Lately I’ve been on a mission to really think about what makes us happy and how we sustain happiness. Not only am I personally feeling the ups and downs of life lately (cold winter weather doesn’t help), but as a teacher, I can tell you that more and more students are feeling apathetic and depressed. Seeing my students, who should be at an age (14-18) where they are excited for what is to come but aren’t, is quite alarming and saddening; this is our future generation!
So not surprisingly, yesterday I was drawn to the 2011 documentary film Happy by director Roko Belic. If you haven’t seen it, I would highly recommend it, because the film tackles the question of what makes someone happy by looking at different parts of the world using a happy index and also examining the science behind our brains that make us happy (did you know that our brain releases endorphins, dopamine and serotonin, that are “happy” hormones?)
An interesting statistic from the film is:
- 50% of our happiness is determined by our genes (we all have a happy set threshold)
- 10% of our happiness is determined by “circumstances” such as age, where we live, social status, and income
- 40% of our happiness is determined by “intentional activity” which are things that we decide to do
This tells me that we have 40% control when it comes to our happiness. Woohoo 40%! Unlike the 10% which we can only somewhat control, we actually have the power to be happy!
After watching the film, here’s the short end of it, there are 5 things that we need in order to be happy. Consider this a checklist and see how well you do (don’t get down on yourself if you cannot check all the boxes because it’s never too late to develop an area in your life!)
- “Play”– do you partake in any activities outside of your work? (Surfing, rock climbing, running, sports, art, dancing etc.)
- “New Experiences”– do you change-up your activities? We tend to get bored as humans so it is important to add something new to the activity (the film showed people participating in a run with Gorilla costumes – silly I know, but hey it works!)
- “Friends”– Do you have a friend circle or people around you that you love hanging out with? As John Donne once said, “No man is an island” which means that we are all interconnected and impact one another so we cannot isolate ourselves. We need friends and a sense of community to function properly. The good thing is that if you join an activity, chances are you’ll form friends!
- “Practicing cultivating happiness through compassion”– Do you stop yourself from hurting someone else because you can see their struggle? We need to feel with one another and then we don’t judge each other. See people for their vulnerabilities and as human, not as an enemy!
- “Doing meaningful things”– What is your purpose in life? When you help others for example through volunteering), you’re more likely to be happy. Attaching yourself to a cause that’s bigger than you allows you to feel as though you are contributing to the world.
- “Appreciating what we have”– Are you grateful for all your blessings? Think from a perspective standpoint, I once heard someone say, somewhere in the world there is someone wishing that they were living your life.
Happiness is always a choice and we have to stop living our lives doing the same things over and over again that make us unhappy. If we can’t (let’s say because we have to pay the bills and we have to stay in the job that we hate) then we have to find other ways to live out our true purpose.
The main message of the film: it’s not material things that matter, it’s what we do!