Sunday, July 27, 2008

Habits of Happy People.

First off, welcome back to me! i say. Nearly a month is way too long for any self-respecting blogger to go between posts--

Friday i went back to the Chronic Pain Management Class at Kaiser for my 2 month follow-up day. Other than the nurses trying to kill me by having us do ALL the strength exercises i have not been doing faithfully, it was a good day. Even an encouraging day.

The last thing of the day was time spent with the psychologist--she spoke of Intentional Happiness. What is that, you ask? Why, i would be *happy* to tell you, i answer.

The psychologist started out by commenting that for all the years there have been studies to define the many types of mental/emotional illnesses and their treatments, no studies had been done on people who are well-balanced and happy in their lives. Surprising, you comment? Truthfully i had never given it a moment's thought, i respond.

This study was done with a goal of ascertaining what differentiates a person's capacity for happiness or unhappiness, thriving or failing. It encompassed people who had lived through horrible circumstances and events: the holocaust, loss of children, illnesses, etc. Those who survived and thrived had several habits in common. But first to set the stage:

If you draw a circle representing 100% happiness in your life, what percentage of that circle do you suppose genetics plays a part in? Take a guess--no really, just guess! i was totally off. It's FIFTY PERCENT! This would include things such as coming from a long line of family members with depression and/or anxiety, other illnesses both mental and physical such as a predisposition toward cancer, diabetes, etc. So HALF your happiness is affected by genetics. (Again i apologize, dear Corinne, child of birth--you are so screwed.)

Now, of the 50% remaining, what percentage do you think you are solely responsible for? This includes your behavior and habits, that sort of thing, the parts only you control. FORTY PERCENT!! That's right. A whole hunk of it is up to us. Our choices. Our habits.

This leaves 10%--that is the percentage determined by circumstances: events, disease, pain and such. A mere 10%. BUT, and here's the kicker, when that 10% starts taking over our thinking and actions, it swallows up the 40% that is our behavior and habits to become FIFTY PERCENT. Holy negativity, Batman!

So--this brings us to the answer to the original question: What are the common habits of happy people?

*Intentional happiness. This is the choice to look for the good--what happened today that was good? What went right? (NOW who's talkin' smack about Pollyanna, huh?)

*Support. The habit of seeking support and working to maintain and improve those supportive relationships.

*Hobbies. Those who thrived in the midst of bad circumstance had hobbies! Since i am a big hobby person i understand this one. My hobbies focus me on the immediate. i have no thoughts of past failure or present pain, i'm lost in the moment. And lest you think a hobby means craftiness, a hobby can be many things that don't mean having shelves full of yarn and scrapbooking supplies and fabric and....yeh. That would be me. A hobby can be as simple as reading a library book, or watching a movie. All hobbies don't require huge amounts of supply space and/or money, they simply are an activity that gives you something to focus on other than your circumstance.

*Flow. This was an unfamiliar term. As soon as the psychologist explained it i understood--that feeling you get when you're doing something that absorbs you and puts you in the moment? That's flow. For me all those hobbies i mentioned, the reading/creating and such, those put me in "flow."

*Meaning. Finding meaning for life is a habit of a happy person. For me there have been many things that contributed to that--none of which i can do as easily any more, given my energy-free life. Once upon a time i loved providing infant foster care, i loved being a part of students' lives for the years i worked in the church high school department. i loved providing a safe space for the occasional teen who needed a place to stay. i loved (and still love!) loving my kids. i find that i am in a time of redefining what i can do, given the change in health. But that's okay--no place does it say i have to do the exact same things to have meaning in my life. For me it has all been driven by the unconditional love i have known from my Creator God, and the desire to share that in my actions toward others. i need to accept that i will do this in my flawed way, but the desire is there and always has been. i just need to do some thinking to find a different way to perform the acts that give me meaning and purpose.

As simple as this all seems, the practice is the key. My choice to look for the good, to seek support, to find ways to be focused and absorbed and in the moment, to find meaning--these choices are the key to thriving in the midst of crappy circumstance. Crappy circumstances are the things we often see as interruptions in our real life, when in fact they are our life at that moment.

Skimmer's recap: Half your potential for thriving in life is determined by your genes. Only 10% is determined by your circumstance. That leaves 40% dependent on your personal choices and habits. That's a whole lot of control.


Connie said...

Julia - VERY interesting figures. 50% is quite a lot and that surprises me. I'm always working on the 40% and slip and fall many times.

glad to hear from you -- too long away!!!

julia said...

Hey, Connie! Yeh, crazy numbers, eh?

Jen said...

I'm just catching up since I've been gone and this is just fascinating. The 50% genetic aspect is really interesting because although I know mental illnesses can be genetic, I hadn't thought of it in terms of day-to-day happiness. Wow! No surprise about hobbies... I always feel the best when I am creating something or taking time (even if it is 15 min.) doing something I enjoy. Your house looks great, too!

julia said...

Yep, isn't that a surprising number? i really thought genetics would be a much smaller part of the picture, even though sometimes i feel absolutely cursed by my own family genetics and habits...And the hobbies are ALways a given for me as well. The house is starting to look like a *real* house! (Jeff M told Dean our house used to look like a crack house before the siding--i laughed so hard at that!)

i too am catching up on the blogs of others as i've been a bit out of the blog loop in the past few months myself. Thus the big >BLANK< in the midst of my own blogging. Sounds like you had a lovely time in Oregon, i'm so glad!

Anonymous said...

98% of statistics about happiness are inaccurate.

julia said...

Yes, i would suppose many statistics are pretty off about most things! here's usually some sort of bias-- i do wish i would have thought to ask the psychologist about the study itself--where, when, who did it, all that. i must say i'm curious about it. BUT, i do know that a little "intentional happiness" goes a long way, personally speaking. The difference between my mother and her mother was drastic--where my grandma would say in answer to one of my seldom appearing letters "It was so good to hear from you, as it always is," my mother would respond with something more along the lines of "Well, it's about time. Why can't you make more of an effort?" Guess which one i was more likely to answer?

i'm just happy to know i have some say in how things affect me--i suppose that's a no-brainer to most people, but honestly i have felt under the shadow of my genetics more often than i wish!

And thanks for coming by, FortyTwo, hope to "see" you again. ;-)

Lea Ann said...

I keep going back and reading this post and the Apricot Thoughts one Julie. Both are inspirational and give me courage. Especially the %'s involved in Habits of Health People. Can't believe I sometimes throw my 40% away on the very small 10% that I have no control over. This is truly helpful stuff. Thank you so much for writing about it so well.

Lea Ann said...

ummm, uhhh, meant to say Habits of HAPPY People. Hope you were not wondering where the heck I read that typo title! lol

julia said...

Well, Lea Ann, i suppose happy people are a bit more mentally healthy than unhappy ones, eh?? Good to hear from you! And i guess i write the thoughts down so i can remind mySELF too. ;-) Glad you've enjoyed them.

MsCatMinder said...

Brilliant post Julia . Everyone should read this !