“Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action. ”
― William James
Some years ago I met some of the happiest and kindest people in the small southeastern African country of Malawi. Over half the population live below the poverty line and some even in extreme poverty, yet the country is also known as “the warm heart of Africa” because its people have the reputation of smiling all the time.
The trip to Malawi set me thinking. While obviously many people in abject poverty fall prey to lethargy, some people in the very same situation appear to be taking on a very different mindset.
The 2020 World Happiness Report listing factors such as freedom of choice, the environment, social factors and the economy, consistently has the Nordic countries topping the list of the most happy countries. The report attributes happiness particularly to a high level of social and institutional trust as well as the social connections.
But there is much more to it. The United States, one of the world’s wealthiest nations, ranks only 19th on the life evaluation list. The Netherlands and Switzerland, in essence indistinguishable from many other wealthy countries on GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom, generosity, and corruption, nevertheless have a lower overall score than the Scandinavian countries.
How much of your happiness is under your control?
Especially during these times when the pandemic is wreaking havoc on economies and businesses it is easy to blame external circumstances for our unhappiness. The happiness pie chart, first presented by researchers Sonja Lyubomirsky, Kennon M. Sheldon, and David Schkade in 2005, suggests that our perceived feeling of happiness is only influenced by external circumstances by ten per cent. The genes we inherited from our parents play a major part (50 per cent) but the researchers emphasize that it is possible to get happier and to stay happy by making certain choices and changing our mindset.
It appears that by far the major part of our happiness is determined by the way we process the external world and the way we program ourselves with our thought and belief systems. A large body of researchers from the school of positive psychology conclude that it is possible to completely transform a life for the better by changing ones attitude to whatever you have experienced. Thought discipline and taking control of the monkeys dancing in the head has been taught by spiritual teachers for centuries. Here are only some tips of how you can regain control:
Accept the up-and-down cycles.
Life is cyclical. It is part of the human condition to have moments of sadness and despair. The New Age obsession with “being happy all the time” is an illusion. It is only in the honest and full acceptance of the current state that we can take the first step to moving forward to a life of greater contentment.
What foods are you eating?
What we eat matters for every aspect of our health, but especially our mental health. A diet of junk food with a high sugar content and other additives not only affects your physical body negatively but also your mental health. It has inspired a whole field of medical research called nutritional psychiatry at Harvard University.
Practicing kindness and compassion
If we take care of others and practice compassion and loving kindness to each other this will have an immediate effect on your own sense of well-being. We know this from our own gut-feeling It costs nothing to be kind and you will in return attract the same energy in your surroundings. There is a saying called “givers gain” – the more you give the more you receive.
A core spiritual belief makes you more resilient during stressful times and will improve your sense of well-being. We are social beings and if you belong to a faith community you could be given emotional support. The spiritual seeker is on a journey to understand purpose and meaning in life. Dogmatic religion however could have the opposite effect and contribute to obsessive behavior and mental disorder.
How you talk to yourself is crucial. If your self-talk is predominantly negative you need to change something. Finding a positively-minded personal mantra could be part of a process you could work at with a personal mentor or therapist. Meditating at the start of your day and at the end of the day with a gratitude ritual could form part of a realignment program.
Low-impact exercise such as yoga, tai chi or qi gong helps to realign body, mind and spirit. It includes breathing exercise routines that help you breathe naturally through your nose rather than through the mouth. Your nose releases nitric oxide which widens the blood vessels allowing for better transportation of oxygen to vital organs.
There is not the one silver bullet that will improve your overall happiness level and feeling of contentment. It is best to start with small steps in changing some of your daily habits. Keeping a daily journal will help you keep track on what you are doing in terms of action. And when you read some of the lines many months or years later you will be proud of what you have achieved.
Reino Gevers – Author – Mentor – Speaker
One more thing…