‘What makes us happy’? As a Wellbeing Coach that specialises in Positive Psychology this is what I am often asked by clients, friends and family. Unfortunately there is no definitive answer here as happiness is somewhat subjective. What may make you ‘happy’ may not make me happy. In fact, in the world of positive psychology the term ‘subjective wellbeing’ is often used in place of the word ‘happiness’. It seems that now more than ever, we could all use a sprinkle of subjective wellbeing during our time in lockdown 2.0 and beyond.
Martin Seligman (known for being the father of Positive Psychology) came up with a formula for happiness; H=S+C+V. What does this mean? Imagine a circle. Do you have it in your head? Your genetics or set point (S) make up 50% of your happiness baseline, this is the way you were born and can’t be changed. Personal circumstances (C) only make up 10% of your happiness baseline. This means that you could be president of the world, have billions of pounds, be married to a super model and own 4 yachts. This will still only make up 10% of your overall happiness. The good news is that we have full voluntary control (V) over 40% of our happiness baseline by doing intentional activities. By doing things that make us feel good we are improving our wellbeing. Seems obvious enough.
With waiting lists for talking therapies being extremely long and people needing assistance in the here and now, should we not attempt to help ourselves? Bearing this in mind, I have recently revisited a book that I read as part of my Master’s degree in Applied Positive Psychology. In the book ‘The How of Happiness’, psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky suggests 12 different strategies for increasing wellbeing. The book is an easy read and I would thoroughly recommend it as a way of taking control of your own wellbeing. The ‘strategies’ fall into the formula of happiness under intentional activities and include activities such as; finding meaning through expressive writing, create self-fulfilling prophecies and cultivate intimacy with self-disclosure. At the beginning of the book there is a ‘Person-Activity Fit Diagnostic’ questionnaire to identify the areas that you need to work on.
We cannot just expect happiness to happen to us, we need to take it. By making things happen for ourselves we also boost our self-esteem and feel a sense of achievement. As a first step why not try one of these intentional activities below.
1. Take a photo a day of something that you are grateful for and post on Instagram. Can you do this for an entire month? It doesn’t need to be anything profound, it could simply be a picture of your dog at home or a tree while on a walk.
2. Make time for friends. This may take a different form from your usual rituals. Perhaps you can have your usual beer, natter or dinner over Zoom instead of in person. Or maybe you could go for a run with a friend or meet in the park for a walk. Make this a regular activity whether weekly or fortnightly. Social relationships are vital for our optimal wellbeing.
3. Write a list of all of the things that you enjoy doing that are achievable and within lockdown restriction guidelines. From having a cuppa, cooking a meal, taking a hot bath or talking to a friend. Put your list on the fridge or somewhere that you will see it on a regular basis and do as many as you can in any given day for a boost. Make it a game, challenge yourself to add at least 3 into a day.
This time round things are slightly easier than earlier in the year, coffee shops are open for takeaway, we can meet with one other person outside or form a childcare bubble with a grandparent and can exercise outside for more than merely one hour a day. Again, these are the little things that can lift our days. Things are looking positive with the R (reproduction rate of infection) number reducing each day and the hope of a potential vaccine, however, without a doubt the most reliable way to improve your mood is to do it for yourself. I therefore encourage you to try one of the above exercises or read the recommended book. After all having some form of control over our own lives during this time of uncertainty is surely the best Christmas present to ourselves.