1. DEFINING MOMENT. Truth be known, happiness defies having a precise definition. What most people agree on with regard to happiness is that it is personal, as well as a great thing. As such, it can be argued that happiness lies in the way an individual lives and looks at the world.
2. A WORTHY CAUSE. In fact, researchers have found that the pursuit of happiness has merit. All factors considered, not only are happy people healthier, they also tend to live longer. In addition, they’re more likely to be successful, productive at work, creative, and liked by others. They also are more apt to lead a fulfilled life.
3. THE EXERCISE-HAPPINESS CONNECTION. A link exists between exercise and happiness. Numerous studies have shown that exercise increases the body’s production of endorphins and antibodies - both of which tend to lead to enhanced feelings of happiness. Volume-wise, research findings indicate that 30 minutes of exercise a day, at least 3 to 5 days a week, is the most effective dosage of physical activity. Modality-wise, all types of exercise have been found to have a positive impact on happiness, to a degree.
4. BEYOND GENETICS. Many individuals believe that people are either born happy or they’re not. Not exactly. Research shows that happiness is about 50% genetic, 40% intentional, and 10% circumstances. The key for individuals who want to be happier is to work at it, particularly making a deliberate effort to control how they act and think (i.e., the intentional part of happiness).
5. THE RIGHT CHOICE. Happiness is not a by-product of luck. In reality, to a great degree, happiness is a choice. Individuals who want to be happy need to focus on the positive. On the contrary, if they see things in a negative way, their worldview is likely to wind up being a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, they need to learn to like other people, as well as themselves. If they make a mistake in life, they shouldn’t beat themselves up. Instead, they should learn from it and move on.
6. CHANGE IS POSSIBLE. Many people erroneously believe that they are who they are - they cannot change. With regard to happiness, research shows that people can adopt a more positive outlook on their lives. In other words, the mere commitment to prioritize happiness in their lives can make people more happy. A concrete example of such prioritizing is to eat a healthy diet, engage in a physically active lifestyle, and maintain body weight at an appropriate level.
7. NO MEASURE OF PLEASURE. The simple fact of the matter is that happiness is inherently subjective. As such, no precise measurement tool of happiness exists. To address this challenging void, researchers in social science have compiled a variety of verbal and written self-reporting, self-satisfaction surveys. Another confounding factor with regard to happiness is the fact that happiness is not a static state. Even the happiest of individuals is occasionally blue at times.
8. A RECIPE FOR HAPPINESS. Individuals who want to be happier should develop a plan that details the steps that they can take to achieve that objective, devise a viable strategy for accomplishing their goal, and implement actions to make their plan a reality. For example, initially, they might determine what will make them personally happy. Then, they might proactively pursue their happiness-related aspirations.
9. A WAY OF LIFE. Happy people tend to walk the talk. They practice being satisfied with their lives. They practice being cheerful. They practice surrounding themselves with happy people. Most importantly, they believe (rightfully so) that they deserve to be happy.
10. A TREAT NOT A TRICK. People who are happy tend to understand that life is a blessing that should be celebrated and enjoyed. Moreover, they are aware of the fact that happiness is wanting what they get in life, instead of getting what they want.
James A. Peterson, Ph.D., FACSM, is a freelance writer and consultant in sports medicine. From 1990 until 1995, Dr. Peterson was director of sports medicine with StairMaster. Until that time, he was professor of physical education at the United States Military Academy.
Copyright 2010 by the American College of Sports Medicine.