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Last night I watched the documentary, Happy.

I wish that everyone was required to watch it. It is all about the science of happiness. There is a country (Bhutan) where the government is more concerned with Gross National Happiness than Gross National Product. I wish Americans felt our citizen’s happiness was more important than money.

People in Denmark top the world in happiness and most cities in Japan top the world for unhappiness.

The scientists doing the research said that 50 percent of happiness is genetic, so there isn’t much we can do about that, but a whopping 40 percent of our happiness can be altered by how we act, what we think, and what we do. That is a substantial amount that we have control over.

What do they suggest we do to increase our happiness?

  1. Be social. Everyone that scored high in happiness had a network of family and friends.
  2. Think of something bigger than you. You don’t have to be religious to think of, or participate in, activities that benefit the greater good. You can volunteer at a place that provides hospice care or a shelter for the homeless, or any activity that helps your community and other people.
  3. Exercise. People that are the happiest move their bodies.
  4. Do activities that you love. The researchers talked about “flow.” That place where people go when they are in the “zone” and are experiencing something like being at one with the activity they are doing. The more you can create “flow” in your life, the happier you will be. People can experience “flow” in their jobs. In the film, they interviewed a chef who loves cooking so much that he is experiencing “flow” while he works each day. In my life, I think I experience “flow” at times when I am writing. Other people experience it while gardening, playing music, dancing, etc.
  5. Try to change your routine. Even minor changes in your daily routine, like walking to work a different way, increase your happiness. Our brains respond well to variety.

 

There was one other way to significantly increase happiness that I found controversial because the researchers said meditating on compassion and loving kindness proved to be as effective as antidepressants over a certain length of time. I would never recommend someone going off their medication to exchange that for meditation, but it seems like if the findings were that significant, it is worth a try to read up on meditating about compassion and loving kindness and possibly start a practice of meditation.

The documentary didn’t address mental illness. They did mention depression a couple of times, but they didn’t qualify that with any science. I didn’t know if they were talking about clinical depression or bipolar depression. Were they talking about situational depression? I’m not sure the severity of the depression they were referencing.

But, if for most people, 40 percent of our happiness can be influenced by our thoughts, actions, etc. then I want to focus on some of the things they mentioned. I think I am fairly happy, but who couldn’t use more good feelings in their life?  I plan to take steps to be happier this year – a goal that if reached, will spread to all those around me.