Four Factors of Happiness

April 25, 2011

Is it possible to make yourself happier? Lots of people think so, including Gretchen Rubin, who wrote about trying to increase her happiness level in The Happiness Project. She quotes research that indicates that between 30 and 40 percent of a person’s level of happiness comes from that person’s thoughts and actions. (The remaining 60 to 70 percent is determined by genetics and life’s circumstances.)

If it is possible to increase happiness, how do you do it? Rubin’s “First Splendid Truth” gives us this framework: “To be happy, I need to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right in an atmosphere of growth.” Let’s look more closely at the parts of this statement.

“Feeling good”
Increase sources of happiness. This is probably the simplest and most obvious way to feel happier. My greatest sources of feeling good include spending time with friends, playing with Tank, reading and sketching. What gives you joy? What do you like to do? How can you have more fun? To feel happier, we should include one or more of our favorite pastimes every day.

Watercolor sketch from Laure Ferlita's class
“Feeling bad”
Decrease sources of unhappiness and bad feelings. Maybe that means tackling some unfinished business or dealing with a difficult situation. Since I’ve found the importance of mindset in how I feel about my life, I’ve been examining some of my feelings and attitudes, and banishing the ones that aren’t true or are bringing me pain or discomfort. Replacing old ways of thinking with new ones can feel a little unsettling, but getting rid of the sources of nagging bad feelings frees up space in our hearts for happiness.

“Feeling right”
This means feeling as if you are doing what you are meant to do. I ask myself frequently, Am I the person I want to be? Do I respect myself? Am I doing work that feels “right”? These past few months I’ve questioned whether or not I really want to continue to write, and wondered if I still have anything to say (that anyone would want to read). For now, I still keep returning to the keyboard because writing is too much a part of who I am for me to easily cast it aside. It still feels “right,” even when it’s hard. How comfortable are you with who you are? Sometimes “feeling right” makes us happy in the face of frustration and obstacles.

“Atmosphere of growth”
Deep and lasting happiness comes more easily in an atmosphere of growth. That is, when you’re learning something new, increasing your skills, stepping outside your comfort zone, or challenging yourself. Yes, there’s definitely a time for simple relaxation, for “noodling,” for “fun” fun that doesn’t put too many demands on you. But that shouldn’t be the extent of your fun. Owning Tank is a perfect example of this. There is a good deal of “fun” fun to be had in horse ownership—but I’d be lying if I said everything about it was easy. I’m pushed outside my comfort zone nearly every time I get on his back, because correct English-style riding is challenging. It’s not simply sitting on the horse’s back and letting him do the work. Being the leader in our herd of two requires vigilance, consistency, patience and firmness. However, I don’t believe I would find horse ownership quite so deeply satisfying if I was not being gently challenged to grow. If you consider the times you’ve been happiest, chances are you’ve been engrossed in something that was just the tiniest bit challenging.

Whaddya mean, it's not all easy?
I found Rubin’s way of breaking happiness into these four sections helpful in looking at my own level of happiness, and seeing where I could make changes to improve it. What about your happiness level? Can you bump it up a notch? What will you do (or stop doing) to increase your level of happiness? Which of these areas do you need to address?

If you haven’t already, check out Gretchen Rubin’s blog here.

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  1. Hi Kathy, I was wondering if you had read this book. I like how you have personalized her First Splendid Truth.

  2. Excellent post, KJ! I think stopping to look at our "happy factors" helps me to take a read on where I am and gets my oriented to the direction I want to go. Thanks for the call to examine these areas again!

  3. Susan--yes, I read the book last year and really enjoyed it. I liked her organized approach and practicality.

  4. Laure--glad you liked the post. Sometimes it just takes a little attention and tweaking to improve our levels of happiness.

  5. You've given some great points to ponder Kathy. And I'm glad you haven't given up writing you blog - I certainly enjoy reading what you write.

  6. Hi Kathy,

    What a interesting post. You did a great job. How could you not write? Even if it were not for the purpose of creating a book or other work to sell, it seems like it is so much a part of you that if you didn't it would be a sad thing.

    I am happy. I have gone through some rough times prior to this part of my life, and I am very grateful for how things are going today. The part of letting go of people and things that make you unhappy, after you have given it your all, does indeed clear up lots of space for is kind of like cleaning out your hard drive. Hey, I think I'll do a blog post on that soon. :>)

    Have a wonderful week, and thank you!

    Kathy M.

  7. Cheryl--thanks so much for your kind words and encouragement. I really enjoy writing for the blog.

  8. Kathy--Thanks for your comments, too! I am glad to hear that you are living a happy life now, even though you've been through rough times in the past. I think your happiness shows up on your blog--it's a very pleasant place to visit.

  9. GREAT POST. These words are going up on my refrigerator, "For now, I still keep returning to the keyboard because writing is too much a part of who I am for me to easily cast it aside. It still feels “right,” even when it’s hard." They feel exactly right for me at this time. There have been so many times when I wanted to let it go, but, like a siren, writing calls to me and I have to respond.

    I loved seeing Tank. I used to ride and I do miss horses. There something special about when they put their noses down and blow on your hands. Enjoy it:~)

  10. Interesting post... with a fab photo at the end! I've found as I've gotten older that I'm easier on both myself and others. I'm careful to limit what I expect out of others - because I can't control them and shouldn't expect to - and unmet/dashed expectations seem to be a frequent cause of unhappiness.

    For me, if there's one particular attitude that contributes to happiness it's gratitude. When you feel so thankful, so blessed, it just naturally uplifts!

  11. Sara--I'm so glad you got something out of this post--comments like yours and my other readers go a long way to keeping me writing! And if I can help to encourage someone else to continue, all the better!

  12. Teresa--I appreciate your words of wisdom. We sure can't control what others do, and only make ourselves crazy when we try to. I also agree that gratitude goes a long way towards keeping us happy, too.