It’s the new big thing. Books on the subject abound, there are articles and studies and experts who can tell you how to attain it. And while the science of happiness is not new, the immense interest in it is.
I was brought into the world of happy recently when a friend screened a documentary on the topic. I’d never thought about anyone studying happiness or that it was something you could actually control in your own life and I found the research and statistics on what makes people happy fascinating. Now, I’m reading a book a friend lent me called “The Happiness Project,” one woman’s quest to get happy. And it’s making me...you guessed it... happy!
One of the things I find most interesting is that according to experts only 10 percent of our happiness is determined by circumstance - finance, marriage, work, etc. Another 50 percent is genetic (we are predisposed to a certain set point of happiness). But the remaining 40 percent is wide open! What we do with it is up to us. We can choose to make ourselves happier. For a goal-oriented person like me, finding out I can control my own happiness is both freeing and wonderfully challenging.
So what makes people happy? Research has found that happy people tend to have two things in common. The first is community, a large support system of friends or family. And the second is something that has really stuck with me, called flow.
Flow is defined as the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus. In other words, flow is doing something you find fun that engages you completely and that you get lost in.
I have become somewhat obsessed with the idea of flow and with figuring out what mine is. I can sometimes find flow on a walk with good music playing loud on my ipod or during an intense yoga class. And while flow may feel indulgent, finding yours can give you a sense of contentment, fulfillment and, of course, happiness. And as both common sense and the experts will tell you, being around a happy person makes other people happy too.
When I asked friends and neighbors what their flow was, here’s what they told me.
“Dancing...it’s just pure joy and freedom,” one friend told me.
“Painting,” said another. “When I paint, a wall, a picture, anything, I find that I am thinking of only the colors and how the picture is coming together and engaging my creative side.”
Another said golf.
”Concentrating on that little ball, but mostly thinking about how I am holding the club and the action my body is taking to hit the ball, I really do not think about anything else.”
“Pinterest. I can get sucked into it and forget all else in my happy, perfectly decorated, DIY, delicious little world for hours, if I am allowed!” admitted one Dunwoody mom of two. This one I can relate to, having spent many hours creating my own Pinterest boards. I always felt guilty after one of my Pinterest sessions. But now I realize it makes me happy.
One Dunwoody dad said his flow was “going biking, running with a friend or working out with my wife in our living room while the kids are asleep.”
A friend and neighbor who possibly makes the best lemon bars I’ve ever had in my life among many other amazing desserts says her flow is, unsurprisingly, baking.
“I just made the most amazing cookies the other day!Heaven!” she added.
“Tennis is my flow,” added a mom of three. I’m thinking of nothing but my game, how to beat my opponent.”
Others cited yoga, hiking, meditation, even shopping. Whatever works. We all need a break from those to-do lists, the needs of our kids, deadlines and everything else on our minds. And taking a little time out to do something that makes you feel good is actually selfless. I, for one, am much more pleasant to be around when I feel happy and fulfilled. I challenge each of you to find one thing that makes you flow this week and try it. You, and those around you, deserve it!
Lauren Menis is a Dunwoody mother whose column appears in The Crier each month. You can reach Lauren at Lauren.Menis@gmail.com.