Why is it that some people remain bright and cheery whatever life throws at them while others walk around with a permanent frown on their face?
Is it connected to our circumstances, our life situation?
Is it something in the genes?
Or is being unhappy no more than a (bad) habit?
Is it possible to let go of being habitually unhappy and cultivate a happiness habit instead?
Happiness research reveals that, with the exception of those living in poverty, life circumstances play a surprisingly small part in determining how happy or unhappy a person is. More money can make us more comfortable but not necessarily any happier. There are plenty of unhappy millionaires out there that will testify to this.
In his book 'Authentic Happiness', positive psychology pioneer, Dr Martin Seligman concludes that how happy we are is 50% down to our genetics and the rest down to how we habitually think. In other words, happiness is largely a habit.
Happy people think in a certain way. They are in the habit of being happy.
Although some of us may never be candidates for the 'happiest person in the world' prize due to our genes, anyone can make the conscious choice to change their habitual way of thinking and, in doing so, cultivate the happiness habit.
'Cultivate' is a good word to use for we are each gardeners of our own inner landscape. A good gardener will keep on top of the weeds (blame, criticism, judgement etc) and give care and attention to the flowers (praise, gratitude, love). The type of garden we create comes down to which plants we choose to water and which ones we uproot. It is entirely up to us.
Blaming the gardener next door for the weeds in our own garden will never lead to happiness. In fact, of all the habits of happy people, there is none more important than taking full responsibility for our own inner happiness.
_,Author and spiritual teacher, Deepak Chopra, describes most people as being a "bundle of conditioned responses" with regard to how they operate in the world. Much of our behaviour is unconscious and happens on autopilot.
Someone criticises you and you become hurt and defensive. The next moment you are being praised and you puff up with pride. We habitually react in the same old ways over and over.
Happy people, whether conscious of it or not, are simply in the habit of being happy. They consistently respond to life's situations in a manner which leans towards happiness.
Some people, like my dear old grandmother, was blessed with a happy nature. Others (like myself) have had to work on it a bit more but the good news is that, with willingness and a little discipline, anyone can shift the way they habitually think to create more happiness in their life.
Happiness research reveals some interesting facts about how the mind operates.
When confronted with familiar situations, the mind will automatically shoot off down the most well-trodden neural pathway. If it is your habit to complain, for example, then the morning traffic jam, your job, your boss, the weather or the state of the world will all elicit complaints, causing inner contraction (unhappiness). This is simply a habit.
If, as a gardener, you choose instead to nurture the happiness habits of gratitude or praise, two things happen.
Deprived of water and nutrients (your attention) the weed of complaining begins to wither and die. Your attention is the only thing that allows it to thrive.
Secondly, as you nurture the flower of gratitude more and more, it will gradually blossom and a new habit will take hold.
Happiness research shows that it takes about 6 weeks to form a new habit, or, in other words, for the mind to establish a new neural pathway.
The key is to make our unconscious patterns conscious, take responsibility and to see that happiness is a choice.
We are creatures of habit. Why not nurture the happiness habit?