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Be happier in 2012

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We have all heard that our weight has a “set point”, the weight that our body will try to return to whenever we have lost weight. Well did you know that you also have a “happiness set point.”

Sonja Lyubomirsky, a researcher and professor of psychology at the University of California and author of the book The How of Happiness says that research shows that each person is born with a particular “happiness set point”. How high or low this point is set and therefore how happy or unhappy we tend to be, is primarily genetic (meaning we are born that way). This makes sense to me. Think of someone you have known since they were a child, perhaps a sibling or even one of your own kids. Can’t you say “she has always had a smile on her face” or “that woman has always been such a downer.” Now you know that their happiness set point genetically predisposes them to be that way.

But you notice that Professor Lyubomirsky says that happiness is “primarily” genetic, so what else contributes to our happiness ? What about life circumstances. She believes that only contributes to about 10% of our happiness.

“most of us think that we’d be happier if only X or Y happened, but research suggests that we will quickly adapt to any positive life change and then return back to our previous happiness level. Even recent lottery winners tend to return to their original happiness baselines after several months. Unless life circumstance is dire (poverty or abuse), it doesn’t impact our happiness as much as we think it does.”

Just like our weight set point, Professor Lyubomirsky believes we can change our happiness set point with a strong and consistent commitment to the following 11 “happiness boosters”

1) Count your blessings (she suggests keeping a “gratitude journal”) and review it often.

2) Practice random and varied acts of kindness. Each day try to be kind in a different way (doing the same act of kindness does not work as well).

3) Nurture Optimism (notice what’s right not what’s wrong).

4) Practice Forgiving

5) Increase Flow Experiences. Get so absorbed in what you are doing that you lose track of time.

6) Invest in strong relationships (family, friends and community)

7) Avoid over-thinking; stop obsessing about the bad stuff even distracting yourself if necessary

8) Savor life’s joys. Take a mental “photograph” of the pleasurable moments and then review them in a less happy time

9) Take care of your soul.

10) Strive for something and commit to the goal. Just the process of striving and learning makes us happier

11) Use your body wisely and practice smiling and laughing.

I thought a lot about these 11 happiness boosters and realized that I am pretty good at six of them. For the coming new year, I am going to commit to practicing the other five. How about you? Will you join me in making 2012 a happier year.

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