping Advil and downing Cokes and fantasizing about French fries while you perfected your woe-is-me moan, right?
You can’t imagine the lengths scientists go to in an effort to understand the mysterious beast we call happiness. In one fascinating study, researchers discovered that blowing cold air up participants’ noses put them in better moods than when they blew hot air up their noses. (Are you picturing this experiment? Honestly!) The takeaway here isn’t necessarily that you should go snort some dry ice or even open your freezer and breathe deeply when you’re in a crappy mood, although it sounds like there’s a chance that might help.
Random studies aside, while it can be hard to pinpoint exactly what happiness is, scientists are pretty clear when they’re defining what it’s not: Happiness isn’t skipping through life feeling giddy all day every day. It’s not having all the toys and things money can buy or a seven-figure bank account, although I’ll admit those things would be extremely fun and probably wouldn’t make most of us miserable. Happiness isn’t a destination — you know, like heaven or frequent flier elite status — that when you reach it, you’re automatically granted the privilege of staying there forever.
At the end of the day, happiness is a result of who you are, what you do and how you behave. You can’t wish yourself happier, but you CAN change or adopt certain behaviors that will undeniably improve your state of mind as well as your state of being.
Despite what you may passionately believe right now, there’s not a pair of shoes, a piece of furniture, a bit of electronics or any other sort of gadget or gizmo in the universe that will make you truly happy. This isn’t just my theory; it’s a scientifically proven fact.
The concept itself is called hedonic adaptation, and essentially what it means is that no matter what fabulous or amazing thing we acquire, it’s only a matter of time — generally around three months, give or take — until we go back to the EXACT same level of happiness we were at before we acquired it.
How to Get More Happiness
So if things won’t make us happy, what will? The answer is experiences. Think sharing a meal out with friends, taking a trip with your family or hiking a beautiful trail with your favorite canine companion. Unlike a new pair of boots or an iPhone 9-thousand, in addition to being inherently enjoyable in the moment, these things also satisfy deeper, more meaningful needs for connection and vitality — needs that have far-reaching benefits on our health and well-being.
Below are 3 practices that have been scientifically proven to increase happiness:
- Mindfulness. Harvard researchers confirmed scientifically what Buddhists have known since the fifth century BC: no matter what people are doing — whether it’s something inherently enjoyable like having sex or playing with their kids or something significantly less fun like commuting or working — they’re happiest when they’re focused on what they’re doing instead of thinking about something else.
- Gratitude. It’s research-proven fact that one of the most common habits of highly happy people is the keeping of a gratitude practice. In fact, research has found that regularly expressing thanks can help improve everything from insomnia to immune system function.
- Resilience. When disaster or tragedy strikes, the resilient are able to go zen because they understand that nothing is permanent. Nothing at all. Psychologists have a saying: if you can change your attitude, you can change your life. So when things aren’t going your way, you have a choice. You can dwell and stew and ask the universe WHAT DID I DO TO DESERVE THIS? Or you can say to yourself “well this feels pretty miserable and hopeless today, but let’s see what tomorrow brings.”