Science has shown you can have an impact on only 12 percent of the things that determine whether you are happy. The happiest people among us understand if you make the right choices, that small percentage is enough.
What separates the world’s happiest people from the rest of us?
Good question. In 2012, Denmark was named among the happiest people on the Planet. They came out on top as one of the ‘Ten Happiest Countries in the World’. So what are the people of Denmark doing that the rest of us are not? Looking at those top ten countries and having met and known people from those countries, I am always struck by how chilled, relaxed and confident they are about themselves.
In the United States, about one-third of the population describes itself as ‘very happy’ according to the polling agency Harris Interactive – Apparently a high number than many might think. The situation in the UK is a far different case.
According to a report commissioned by the UK Labour Party called ‘The Modern British Family’, that ‘Modern British Family’ are far from happy. They are ‘struggling: they feel tired, stressed and under pressure’. ‘All the problems they face link back to feeling financially stretched.’ The Report gives an overview and details of what families are having to cope with in Britain today. Finances and ‘Affordable Housing’ are the main worries, as well as both parents wishing they could spend more quality time with their children. It makes for grim reading of what ‘The Modern British Family’ is up against. And it doesn’t seem as if the UK Government is keen on recognising the pressures ‘The Modern British Family’ is dealing with. Certainly the UK Tax System doesn’t promote ‘Family Values’ and does not reward families who stay together.
Another Report:’Time Health and the Family’ (subtitled: ‘What working families want’) also makes for grim reading, where the happiness of the British is concerned. The 2014 Report, sponsored by ‘Bright Horizons’ and ‘Working Families’ provides a ‘snapshot’ of family life of the working family in the UK now. Households are now more reliant on dual earners than ever before, with the UK significantly behind when it comes to women in the workplace, lack of flexibility in the workplace that does not accommodate women when they begin having children. Combined with expensive but low-quality childcare and the problem of combining family life with work, remain barriers to women entering/re-entering the workplace. The above is just the tip of a very large iceberg.
Both reports make for grim reading of family life in Britain in the 21st Century and based on the evidence of both Reports, nothing is going to change anytime in the near future. We could learn a great deal by looking at the lifestyles of Denmark and the other nine countries, whose people are the happiest on the Planet.
Whether you live in the United Kingdom or another country that is the least happiest, there are people who seem to prosper, move forward in life and always seem to have an abundance of energy and a zest for life. These are the people you may pass in the street, who work in your office/workplace, who are upbeat, eager no matter what unexpected challenges come their way. They are the ones who seem to get genuinely excited over the smallest opportunities and kindness that comes their way. They are the people in your social circles who endure hardship with smiles on their faces and who seem wired to always look on the bright side of life.
Studies have shown that half of all happiness a person experiences is determined by genetics and just under forty percent is governed by the impact of external events. What you ultimately own is the twelve percent of what is left. It turns out the twelve percent you own is your window of opportunity to what will make the difference between you being happy or not. Happier people realise this. They also realise there is only so much they can control in any given situation. Realising this, they make seven key choices everyday:-
- They make the choice to exercise. There are many happy people who are not in great shape so how does this choice make sense? The answer is you need only seven minutes of exercise a day if you are exercising for the sake of happiness. That is enough to make your body release ‘endorphins, the neuro-transmitters responsible for that famous ‘Runner’s High.’ They might not even call it exercise but happy people find at least a small period of time each day to devote to moving around.
- They choose to spend time outside. Apparently as little as twenty minutes a day spent outside is enough to elevate your level of happiness. You can combine this with exercise – A simple walk at lunchtime or even a little time in the garden, on the patio (if you are fortunate to have either,) or at a park nearby can make all the difference. Happy people may not even realise the impact it has on their state of mind but they make a point to get outdoors.
