Whether your New Year’s resolutions include losing 20 pounds or scoring a sweet promotion, every goal has one thing in common: They’re all meant to make us happier. But according to renowned happiness expert Marci Shimoff, cultivating lasting happiness all comes down to our habits.
“We all have a happiness set point,” says Shimoff, New York Times bestselling author of “Happy for No Reason.” “No matter what happens, whether it’s good or bad, our happiness will hover around our happiness set point.”
According to Shimoff, your happiness set point is determined 50 percent by genetics, 10 percent by life circumstances, and 40 percent by your habits.
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“Most people are trying to change their circumstances to be happier, but it’s only 10 percent of the whole pie,” she says. “If you focus on changing your habits, that’s how you can most influence your happiness and raise your happiness set point.”
Want to make 2015 your happiest year yet? Read on for the habits Shimoff says can help put you on the right track.
If you’re looking for lasting happiness, counting your blessings is a great place to start.
“There’s research that’s shown that if you write down five things a day you’re grateful for at the end of the day, within 30 days it will have raised your happiness set point,” says Shimoff.
She adds that we have what psychologists call a negativity bias. Translation? Our brains are basically wired to remember the negative more than the positive. The good news is that we can change this.
“One of the ways that we can rewire our brains is through really registering the positive things that are happening – noticing them, taking them in,” says Shimoff. “Neuropsychologists say it takes about 20 seconds to register a positive so that it starts to change the brain.”
Quit hanging out with downers and drama queens
Are you surrounding yourself with positive, uplifting people who believe in you? If not, Shimoff says it may be time to rethink your social circles.
“They say we become the average of the five people we spend the most time with, so watch who you spend time with,” she says.
There is a growing body of research suggesting that happiness is, in fact, contagious. According to one 2008 NBC News report, one happy person in a group can have a tremendous ripple effect on others. But negativity is also an infectious emotion. Studies have shown that humans tend to mimic the emotional expressions and feelings of those around them.
Make time for quiet
Stillness and meditation have long been linked to better health and happiness. According to Harvard Medical School, practicing mindful, present-focused awareness appears to alleviate anxiety and mental stress. Meditation also has the power to raise your happiness set point.
According to a 2013 report in Psychology Today, research suggests that eight weeks of meditating for one hour a day, six days a week, has the power to make you happier. The same report also links meditation to a stronger immune system and increased empathy for others. Shimoff adds that spending quiet time in nature can also get the happiness juices flowing.
Stop seeking happiness in external things
It isn’t uncommon for people to seek happiness in the outward world, as opposed to looking within. I’ll be happy when I have a better job. I’ll be happy when I get married. I’ll be happy when (fill in the blank). However, Shimoff says that acquiring these types of external rewards rarely brings about lasting happiness.
“You soon become acclimated to that thing you’ve just acquired, and you will very quickly return to your original happiness set point,” she says. “These are just temporary highs, and they keep us running on this hamster wheel.”
For confirmation of what Shimoff calls “the myth of more,” she advising taking a look at Hollywood. Some of the richest, most beautiful people in the world are also the unhappiest. Many of us seek satisfaction in wealth, but she adds that once you’re above the poverty line, no amount of money will make you any happier.
“Once your basic needs are met, it doesn’t matter [to your happiness] whether you make $50,000, $500,000 or $5 million a year,” she says.
In other words, don’t count on external things for fulfillment.