Happiness-Enhancing Activities in 4 Do-It-Yourself Categories


Yes, crazy me, happily cleaning my oven with baking soda + a knit cloth made by a very special friend!

“Happiness-enhancing activities” seem to be the other half of the nature-nurture question when it comes to happiness. I won’t kid you: genetics play apart, and so do life circumstances. If you come from parents and grandparents who tended to frame things in a positive light you probably tend do think the same way. Life circumstances also have some effect on happiness, according to the research on happiness. If you win the lottery, for instance you will probably break into a happy dance; jump for joy; do somersaults around your back yard—who wouldn’t? But researchers found that positive life circumstances only go so far in making us happy. Meaning, the effect is short-lived, and then we adapt to that temporary emotional lift, and go back to being our own emotionally disgruntled selves, if that is how we were before hitting the jackpot.

So what’s the deal when it comes to the “nurture” side of the happiness equation? As it turns out, almost 50% of lasting happiness is under our control! I don’t know about you, but to me, THAT is a reason to do a somersault (okay, at least a mental one). Okay, but now let’s get to the nuts and bolts of what we can actually do, to make a happiness plan. Hint: you can start by doing more activities + thinking more thoughts– that make you happy.

Researchers Henricksen and Stephens did an exploratory study in older adults ranging from 56-76 years old to find out what kind of activities enhanced their happiness. Their responses fell into four categories; all of which are pretty attainable and might be useful for the rest of us to plan our days around if we want to get more out life. Here are the categories, when it comes to happiness self-management.

1. Other-focused activities. These might include spending time with family and significant others; meeting with others on a social basis, and helping others (such as in doing volunteer work or even making a meal for a sick neighbor).
2. Personal Recreation & Interests. This would include pursuing hobbies you are passionate about; balancing your life with entertainment and relaxation (going to a movie or curling up with a good book), or “external engagement” like going on a group hike or attending a book club discussion or adult ed class.
3. Thoughts and Attitudes. Happy older people are filled with gratitude for their blessings. They also tend toward constructive thinking; that is choosing to frame things positively. Even after personal trauma or loss, they focus on inner growth, or what they have learned from the hardship. Many times we think that we cannot change our thoughts, but great Dr. Albert Ellis, founder of Rational Emotive Therapy (who also honored me with his endorsement of my first book “Change Your Mind, Change Your Weight”), devoted his entire life to showing us how to change our thoughts, which in turn would have a positive effect on our emotional landscape.
4. Achievements. Happiness enhancing activities include setting –and achieving small, short-term goals; and also having longer-range goals in progress. Your immediate goal can be a simple as getting your oven clean using only baking soda and vinegar; and if it actually comes out great, you may feel a sense of achievement that starts a snowball effect of feeling good about other things. The oven is my example (as you can see from the photo above). Make a list of some of the short-term goals you want to attain, and then just start in on them, one by one. Your long-term goals might be what you’d like to do after you retire; or what exotic trip you’d like to take next year, or perhaps you’d like to write a book, try out for a play, start your own business or lose some weight so will feel better.

Happiness has too many emotional AND physical benefits to ignore, especially for older adults like us. The good news is, we can intentionally increase our happiness and have it last, by frequently engaging in positive activity and thought.

What do YOU do to feel happier? I’d love to read your feedback (when you’re done cleaning your oven, of course 🙂

Henricksen, A., & Stephens, C. (2010) An exploration of he happiness-enhancing activities engaged in by older adults. Aging International (35) 311-326.

© Raeleen Mautner, LLC

The Quest for Eudaimonia, or the Holy Grail of Happiness

We humans have been chasing the Holy Grail of happiness since the beginning of time. It took the Ancient Greek and Roman philosophers, however, to begin to ponder, speak, and write about it, and thus bring happiness to the forefront of our consciousness, instead of letting it lie in the shadows of our primal instinct, where, like every other species, we automatically gravitate toward pleasure and away from pain. Now there was a way to “think” about happiness, and use our minds to frame the experience of happiness as something we can (somewhat) control. In fact, by changing our thoughts and our behaviors, we really can become more content.

As we grow biologically older (older meaning reaching the age of 50 or so, although that is an arbitrary number), finding ways to feel upbeat despite the common physical, cogntive and social changes that come with aging–makes a difference in the quality of our life. When we are happier, we feel more confident, more passionate, and even more attractive.

“Eudaimonic” well-being, unlike the hedonic variety of happiness (seek pleasure/avoid pain),  assumes that happiness involves higher order pursuits; such as existential purpose, meaning, fulfillment, and personal values.  Kind of like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which emphasized the journey to the highest level of  human drives; the drive to reach”self-actualization”, a metaphysical state of well-being where we are able to enjoy frequent “peak experiences” that trascend us from the mundane to the  highest level of happiness and fulfillment.

But what does this mean for you and me?

There is research to support the idea that involving ourselves with activities can make us feel happier. But not just any activity. Seek out activities that inspire your creativity, awaken your passions, or touch your emotions. Bypass the usual evening at the mall, and go to a classical concert, visit a museum, take part in a worship service or a lecture that makes you think about something new.  Look in the papers and seek out events like these. Schedule them in on your calendar at least once or twice a month. See if that doesn’t begin to elevate your outlook on life.

What activities bring the most happiness into your life? I’d love to hear your ideas!