What makes you happy? Ask ten different people this question, and there’s a good chance you’ll get at least seven different answers (a couple of people are bound to say something about family…). Well, science claims to have found a way to measure happiness.
Every year they publish the list of the World’s Happiest Countries, using a variety of variables including income, freedom and life expectancy to get their results. Denmark is once again the happiest country in the world. However, behind most of Scandinavia (except Sweden, oddly) and Switzerland (obviously), Canada is right up there as the top-ranked country outside of Europe. That makes me happy.
On a more individual scale, this Buddhist monk has been named the “Happiest Man on Earth” (I’m not sure how exhaustive the search was, or maybe I was just out getting groceries when they knocked on my door). Anyway, so they hooked him up and measured his brain’s gamma waves, and the results were very impressive – “never before reported in neuroscience” to be precise.
Now, if you’re wondering how you can be like him, well – that’s complicated. There are a lot of factors that contribute to one’s individual state of happiness. Your social situation – family, friends, relationships – plays a major role.
Income also contributes, but only to a point. According to this Princeton study, the income-to-happiness curve caps out at around $75,000. So that old saying “Money can’t buy you happiness” is kind of true. It seems that you can buy some happiness, but you can’t buy it all.
If you ask the “Happiest Man on Earth”, happiness is a skill to be learned. (I wonder if part of his award package was a sweatshirt with the title printed across the back...) And at the core of that practice is meditation. Good news – even absolute meditation beginners report some increase in happiness. Bad news – Mr. Buddhist Monk is up over the 10,000 hour mark. So if you’re just starting, get going! Starting tomorrow is a free online 21-day meditation program put on by the mindfulness power duo of Oprah and Deepak Chopra. The theme this round is “Shedding the Weight” – ditching all that mental garbage that we carry around with us every day. If you miss the beginning, don’t worry – they offer a five-day grace period to catch up.
Another way to jack up your happiness score – increase your time in nature. Blood pressure and stress hormones go down, and meditative brain activity goes up (without actually having to meditate…!) Sounds pretty simple. And once you know what to do, the next step is what not to do. For example, don’t worry as much about what people might think about you. And stop complaining. If you just implemented those two things, you’d be amazed how much your overall happiness improves.
But if you’re one of those people who doesn’t do anything half-way, consider starting your own Happiness Project. This book was written by Gretchen Rubin, after asking herself one day “What do I want from life?” When the inevitable answer was “to be happy”, she embarked on a one-year journey to happiness. It’s an easy read, while being very thought-provoking and not at all preachy – just a simple account of her own path to greater happiness, with lots of ideas that all of us can benefit from.
So whatever contributes to your personal happiness, consider this.
“I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day – today – and I’m going to be happy in it”. Groucho Marx
You might not be able to make that happen every day – but if you’re able to do it more, I’d be willing to bet you’d be a happier person overall.
Happy International Day of Happiness, everyone!
In health and happiness,
Reuben Dinsmore is a naturopathic physician in Vancouver, BC interested in opening up the lines of dialogue around health.