We speak to Dr Tim Sharp from The Happiness Institute (yep, there is such a thing) about how to be happy – and it’s easier than you think.
It may seem that the search for happiness is a relatively new concept, but Dr Sharp says whilst our pursuit of it has spanned generations, or increasing affluence has given us a hunger for more. “If you look at all the major religions and schools of philosophical thought, it’s not hard to see that the search for happiness has been around for millennia,” Dr Sharp explains.
“That being said, there’s no doubt that recent times have seen an increase in interest in the issue of happiness and I believe this can be attributed to a few, simple factors. Those in the developed world are increasingly focusing on happiness because for the significant majority, their basic needs (e.g. food, water, shelter) are being easily met so the focus then shifts to “higher order” variables.”
Dr Sharp says a shift in psychological studies has also contributed to the focus and media attention: “The relatively new field of positive psychology (or the science of happiness, thriving, flourishing and living a “good” life) has served as a catalyst for what’s become a massive research project and the last decade has seen literally thousands of publications released on this topic; what this means is we now have an empirical understanding of what happiness is AND how we can enjoy more of it.”
So the question then is what are the keys to happiness, and how can we achieve it? Dr Sharp says it is not as mysterious as we might think, and fitness is key. “Regular physical activity is one of the easiest, cheapest and most effective ways to boost your happiness and help achieve long lasting mental wellbeing. “From something as simple as going for a walk or playing with the kids, to working out at the gym or training for an endurance event, exercise in any form can have a big impact on your mood and your happiness.
Improving your mood can also help to boost your confidence, your ability to perform at work, and how you resolve conflict in relationships.”
So can we think ourselves happy? Dr Sharp says yes and no: “The circumstances in which we live are important and they can’t be wished away; but that being said, the way we think about the circumstances in which we live largely determine the extent to which we find them positive or negative,” he says.
“So our thinking is important and the way we interpret what goes on around us does have a significant impact on how we experience and feel about life. It’s important to note, however, that positive psychology doesn’t necessarily advocate “positive thinking”, he says.
“The goal is more what we’d call “optimism” which includes a positive approach to thinking and a focus on what’s working and what’s good in our lives (similar to gratitude) but also, important, real optimism acknowledges the cold hard realities of the world and faces up to them in a constructive way.”
So our take away is be real, but frame things the best way you can.
So who are the happiest people in the world? Dr Sharp has come up with a model called CHOOSE (below) which sums up the ways we can be happier. He says the most positive people are able to adopt these and in addition, “they have a clearer sense of purpose, the take care of their physical health and wellbeing, they’re optimistic and resilient and they love and allow others to love them back; they also focus more on what they have and less on what they don’t have AND the approach life with a sense of fun and play!”
Sounds so simple!
Dr Sharp has come up with a simple model to refer to when it comes to the building blocks of happiness, called CHOOSE:
Clarity (of goals, direction and life purpose)
Happy people set clear goals and determine clear & specific plans to ensure these goals become reality. So clarify your life plan now (because no one else will do it for you!).
Healthy Living (activity & exercise, diet & nutrition, and sleep)
Health forms a crucial part of the foundation to happiness. It’s hard to be happy if you’re literally sick & tired all the time. So do whatever you can to be healthy and you’ll also boost your chances of being happy.
Optimism (positive but realistic thinking)
There’s no doubt that happy people think about themselves, others and the world differently. Among other things, they search for more positives. The good news is that this is something you can learn to do so start practicing now.
Others (the key relationships in your life) Research strongly indicates that happy people have both more and better quality relationships. So make sure you devote time to developing and fostering your key relationships.
Strengths (your core qualities and attributes) Rather than spending all their time trying to “fix” their “weaknesses”, happy people spend more time identifying and utilising their strengths. Find out what you’re good at and do it as much as possible.
Enjoy the moment (live in, and appreciate the present)
The past is history, tomorrow’s a mystery, and today’s a gift–that’s why they call it “the present”. Live in the moment and enjoy life more.
What’s your secret to happiness?