When was the last time you laughed? Was it within the last 24 hours? Do you consider yourself happy? Why or why not? Society teaches us to look elsewhere for happiness, but according to Marci Shimoff, No. 1 New York Times bestselling author and transformational leader, this is a myth.
“The big myth of happiness is that you’ll get your happiness somewhere out there, and we all succumb to this,” Shimoff says. “‘I’ll be happier when I get married.’ ‘I’ll be happier when I get divorced.’ ‘I’ll be happier when I have kids.’ ‘I’ll be happier when my kids are teenagers.’ ‘Oh no, I’ll really be happier when my kids are out of the house.’ The ever-popular, ‘I’ll be happier when I lose 20 pounds’.”
Unfortunately, achieving these goals will not make you happy for very long. They might make you happy for a few days or even months, but Shimoff says you will return to your status quo within the year.
This is because each of us has a “happiness set point,” she says. Life experiences, be they good or bad, may change your overall happiness for a short time, but they’re never permanent.
Think of it like a thermostat on a house. If you set it to 75ºF, it will stay at 75ºF fairly consistently without any help from you. If you leave a door open in the winter, that temperature will drop below 75ºF. However, once you close the door, it will be back at 75ºF within a few hours.
This is both a good and bad thing. The bad news: Your happiness set point or thermostat determines your happiness, and 50 percent of it is genetics. The good news: Just like your thermostat, it is adjustable.
This is because 40 percent of your set point is based on your thoughts and behaviors, which means changing your habits can raise your happiness set point.
Plus, studies show that changing your habits can also positively impact the 50 percent that’s genetic, which means that 90 percent of our happiness can be shifted. Interestingly enough, your circumstances, the part most of us focus on, only make up about 10 percent of your set point.
Habit 1: Change your brain
“Every thought we think, every feeling we feel creates chemical counterparts in the body that instantly flush through our body,” Shimoff says. “If 80 percent of our thoughts are negative, how do we feel at the end of the day? Drained. It’s not that you were so busy. It’s what was busy going on in your mind.”
In order to change, you first need to be aware of what you’re choosing to focus on each day.
“We have 2 billion bits of information that come our way every second,” Shimoff says. “We only pick up what we’re looking for. There are so many things out there we aren’t even paying attention to. What we pay attention to is what our brain has been trained to pay attention to. So if you’re looking for the bad, you’re going to find it, but if you’re looking for the good, you will find that too.”
Fortunately, there are three simple things you can do to change your brain activity:
- Look for the good.
- Savor it for at least 20 seconds. (It takes 20 seconds for it to sink in very deeply.)
- Go for a 3-to-1 positive-to-negative ratio.
By doing this, Shimoff says you will raise your happiness set point because it forces you to look for the good and savor it and to go for a different ratio of positives to negatives than we currently have.
Habit 2: Live with a passion, open heart and let love lead your life
“It’s been said that the heart is the great master. It’s the seed of the soul,” Shimoff says. “Our minds are fabulous, but they’re fabulous more as the servant, not as the leader.”
Living with an open heart means being forgiving, showing gratitude, being generous and showing kindness to those around us, Shimoff says. There are only two energies in the universe: Expansion or the energy of an open heart, of love, and contraction or the energy of fear and the ego.
It is impossible to feel good when you’re contracted or to feel bad when you’re expanded, she says.
With that in mind, go tell someone you appreciate them and why. You never know the impact you could have on that person. In fact, feeling and showing appreciation is one of the most important things we can do to impact our own and, potentially, someone else’s happiness, Shimoff says.
Habit 3: To live our soul’s passions
Ask yourself this question: What makes me feel alive? Now write down 10 answers and go do some or all of them.
Shimoff says passions are what make people come alive. This is one component that makes people happy. If you aren’t living out one of your passions, then go change or find a way to incorporate that passion into your current position.
For example, if your passion is education, but you are a full-time farmer, then host field trips on your dairy and educate people about what you do every day.
If you’re bored at your current job, figure out why and find a way to fix it. Try something new. Pursue a hobby or go on an adventure and check something off of your bucket list.
Bonus habit: Keep on laughing
It is impossible not to feel happier when you’re laughing. In fact, laughing automatically raises your happiness set point, Shimoff says. Even smiling makes a difference because, like laughing, it also creates endorphins that make you and, in turn, the people around you happier.
“When you feel happier, you don’t just impact yourself, you impact your family, your friends and your community and, ultimately, the world.”
So next time you’re feeling down, Shimoff says to just start smiling because as long as you’re smiling, you won’t feel down.
The information presented in this article is based off of Marci Shimoff’s presentation, “Happy for no reason,” at the Advancing Women’s Conference, March 28-29, 2016, in Calgary, Alberta.
PHOTO: “Nobody wakes up in the morning and says to themselves, ‘Gee, what could I do this morning to be miserable?’ We all want to be happy. It’s what people have wanted since time immemorial.” —Marci Shimoff. Photo provided by Jenna Hurty-Person.
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