Have you ever said “I just want to be happy”? And then felt stuck, not knowing how exactly to make that happen. Or not knowing, even, what would make you happy?

Well, you’re not alone. It’s one of the more popular topics in positive psychology today and, no doubt, if you google anything like “how to be happy” you’ll find hundreds of articles with a million different methods for arriving at the all illusive happy life.

Everyone wants to know…

What Makes Us Happy?

happy momentsAccording to the MIT Technology Review, “Psychologists think about 50 percent of our happiness is the result of our genes.” And “Our environment—our life circumstances—contributes only 10 percent to our happiness levels.”

They also say “the rest is under our control. Some 40 percent of our happiness levels are the result of the choices we make.”

So if you’re feeling stuck and unhappy, take heart. You do have control over your life and your happiness. It’s all in the choices you make. Easy, right? But it seems the catch would be determining what choices would result in the greatest happiness. And that is where we have to dig a little deeper.

A Study of Happy Moments 

MIT took a look at a study being conducted by Akari Asai at the University of Tokyo, in Japan. According to this study, “these folks have built a database of 100,000 happy moments and begun the challenging task of data mining the contents.”

Some of the Happy Moments recorded in the data base include:

  • Went out with a friend, had some food and talked about life.
  • I had dinner with my husband.
  • I went for a jog this evening and the weather was nice and it was shady.
  • I’m so excited to be able to travel to Florida next month.  I’m getting giggly just thinking about it.
  • I kissed my girlfriend in the hot tub.

They got the information by asking people to describe three happy moments they’ve experienced in the last 24 hours or in the last three months.

Want to play along? Write down three happy moments either from the last 24 hours or the past three months. Now let’s look at how the database breaks down each type of experience and how we can analyze them.

Types of Happy Moments

 Once they had all these happy experiences, they started to divide them into categories, like achievement, affection, and exercise.

They are explained like this:

  • Achievement, for example, involves activities “with extra effort to achieve a better than expected result.” Examples might include “finish work” or “complete marathon.”
  • Affection involves activities with meaningful interaction with family, loved ones and pets. Examples include a hug, cuddling, or a kiss.
  • And exercise involves activities “with intent to exercise or workout” such as run, bike, or do yoga.

How would you categorize the three happy moments you wrote down? This type of exercise might help you uncover the source of your true happiness. Maybe it’s not the exact activity that brings you happiness but one that points to a larger desire, like achievement.

How to Turn Happy Moments into a Happy Life

happy momentsThe study began breaking down moments into categories of “the last 24 hours” and “the past three months” to get a better idea of how we might start to make happiness more sustainable.

Asai says, “The results suggest that moments reported in the 24-hour period tend to be activities that occur daily (e.g., foods, bedtime) and moments reported in the three-month period tend to reflect infrequent occurrences like holidays or life events.”

Consider the three happy moments you wrote down for yourself; did they happen in the last 24 hours or the within the last three months? How frequently do you engage in the activities that brought you happiness?

So what does this all mean?

By taking stock of our own happy moments and analyzing how often they occur and what larger desire or fulfillment they bring, we can begin to identify patterns of happiness in our lives. Then it’s up to us to decide if we like those patterns or want to change them.

Remember, up to 40% of your happiness is within your control. Own it. Take action. Write down your happy moments and ask yourself the questions in the study. Lastly, consider what choices you can make today that will guide you to more happy moments and eventually to a more happy life.

What’s one positive choice you can make right now?

Feature photo: Nine Köpfer / Unsplash