Most people are pretty happy. When she started the research for her book – “The Happiness Project” (Harpers 2011) – author Gretchen Rubin discovered a 2006 study that stated that in a survey of 45 countries, on average, people put themselves at a 7 on a scale of 1-10. Americans, in particular, ranked themselves as ‘very’ or ‘pretty’ happy. According to her research, there’s a formula for how happy you are. Half of it is comprised by genetics, with the remaining 10-20% by age/gender/ethnicity/marital status/income/health/occupation/religious affiliation and 20-30% by how you think and act.
But even if you’re happy, can you be happier?
If you think about it, happiness is a resolution, not a concrete action. To really be accountable to it, Rubin recommends focusing on specific actions under your resolution umbrella. For her, she picked 12 ways to be happier. One a month for a year, documented over 272 pages.
The Prep Work
Her 12 may not be your 12. The work of happiness entails different tasks for each of us. That’s why, in the opening note to the reader, Rubin outlines the prep work anyone has to do before taking on such a life change, including:
- Identify what brings you joy, satisfaction, and engagement
- Identify what brings you guilt, anger, boredom and remorse.
- Make resolutions – concrete actions.
- Keep resolutions. (The hard part.)
After a self-assessment, Rubin wanted to do everything from boost her energy and be serious about play to buy some happiness and pay attention.
It all started with a case of “midlife malaise.” She shares, “I wasn’t as happy as I could be, and my life wasn’t going to change unless I made it change.” From this moment on, she asks you to join her journey. To learn from her successes, her failures, and the insights she gleans along the way on how to be happy.
How to Be Happy
1. Be serious about your friends, partners, and families.
Rubin’s research shows the most important element to happiness is social bonds. In fact, if you have five or more friends with whom to discuss an important matter, you’re far more likely to describe yourself as “very happy.”
So while you’re making time for yourself, make time for the people who provide you with support and companionship. Give them proofs of love – actions that show how you feel. Remember their birthday, your son’s first steps – and remind them that you’re thinking of them. Give generously – and not just stuff. Be generous of spirit by bringing them together and helping them think big. And don’t just think of your current relationships – add new relationships. Make three new friends, to start.
2. Fake it ’til you feel it.
Rubin dug into this topic during General Assembly’s livestream book club in August, saying, “A lot of people take offense to this idea because they think ‘If I fake it until I make it that’s being artificial and fake, and I want to be authentic.’ But we can authentically feel the way we wish we felt. It’s very hard – at least for me, for most people – to actually change your emotional state, deliberately. But it’s much easier to change your outward actions. And by changing them you actually have this feedback effect on your emotions. If you’re resentful and you act more considerate, you’ll feel more considerate. By taking control of your actions, you take control of your emotional state as well. There are things you can do to steer your emotional state. Take that moment of mindfulness, realize you’re feeling the way you’re feeling, and try to do something about it.”
3. Remove what’s draining you and add what’s fulfilling to you.
That goes for the emotional baggage and the physical baggage, too. Outer order can contribute to inner calm. And getting control of your stuff gives you energy. “I’ve even heard people say, ‘Cleaning out my refrigerator made me ready to quit my job,'” says Rubin. So make the bed. Organize the closet. You might be surprised what it leads you to. Maybe you get inspired to tackle coding your first website or editing your short film.
4. Don’t do it for anyone except yourself.
Everything you do – from writing your memoir to washing the dishes – should be for you. Because you can say “Good job, self.” And if it’s for someone else, you’ll be left waiting for them to say it. With a lack of validation comes resentment, and worse, procrastination. So every step should be one that you value and think is worthwhile.
5. Consider your goals “resolutions” instead.
What’s the difference? “You hit a goal, you keep a resolution,” says Rubin. When you resolve to do something, you’re in it for the long term. You’re never going to check happiness off your list and stop working on it. Plus, if you miss the mark today, then you try again tomorrow. And that means lifelong learning, which in itself is another driver of happiness.
In the end, the desire to change is meaningless if you can’t find a way to make the change happen. So when people ask Rubin the most effective step to happiness she answers, “A resolution chart.” Make a list of your happiness drivers – and stay accountable with a simple ✓ or✗ at the end of every day.
For more inspiration, watch the General Assembly livestream book club with Gretchen Rubin or sign up for her daily happiness quote.
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