We asked Ed from The Human Happiness Project for his insights on happiness, and what he has learnt since launching the project a year ago ...
Is happiness something that we control on an individual level?
I believe so. Research has shown that about 40% of your baseline happiness level or life satisfaction is determined by genetics, but I still believe that gives us a lot to work with.
It comes down to a lot of factors but I would say the most overlooked one is gratitude. You will never find a happy person lacking gratitude, as well as an unhappy person having gratitude.
I also believe that your perception of yourself plays a large part. If you believe yourself to be disadvantaged or feel as if people are doing things with malicious intentions, then you will not find much happiness in your life. But if you realise your life is a series of events that are largely determine by your outlook, and that people are just trying to do their best and very few of them actually do things out of malicious intent, then you can find happiness.
"You will never find a happy person lacking gratitude."
You've interviewed a lot of people since launching the project. What themes have you noticed emerge in terms of happiness and / or unhappiness?
From the interviews I have done now, I have not found a single happy person that didn't have something they were working towards. Whether that goal was fiscal, emotional, mental, physical, whatever, they always had a goal that they were working towards. That comes down to who we are as humans and how we evolved. The process of deciding to do something and achieving it makes us feel alive.
The unhappiest people I have interviewed were stagnant in their lives. They had no goals. There was no growth in any area of their life which is devastating to your confidence and your wellbeing.
How do you see mental health and happiness interacting?
Funnily enough this is part of the reason I started the project. I found it quite concerning that in many mental health spheres there was a focus on the diseases and ailments themselves but no one was actively talking about what's on the other side.
Happiness is the ultimate goal. Whether you believe the car, the house, the girlfriend / boyfriend, or new job will make you happy the basis for most decisions we make, big decisions at least, is to find happiness.
"That's all anyone is ever doing, fumbling their way through the dark to find their way to the new stage, that's life."
When I started involving myself in the mental health sphere I noticed that people weren't giving anything to aim at. If you are dealing with depression and anxiety and you're told its okay to feel that (which I firmly believe it is) but what comes next? How are you going to move past that without something to set your sights on? Once you have that goal then you can take that step or try new things to fumble your way to it. That's all anyone is ever doing, fumbling their way through the dark to find their way to the new stage, that's life.
What strategies would you recommend for increasing happiness on an individual level?
Set goals and when you are setting goals don't let someone else influence your goals. What I mean by that is, with social media and other forms of interaction we have in the world we always see these glamourized ideas of success and happiness. Things like the sports cars, suits, well-paying jobs but if you're a person who loves the beach are you going to be happy walking into a sky scraper for work every day? Probably not.
Also, don't let the size of your goals demoralise you. This ties into the first point, just because your goal of the week might be to clean your bathroom, and your friends is to get a promotion, it doesn't mean your goal is any less valid or important. People have different values, let yours be true to you.
"If I can look back and say I tried most days, I am happy."
Name five core values that underpin happiness for you?
Honesty and integrity. These two I battle with the most. Being a person of integrity is hard. It means sticking true to your word even when circumstances have changed from when you made a decision.
Humility. It's very easy to be caught up in how awesome we are sometimes but I often find this leads to semi-narcissistic traits where we start to believe what we're told too much. You are never better than anyone else, and they are never better than you. Everyone is on their own journey. You'd probably start feeling a little less worried about things if you knew that everyone is still a scared little teenager inside (everyone's faking it).
Kindness and empathy. I was never an overtly kind person growing up. But after a few life changing experiences, the project being one, I found the value of being kind and just listening to someone. I don't think I can really express how much difference being heard and feeling connected with someone makes to someone.
Perseverance. Things get hard a lot in life. But most of the time pushing through them and persevering usually allows you the gift of looking back and being proud of yourself.
Passion. This is a big one for me. I believe everyone should follow their passion (I don't mean quit your job and run off on life just to do it) but find what you love and let it be a staple in your life! If you constantly live for something that never comes or work for that better tomorrow, you might get there and be too old and worn out to enjoy it at all.
Finish this sentence: Happiness is...
Happiness is living with integrity, passion and purpose. But also doing my best every day to try and be a little bit better. I know that won't happen every day but if I can look back and say I tried most days, I am happy.
Contributor: Ed Wischer, founder of The Human Happiness Project