3 Steps to Making Happiness Attainable and Sustainable

By Heather Hassel-Finnegan | Sustainable Living

Despite its feel-good moniker, “Happiness Studies” is a well-respected data driven field of psychology that has gained significant momentum over the last several decades. Researchers in the field are tackling fascinating questions. Is an individual’s propensity for happiness controlled primarily by genes, life events, or core values?  Can an individual “learn” to be happy? Making happiness attainable and sustainable is possible.

It turns out that about 50% of happiness is genetically controlled.  That’s probably not a surprise to you. We all know people who have a natural propensity towards happiness or sullenness. That leaves about 50% of happiness that an individual can have at least some control over. And repeated studies have shown that an individual can in fact “learn” to be happy.  Again, this is probably not surprising to you. We all know people who have made positive lifestyle choices and been happier as a result.  

Sustainable Lifestyle Choices

But, if you’re a data-driven person, you’ll appreciate knowing that there’s strong evidence that a few easy to implement Sustainable Lifestyle Choices can dramatically improve your happiness. Here are three ways that are proven effective in making happiness attainable and sustainable.

1. Walk Outside 15 Minutes Per Day

A study from Carleton University showed that individuals do a poor job predicting the positive effects of spending time outdoors. Participants predicted that their happiness score would be about 20% higher after walking for 15 minutes outdoors on an urban path versus walking indoors. In fact, happiness scores were about 60% higher after outdoor walks. Because we tend to underestimate the positive effects of spending time outdoors, we’re more likely to pass up opportunities to do so.  So, on your next lunch break, remind yourself that the happiness gains from walking outside for 15 minutes are substantial.  Walk to the nearest park, meander down a tree lined street, or visit an urban green roof. Or consider shortening your commute by getting off the train a station earlier or parking your car further from your destination and walking the rest of the way.

2. Give Gifts of Experience Rather Than “Things”

Research shows that the happiness associated with receiving or purchasing a new material object is fleeting, typically lasting between six and eight weeks. The happiness associated with a life experience, on the other hand, does not diminish in the same manner. In fact, there’s some evidence that our positive perceptions of life experiences actually improve with time. Giving experiential gifts can strengthen social bonds, especially if the gift giver and giftee can enjoy the activity together. So next time that you attend a child’s birthday consider giving tickets to the zoo, a movie, or a special event. Next time you attend a wedding, consider giving the happy couple a honeymoon excursion or tickets to see their favorite band.  

3. Volunteer 100 Hours Per Year

Numerous studies have pinpointed the optimal volunteer service to be about two hours per week. Individuals that volunteer 100 hours per year report high levels of happiness, life satisfaction, and self-esteem. Researchers are trying to parse apart whether volunteering improves happiness because it increases an individual’s physical activity, provides opportunities for social connections, provides a sense of satisfaction in helping others, or some combination thereof. Regardless, it’s clear that slicing out two hours from your 168 hour week to help others can help you too.

About The Author

Heather Hassel-Finnegan
Heather is a Sustainability Specialist working in the healthcare industry. She is a LEED Accredited Professional and holds a Sustainability Professional Certificate. She has a background in Biology and Anthropology, and much of her past work focused on wildlife biology and conservation. Heather resides in the Philadelphia region with her husband and toddler daughters.