- They choose to focus on their families, This is tougher because the British structure of working life is so inflexible that it makes it extremely difficult to devote the amount of time one would wish to (and I am talking about more than ‘Quality Time’ which is important in itself. In studies and surveys, on both sides of the Atlantic, answers from people surveyed were their family was the most important element of their lives. Three quarters of Americans surveyed by the ‘Pew Research Center’ in 2010, also added their family was the most satisfying element of their lives. This is quite worrying when one looks at the British situation. Both ‘The British Modern Family’ and ‘Time, Health and the Family 2014’ Reports make for depressing reading when compared to our American Cousins (who while having a very strong work ethic,) seem to make time for family. It may be because the U.S. Economy is far more dynamic and set up for people to succeed and build the kind of lifestyle they envisage, whereas in Britain, one faces obstacles at every point in our everyday lives. There are always more reasons why things cannot happen, rather than why things can and should happen. In shorthand, this is why British families feel they are ‘struggling’, ‘they feel tired, stressed and under pressure’. Despite the above, we need to be free of the tensions, difficulties that family and relatives can cause. Everyday life is tough enough already. So bury whatever hatchets you have with siblings, parents, in-laws and focus on those things that are important to you and your family. You will be surprised how happier you will feel. Happy people might not always want to but they at least find a few minutes every day (often much more,) to do things to improve their family relationships. And if the pro-active approach does not work, cultivate a frame of mind, a philosophy of life, that ensures those in conflict with you will contact/approach you with an olive branch.
- They choose to make time for their friends, We cannot choose our family but we can choose our friends. Friends are the family we choose for ourselves. At least some small amount of social time with them each day is necessary if we want to improve our happiness. Even just checking in with our friends for a few minutes on the ‘phone or a ten minute conversation or activity together can make a difference. If one truly ranks among the busiest of people in Society, you can merge this with Choices ‘1’ and ‘2’ working out together. Happy people might not always have as much time as they would like but they find time to interact with their friends. They make time for their friends.
- They choose to find meaning in their work. Apparently (from a report I read,) it is an uniquely American thing in that work satisfaction can make or break our happiness. I disagree. It is not a uniquely American thing, it is a global thing. Anything uniquely American about this is that they handle this aspect far better than anyone else as a Society. As an Actor, Writer and a Free Marketeer, I think about this all the time, especially in my creative pursuits. Part of my happiness comes from using one’s talents everyday to make some kind of difference. For me one thing I love doing is blogging, writing and sharing my thoughts, ideas and knowledge with others. Other aspects of my happiness is performing, being creative and knowing I am not answerable to anyone but myself. I know what I have control over and more importantly, what I don’t have any control or influence over. So I don’t lose sleep over why I wasn’t hired for a Film, TV or Theatre role. I can only influence people so far by showing them what I can do and what I am capable of. There is great power in that. When you know you have done the preparatory work, done the best you can, no one can put you down. Look sharp, be sharp, act sharp and above all be professional and take nothing personally. Happy people might not have found their dream job or their true calling but you know what? They may not love their work but they find ways to put their daily tasks and duties in perspective and take pride and joy in what they do.
- They choose to contribute to their communities. ‘Ask not what your community can do for you but what you can do for your community’ to paraphrase JFK, being part of a community gives one a sense of belonging and helps improve your sense of self-worth, even as one works to define who you truly are. Thus, each and every day, people who are truly happy, find ways to share something with their broader communities – going beyond family and close friends. Happy people might be involved with professional associations, church groups, athletic organisations or something else. Whatever they do, they find a way to share that endeavour with others each and every day.
- They choose to get enough sleep. Newsflash! It is a truth. Lack of sleep will ruin your life. I having been there and done it, I can testify to that. A lack of sleep will ruin your life. If you don’t get enough sleep, you will be more likely to be irritable, your judgement impaired and your libido suffers, all of which affects your overall happiness. Happy people might be no less busy than the rest of us but they will squeeze something else out of their lives if necessary. They will give up watching television, Internet surfing or simply stop worrying about things they have no control or influence over. And more importantly, they choose to get at least seven or eight hours sleep each and every day.
If you are one of the people reading this who lives in one of the Top Ten Happiest Countries on the Planet, then Society as you know it has many of the solutions discussed here. If (like my good self,) you live in Britain or some other country where people are stressed, tired, struggling under pressure, struggling and dealing with an inflexible working life and culture, then you need to take back control and make some choices about the type of person you want to be, the kind of lifestyle you want for yourself, family and friends.
People forget or don’t realise just how truly powerful they are as individuals. If we all realised just how much power we possessed and began working in unison, we can make great strides and truly change Society for the better. We can tell our leaders and representatives that we have had enough and want a Society that reflects the changing times and allows us to lead better family and working lives.
Everything and anything is possible if we want it be. What the Mind sees, it creates. By changing our way of thinking, how we see Life, Society and the choices we make, by following the Seven Steps above, you will be surprised at the results and changes in how you look, feel and approach Life.