Awareness helps your happiness By: Rhonda Giloby Clinical psychologist, Western University professor

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Everybody would like to be happy. Research has shown that university students around the world rate being happy as extremely important and valuable (6.39 on a 7 point scale). Dr. Tal Ben Shahar, a popular Harvard psychologist, has described happiness as “the ultimate currency”. He believes that everything we do, every action that we take, is because we believe it will, ultimately, lead to happiness.

Although it may seem like focusing on your own happiness is a self-indulgent goal, in fact, research has shown over and over again that happiness doesn’t just make you feel good. It’s also linked with many other valuable benefits. For example, happier people tend to have an advantage in terms of health, life span, rates of college graduation, job performance and satisfaction, social relationships, leadership skills, self-esteem and coping skills.

With so many benefits, who wouldn’t want to increase their levels of happiness? But, is that even possible? According to psychology professor, Sonya Lyubomirsky’s book, The How of Happiness, our happiness level is a result of three factors. Our genetics, which determine 50 per cent of our happiness level, our environment, which determines 10 per cent of our happiness level; and intentional activities, which determines 40 per cent of our happiness level.

We can’t change our genetics, and we may not have much control over the stuff that happens to us. So, psychology has recently put a lot of effort into focusing on the Intentional Activities – what people can do, what deliberate activities they can engage in, to improve their happiness level. Evidence from well-designed studies has shown that people can significantly boost their happiness by using certain “happiness exercises.”

One well-documented and straightforward happiness exercise is called Three Good Things. It starts with the premise that we think too much about what goes wrong in our lives, and not enough about what goes right.

These negative events, then, end up having more impact on us than positive ones. Although this may have made a lot of sense for our distant ancestors who needed to recognize and prepare for disaster for their very survival, in the present time, we will feel better if we notice, think about and appreciate what goes well in our lives. The goal is to change your focus from things that go  wrong to things that go well, that you may have been taking for granted. Gratitude can be an antidote to negative feelings.

The Three Good Things exercise requires you to set aside 10 minutes a day (before bed works well) and “write down three things that went well today, and … why they went well”. The three things need not be earth shattering in importance. Some examples you could write about include something you did well or achieved, what you like about where you live, specific individuals who care about you, the beautiful weather or the tasty dinner you had.

Try to keep the strategy fresh, not using the same things every day, in order to keep it meaningful and interesting. Although it may be tough to find things to be grateful for during tough times, this may be the most important time to look for three good things, in order to increase your level of happiness.