By Delia Nessim
Nothing can relay a message quite as effectively as a catchy song. The message being that Pharrell Williams is choosing to be happy and nothing is going to bring him down. The idea that ‘happiness is a choice’ is a popular concept these days, but not a new one. In the 1860’s Leo Tolsoy said, “If you want to be happy, be.” I think most people would choose to be happy. So why is it that so many people seem unhappy? The trouble might be that they don’t know any other way. Many people think that their circumstances are random and when good things happen they feel happy and when bad things happen, they feel sad or angry. There has been a great deal of research on the subject of happiness. According to the documentary film called “Happiness,” just 10% of happiness is derived from circumstances, 50% of our happiness comes from genetics and the remaining 40% comes from our own actions and choices. That is a significant percentage. The studies explored what actions or events led to increased happiness. The number one thing was, being of service. Volunteering your time is very rewarding. It helps a person shift the focus off of their issues and onto something bigger.
In the yogic teaching, the 5 keys to happiness are: 1) free your heart from hatred, 2) free your mind from worry, 3) simplify your life, 4) give more, and 5) expect less.
The Dalai Lama believes love and compassion are central to happiness. When he smiles at someone, for example, it doesn’t matter how they respond. “The rewards of practicing compassion go first to the practitioner.”* Research shows that people who often use the words “me”, “I” and “mine” are more likely to have heart attacks. According to Buddhist philosophy, thinking predominantly about oneself narrows one’s focus and as a result small problems to seem big. When the focus is on others, the mind widens and the personal problems seem smaller.
You may be thinking that you don’t have time to volunteer. There are already too many things to do and not enough time to do them. One more thing would cause more stress and less happiness. If this is the case maybe it’s time to simplify. Perhaps you feel the need to please others at your own expense. This can be another source of unhappiness. It is important to be true to yourself and your values. The bigger the gap between who you are deep down in your soul and the person you portray in life, the less happy you will be. That being said, volunteerism isn’t for everyone. Sometimes just offering a smile and some friendly conversation to a stranger can brighten their day and yours, too.
Now getting back to the percentages, if 10% of happiness comes from circumstances, you may have more control over that than you think. Do you ever notice how some people seem to have all the luck? It may not be all that random. The philosophy that is gaining popularity is that our predominant thoughts manifest our reality. So as they say, “if thoughts create reality, choose your thoughts wisely.”
Finally, the remaining 50% is attributed to genetic. There are definitely some babies that are born with a pleasant disposition and others that are not. According to Bruce Lipton and other specialists in the field of epigenetics, “our genes are not set in stone.” Our cells are always splitting and reproducing and other cells are dying. We are not the same person that we were 20 or 30 years ago. If we consciously expose ourselves to experiences that are fun and happy (or we choose to see it that way), we will be creating evidence for our brains to develop a new set of beliefs. There will be less production of stress hormones and more “feel good” hormones and eventually the cells will be altered.
So it seems that scientifically speaking, happiness really is a choice. So, practically speaking, how do we get happy and stay happy? Some techniques is to read uplifting books and poetry that remind us that we are spiritual beings having a human experience and we are loved beyond measure. Other ideas are to avoid criticism, gossip, voicing discontent with others. Also practice gaining control of your reactions, particularly anger. Be selective about what you let into your mind by not watching disturbing TV programs and you tube videos. Instead focus on what is working well, spend face-to-face time with people you like and love, especially if they make you laugh. Shower your senses with pleasurable experiences. Spring time is a treat for the eyes and nose and even ears so get out in nature and enjoy. Summer is a treat for the taste buds with fresh fruits and vegetables. Enjoy the warmth of the sun on your skin. Cultivate all your creative gifts and talents. You will soon be focused on love and gratitude and you can’t be anything else but happy.* All you Ever Wanted to Know from His Holiness The Dalai Lama on Happiness, Life, living and Much More – Conversations with Rajiv Mehrotra