Overcoming fear is one part of living life without regret. You do that by being open to new people and new experiences, and by acting even when you’re afraid. Another aspect of a rewarding life is learning to find happiness in your daily existence — and building upon that happiness to construct a meaningful life.
Today, in the second part of this limited series on mastering your life, I want to share what I’ve learned about how to be happy.
More than two thousand years ago, the Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote, “All knowledge and every pursuit aims at…the highest of all good achievable by action.” And what is that good? “Both the general run of men and people of superior refinement say that it is happiness, and identify living well with being happy.”
In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle said that happiness is “the meaning and purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”
To some extent, a good life requires good fortune. Happenstance can undermine the well-being of even the most virtuous person. But Aristotle held that ultimately happiness isn’t a product of chance. You can allow misfortune to crush you, or you can choose to bear the blows of fate with “nobility and greatness of soul”. Although fate may play a role in your affairs, Aristotle believed that in the end, happiness depends upon yourself.
Modern psychologists agree.
The How of Happiness
In The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky shares the results of years of research into what makes people happy. She’s concerned with “chronic happiness” (as opposed to temporary happiness), with people who maintain an elevated sense of well-being over time. Based on her work, Lyubomirsky believes:
- About half of human happiness is biological. Each of us seems to have a happiness “set point” which accounts for roughly 50% of our level of contentment. Because this set point is genetic, it’s tough to change.
- Another 10% of happiness is circumstantial — based on external factors. These include traits like age, race, nationality, and gender, as well as things like marital status, occupational status, job security, and income. Your financial situation is part of this 10% — but only a part — which means it accounts for a tiny fraction of your total happiness.
- The final 40% of happiness comes from intentional activity — the things you choose to do. A huge chunk of contentment is based on your actions and attitude. You can increase your level of well-being through exercise, gratitude, and meaningful work.
Because circumstances play such a small role in your well-being — and because many of your circumstances are unchangeable — it makes more sense to boost your bliss through intentional activity, by controlling the things you can control while ignoring the things you can’t.
You can’t wait for someone or something to make you happy. Happiness isn’t something that just happens; happiness is a byproduct of the the things you think and say and do.
Just as you ought to become a money boss to take charge of your financial life, you ought to become a happiness boss to take charge of your emotional life. Believe it or not, you can control your emotional responses. It just takes a bit of knowledge and practice. [Read more…]