Is there a way to increase happiness? I have a good life, but don't always feel happy. Is there more I can do? Jake.
Incredibly, happiness, that most intangible of concepts, has been given a formula by Positive Psychologists, led by Martin Seligman. They say that the degree of happiness you can experience, H, is determined by your biological predisposition to be happy, called the set point, S, combined with the conditions of your life, C, and the voluntary activities you choose to be involved in, V. So their formula for happiness is H = S + C+ V. If our biological set point is gauged at a level where it takes very little to make us happy, we are indeed fortunate. Some of us, however, might find feeling happy quite effortful, even if we enjoy the favourable conditions and freedom of choice that superficially appear to aidwellbeing. But research shows that there are other factors that can help, which we will explore over the next few weeks.
Step 1: Accept the conditions you cannot change
Conditions comprise both material things, such as work, finances and housing, and the things we cannot change about ourselves, such as sex, race and age. They include whether we are in a relationship, recently bereaved, are physically well or have illnesses or disabilities. The conditions of our life will never be perfect and indeed, would we even know perfection if it were attainable?
We can, however, improve our sense of wellbeing by being truly accepting of the realities of our life "conditions". That does not mean we cannot strive to improve our lot, but we do not have to be angry or disappointed with ourselves if we don't have everything we think we should have. Accepting who and what we are now, in this moment, will release energy that might otherwise be bound up in regret or recrimination, liberating us to truly enjoy what we already have and work towards what we dream of.
Additionally, by accepting that our biological set point for happiness can sometimes feel a bit of a struggle, we can forgive ourselves if we don't feel happy all the time. It's therapeutic to realise that it's normal to feel neutral, low or sad in the absence of losses or stressors; it's all part of our human emotional experience and these feelings can and will pass, as all feelings do.
Next week: how voluntary activities improve our happiness quotient.
Cecilia is Mind journalist of the yearReuse content