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Elements of Happiness: Six Happiness Tips

What are the elements of happiness? This is an age old question, once even alluded to by Aristotle.

The question: “what is the good life?” was offered to his students in ancient Greece, but it’s a question equally relevant to the growing body of modern researchers investigating the meaning of happiness. It’s a good question, but one that begs several more before it can be properly answered.

Questions such as: Can you become a happier person? Can you choose to be happier? Is our propensity to be happy down to the genes we inherited, or can we influence our happiness. Is happiness a worthwhile pursuit? What is happiness?

A Formula For Happiness?

Martin Seligman Elements of HappinessIn his book “Authentic Happiness”, pre-eminent positive psychologist Martin Seligman simplifies much of the recent research on happiness.

He proposes several elements of happiness which make up his “happiness formula”:



Happiness = Set range + Circumstances + Voluntary Control

Set range is our normal inherited happiness level. Researchers indicate that anything up to fifty percent of our propensity to be happy is pre-ordained by our genetic make-up.

Circumstances are the external events or factors in our lives which affect our happiness. This element is not as significant as we might think. The latest research indicates that only around ten percent of our happiness is determined by our circumstances.

Voluntary control is determined by the factors we can influence. This is perhaps the most telling element of the formula, suggesting that up to forty percent of our happiness is within our voluntary control.

Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky calls the last category “intentional activities” and groups them into three:

  1. Cognitive activities – are we regularly adopting an optimistic or positive attitude?
  2. Behavioural activities – are we regularly kind to others, do we engage in physical exercise?
  3. Volitional activities – are we identifying meaningful personal goals.

So it would seem that happiness, contrary to the popular saying, does not just come from within.

Jonathan Haidt is another positive psychologist, building on the work of Seligman, Lyubomirsky and others. In his book the Happiness Hypothesis, Haidt concludes that happiness comes from between.

That is, by balancing the set range, circumstances and voluntary control elements of Seligman’s happiness formula.

Six Happiness Tips

Dr Tal Ben Shahar has identified several elements of happiness in his “Six Happiness Tips”. These capture the essence of emerging theory, linking happiness with positive psychology.

They also grew out of Ben Shahar’s famous “happiness” course at Harvard,reputedly the most popular course ever run at that university.

His book, Happier: Finding Pleasure, Meaning and Life’s Ultimate Currency, is a recommendation of this site. It’s a well-written and lively book, packed with practical suggestions for putting happiness theory to work.

Hopefully it will make you think, and stir you to action.

So what are Ben-Shahar’s six happiness tips?

  1. Give yourself permission to be human. When we accept emotions — such as fear, sadness, or anxiety — as natural, we are more likely to overcome them. Rejecting our emotions, positive or negative, leads to frustration and unhappiness.
  2. Happiness lies at the intersection between pleasure and meaning. Whether at work or at home, the goal is to engage in activities that are both personally significant and enjoyable. When this is not feasible, make sure you have happiness boosters, moments throughout the week that provide you with both pleasure and meaning. Read our articleDo What You Love for our slant on making work both pleasurable and meaningful.
  3. Keep in mind that happiness is mostly dependent on our state of mind, not on our status or the size of our bank account. Barring extreme circumstances, our level of well being is determined by what we choose to focus on, and by our interpretation of external events. For example, do we see the glass as half full or half empty? Do we view failure as catastrophic, or do we see it as a learning opportunity? Our article Eight Ways to Happiness:Steps to a More Satisfying Life looks at practical steps proposed by professor Sonja Lyubomirsky. Use these to incorporate elements of happiness into your daily routine, helping you to create sustained happiness.
  4. Simplify! Generally, we are much too busy, trying to squeeze in more and more activities into less and less time. Quantity influences quality, and we compromise on our happiness by trying to do too much. We talk further about this in our articles Is Busyness Killing Business? and What Is Time Management?
  5. Remember the mind-body connection. What we do — or don’t do — with our bodies influences our mind. Regular exercise, adequate sleep, and healthy eating habits lead to both physical and mental health.
  6. Express gratitude, whenever possible. All too often we take our lives for granted. Learn to appreciate and savour the wonderful things in life, from people to food, from nature to a smile.

Tal Ben Shahar also has an excellent web-site containing articles and other tips on happiness. These, and the work of the other positive psychologists mentioned in this article, are all worthy of further reading. Together they identify the numerous elements of happiness which may lead us all to happier work and life.
If you can spare just under ten minutes, they’ll be very well spent watching Tal Ben Shahar in this video clip:

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