There is no “secret” to happiness, and it’s easy to spoil anything by trying too hard or holding on too tight. However, according to Matthew Kahler, a psychology doctoral intern in the Department of Psychiatry at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso), there are scientifically proven ways to nourish happiness. With Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy” playing in the background, Kahler helped welcome TTUHSC El Paso employees to his recent presentation on Nourishing Happiness.
Kahler said his primary goal for the presentation, hosted by the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), was to give accurate information on a topic that the social sciences have long avoided — “What can make our lives happier?”
Kahler’s presentation and the ideas in it are adapted from the book “The How of Happiness” by Sonja Lyubomirsky. Referring to a pie chart of what current research says are the three determinants of happiness, Kahler said ten percent of a person’s happiness is made up of outside circumstances such as money, home, and marriage. Your genes account for 50 percent of happiness, and intentional activity —your thoughts and actions — make up the remaining 40 percent. He pointed out that although genes play a big part of being happy, you can become happier no matter your genetic programming.
He gave workshop participants some ideas on how to create more happiness in their life starting with expressing gratitude. Gratitude is associated with greater happiness and he encouraged participants to be specific and sincere about expressing it. “When you express gratitude, say what exactly it is that you are grateful for. Instead of saying, ‘I’m grateful for having a roof over my head,’ you may want to say, ‘I’m grateful for having a roof over my head, because it’s pouring rain outside and I have a place to go,’” Kahler said. Keeping a gratitude journal or creating a savoring album of keepsakes that can remind you of meaningful moments such as a love note, a college acceptance letter, or your first paycheck can help nourish happiness.
Acts of kindness to others is an important part of maintaining the happiness boost, especially if it involves the giving of your time. Does someone you know need their yard cleaned, a babysitter for the evening, or repair work in their home? When practicing these acts of kindness, tell no one, expect nothing in return, and commit to not entertaining the question, “Why aren’t others as giving as I am?”
Worrying about problems and situations frequently get in the way of happiness so Kahler suggests setting aside some “worry time,” and saving your worries for then. If you’re losing sleep over a problem, take action to solve it. Consider the problem in the context of personal or family goals. Will the situation matter in a week? A year?
Having goals and committing to them can also foster happiness. Are your goals really your goals? Are they authentic and satisfying in and of themselves? Kahler says goals should be flexible and appropriate.
It isn’t about changing who you are; it’s about taking better advantage of who you are. “Happiness is within all of us,” said Kahler.
The Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a helping program that enhances and encourages a healthy work environment by providing employers and employees opportunities to manage life’s problems before they impair work performance and productivity. Program professionals provide quality counseling and assistance for individuals, couples, families, and work groups, all at no cost. Wellness workshops on various topics are planned and available to employees during the year.