Don’t be one of those people who believe they are destined to be unhappy. Reorganize your thinking and guess what? You can be happy, even if you aren’t wealthy, beautiful, admired by your peers or a lottery winner. External circumstances don’t determine true happiness. What counts is your attitude toward life. If you’re positive, you are likely to be happy. If you’re negative, you’ll probably be unhappy.
Genes have much to do with happiness. Some people are born with high happiness “set points.” These markers are like diet set points: Some people can eat a ton of food and not gain a pound, while others seem to put on weight just by entering the kitchen. Similarly, people with high happiness set points naturally feel more satisfied than others and more content – happier – with their lives and the world around them.
You can’t change your genes. If you are unlucky and have a relatively low happiness set point, you will tend to feel unhappy rather than happy. But research indicates that people’s set points account for only 50% of their overall happiness. Another 10% is determined by life circumstances – being rich or poor, healthy or unhealthy, fat or thin, loved or unloved, lucky or unlucky – and individuals directly control the remaining 40%.
People have the power to substantially improve their happiness by making a conscious effort to be happy, not unhappy. This requires developing the habits and attitudes of happy people, and – if need be – changing their thinking and behaviour. Ultimately, you choose to be happy. You can induce happiness using basic, scientifically proven concepts, but it involves a great deal of effort. Changing your thinking, attitudes and behaviour is not easy, but the result could be lifelong happiness.
Unfortunately, some individuals continue to feel grossly unhappy regardless of their heroic attempts to change their thinking and behaviour. Such individuals may be seriously depressed and may need professional assistance, such as psychotherapy or medication. If you think you might be depressed, seek help. First, get a full physical examination from your primary care physician to rule out any somatic causes of depression. Your physician may refer you to a mental-health professional for treatment.
If you are a nondepressed, but still unhappy person, examine why you feel down. This will help you determine which exercises can help you improve your mood and be happier. Ask yourself what underpins your unhappiness. Do you dread the future? Do you feel you don’t have control over your life? Are you shy or naturally pessimistic? Is it hard for you to find pleasure? Your answers to such questions will point you to the exercises that will be the most satisfying for you.
Examine your strong points. For example, if you are naturally competitive, then you should engage in a sport or physical activity where you can excel, and thus feel happier and better about yourself. Consider the life you live before you chose new activities. If your life is highly stressful with little free time, then something simple like counting your blessings may be all you need.