“What causes Happiness, Jim?” Someone recently posed this question at the end of my presentation on Happiness. Hmm. I paused a moment before I responded.
Well, I began… I’m afraid I may disappoint you because my answer to that question is: Nothing. Nothing can ’cause’ happiness to occur for us. Happiness is a response, for sure, but it comes from within, not outside of us.
Having said that, I CAN share with you some life conditions affect our experience of happiness. I’m not saying these cause happiness – rather, people who nurture these factors in their lives tend to report higher levels of Happiness than those who do not.
Four Factors that Correlate to Happiness
- Having Faith/Spirituality – nurturing a belief in something beyond and/or greater than yourself.
First, let me offer a distinction between Religion versus Faith/Spirituality.Religion refers to an organized institution with which one may affiliate, e.g. Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Sufi, Hindu, Greek Orthodox, Shiite Muslim, Reformed Judaism, etc.Faith is a belief in something you cannot see or prove. Spirituality takes Faith a step further, and refers to one’s belief in and worship of a higher power, e.g. Yahweh, Allah, God, Mother Earth/Nature/The Universe, etc.It is possible to affiliate with a religion and have no spiritual life. For example, the person who attends services – but never prays – might be going thru the motions and yet still feel emptiness.Conversely, it is possible to be spiritual without being religious. For instance, the person who belongs to no church may find great peace and joy when they spend time in nature. This feeling of peace can be just as powerful for the Christian, Muslim, Jew, or Hindi who goes to temple and experiences a connection with that higher power through ritual and prayer.Making it happen for you: Spirituality requires attention and practice; you must give yourself the opportunity to experience awe, peace, and connection. Walk in nature. Try prayer. If one church does not meet your spiritual needs, visit others. Meditate. Do any of these often enough, and you will notice your sense of contentment grow stronger along with your spiritual practices.
- Being in Relationship – having people in your life with whom you can be yourself and upon whom you can depend when the going gets tough.
Being in relationship means that you have friends or family members or coworkers who know you, accept you as you are, and who will listen to you and give you a hug when you need one…AND having people whom you care about and will do the same for.Note: This is not about marriage. The need to be in relationship begins when we are born, so it is a lifelong need. Besides, when it comes to marriage and happiness, the results are mixed – after all, 50% of marriages in the US fail, and in many parts of the world the marriage contract still constitutes a legal form of indentured servitude.Making it happen for you: Nurture the relationships you are in. You must give, to receive.
- Connection to Community/Feeling of Belonging – feeling connected to one or more groups where you share a common bond or interest.
Humans are, by nature, social beings. Church, civic groups, professional associations, volunteer organizations, prayer groups, AA or Al-Anon, book discussion groups, scout troops… these are all examples of affiliation groups that can fill our human need for group engagement.My wife’s Great Aunt Helen is still – at age 90+ – connected with a group of girls who attended middle school together over 75 years ago. The survivors still meet monthly, and they all credit the constancy of this group with having contributed to their long and happy lives. Very cool!Making it happen for you: Get involved in a way that allows you to hang around with other people. Depending on which study you pick up, estimates are that between 50 and 70% of Americans volunteer or donate their time each year to an organization or cause. Volunteerism is a powerful way to fill this human need and feed your own happiness.
- Having a Sense of Purpose or Mission – having a degree of clarity about why you do what you do. Being able answer, “for the sake of What do I do <this>?”
I’m not talking about needing to be in touch with your “soul purpose,” the reason you’re on the earth – though if you know that, you’re all set. But while many of us spend the first several decades of our life trying to figure our soul purpose, we can identify other short-term drives.For instance, going to school or holding a job might be for the purpose of caring for your family or establishing your career (even when the work itself is not your purpose). Or you might find purpose in what you do outside of work or simply in the way you focus your attention. For example, some find purpose in leading; others find it in doing high quality work; still others find it in being a nurturer; or in providing structure and support to others; or in manifesting creativity; or in being a great role model, connector, organizer, or listener.Making it happen for you: Ask yourself, “What’s a gift(s) I have to offer the world, and do I have the chance to do so?” If you are not sure what gifts you bring, ask those whom you trust to share what they think. When I have clients gather such information from their friends, family, and coworkers, they are often (pleasantly) surprised to learn how others see their value.
Jim Smith, PCC, is The Executive Happiness Coach®. He is an international speaker, executive and life coach, and author. He provides his clients with inspiration and practical tools to live a happier life and build more positive work cultures. He is the author of Happiness At The Speed of Life: 13 Powerful Strategies for Finding Happiness at Home and On The Job, and has touched the lives of over 10,000 people worldwide through his work on Positive Emotion and Leadership. You can connect with Jim at theexecutivehappinesscoach.com.