I have spent a lot of my life content, not necessarily super happy but not sad either. Content and waiting. Waiting for high school or college or grad school to be done. Waiting for summer to come, waiting for me to get that job, to lose that weight. I was sure that once that happened I would move from “content” to “happy”. But there was always something more I wanted, always a better body, always a better job, nicer clothes.
I watched a documentary the other night called “Happy” that studied the causes of happiness. The producers went all over the world to measure the happiness level of people, from a rickshaw driver in India to an old man who lives in the Louisiana swamps to the busy streets of Japan. What they found was that the rickshaw driver (and people in similar situations that people would assume had unhappy lives) measured higher on the happiness scale than many of the people who appeared to be successful and “have it all”. This was because there was a large difference between what they valued most in life.
They found that there are two types of happiness that are based on what people valued. “Extrinsic” goals – wealth, status and image vs. “intrinsic goals” – satisfying yourself through personal growth, relationships and sense of community. The people with intrinsic values and goals were far happier, no matter their monetary status, than those with extrinsic values. Therefore, working to get the perfect job, aiming for the perfect body… those things aren’t what will make you happy. 50% is genetic, and the rest is building strong relationships with those around you, setting goals and working towards them, and being a part of something bigger than yourself – that’s what matters.
Another thing that they said can greatly improve your happiness is, you guessed it, EXERCISE. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that plays a role in motivation, reward, motor control and happiness. As you get older you loose Dopamine synapses, but exercise can help to slow down the process. Either you use it, through exercise, or lose it. Also, studies showed that allowing yourself to get “in the zone”, something physically and mentally demanding for no good reason, can increase your happiness levels.
So if you are currently living your life how I used to, simply being content and waiting for something to happen, to get rich, have a nice car or lose weight, it’s time for a change. Stop focusing on what could happen in the future and focus on the now. Focus on the intrinsic values, the relationships that you form and your own individual accomplishments. And go out and get your dopamine flowing. Go for a run, a hike, lift some weights, and see how good you feel once it’s done.
Life is too short to live it unhappy.