You may be wondering how a blog on Weekend Retirement relates to the topic of happiness. Well, if you are near retirement age and don’t see a way to retire anytime soon, you may be wondering how to be happy in your current circumstances.
Over the years I have heard a lot about happiness: that it is a choice, it is a by-product of doing the right thing, it is elusive, and that it is fleeting. In this post I’m going to explore happiness from a more scientific approach based on research in the area of Positive Psychology.
Let’s start with the idea that happiness is a choice. What does Positive Psychology have to say about that? Researcher and writer Sonja Lyubomirsky, in her book The How of Happiness, explains that we each have a set point for happiness, a percentage of which is based on our genes.
She has uncovered a kind of pie chart for happiness:
- 50% of our happiness is genetically predisposed
- 10% of our happiness is based on circumstances
- 40% of our happiness is based on intentional activity or activities we choose to engage in
So what that tells me is that if you are not someone who leaps out of bed each morning, chirping about the new day, you may not be genetically predisposed to optimism. The good news is that you can still find happiness, but you will need to make a conscious decision to include certain types of activities in your day.
Lyubomirsky recommends 12 activities that can help you find happiness throughout the day. Her list includes:
- Expressing gratitude
- Cultivating optimism
- Avoiding overthinking and social comparison
- Practicing acts of kindness
- Nurturing social relationships
- Developing strategies for coping
- Learning to forgive
- Increasing flow experiences
- Savoring life’s joys
- Committing to your goals
- Practicing religion and spirituality
- Taking care of your body
Her book elaborates on each of these activities and why they help to promote happiness.
Let’s focus today on two of the activities on Lyubomirsky’s list: gratitude and savoring life’s joys.
According to Robert Emmons, gratitude is a felt sense of wonder, thankfulness and appreciation for life. One way to practice gratitude popularized by Oprah Winfrey is the gratitude journal, listing 3-5 things each day for which you are grateful. You can also write a letter of appreciation to people who have made a real difference in your life. Or you could make it a daily habit to tell someone how grateful you are for the contribution they make to your life.
To savor means to taste or experience something and enjoy it completely. To researchers, savoring has an element of prolonging the enjoyment. When was the last time you savored an experience? I have been savoring an experience I had two nights ago–I attended a James Taylor concert that just blew me away. I’ll be reliving that experience for days.
How can you consciously work in more gratitude and savoring into your day?
P.S. If you like the sound of babies giggling, click on this link to the AFV episode with the family of laughing quadruplets.