If you’ve ever seen The Wizard of Oz, it’s hard to forget the scene when Dorothy is waiting for Glinda the Good Witch to arrive and send her home to Kansas. She’s been trying to get home for the better part of the movie, and finally help has arrived. When Glinda does show up, Dorothy finds out she could have found her way home all along, without the help of Glinda or anyone else. She always had the power. She just had to discover that for herself.
It’s a great metaphor for life. Who hasn’t waited for something or someone – a person, place or thing – to come along because when “it happens,” then, we’ll finally find happiness/contentment/freedom from ____________(you fill in the blank.) And guess what – we are happy, at least for a while. Over time, though, we tend to adapt to the new situation and most of us, research has shown, return to a somewhat inherent basic “set point” of happiness.
Recent research also shows that our level of happiness and contentment is typically influenced 50% by genetics, and 10% by our life circumstances – that is, income, where we live, whether we are single or married, etc. That leaves 40% where we get to have some say and that’s the good news because here is where our choices and our behavior are in the driver’s seat.
That 40% piece of the pie is where we have the power to influence our days and our futures for good. So how can we make the most of it?
- First off, you have to know that you do, indeed, have the power. We’ve all met the guy (or gal) who walks through life with the slightly droopy affect and posture, and proclaims: “This is just me. It’s just the way I am.” Genetically speaking that may be, to some extent, true. But we all have the power to make choices that influence our sense of well-being and happiness, both on a daily basis, and over time.
- When was the last time you engaged in an activity for the sheer joy of it? If you’re struggling to remember, it may be time to add some of that back into your life more regularly. It’s easy to get caught up in our daily rounds of work, kids, chores, errands, pickups and deliveries. But what if you gave yourself the gift of an hour – or an afternoon – to do something you love every week or two. It could be just getting cozy with a good book and a fire, or a Sunday drive with your partner to see the fall colors. I once had an attorney friend who had a standing plan to horseback ride in the country every Sunday morning, a far cry from her normal workweeks. It fed her soul and gave her joy, because she made a conscious decision to make it part of the landscape of her life. Choose to bring activities into your life that you feel happy doing. The more you do this, the better you will feel; the better you feel, the stronger your overall sense of wellbeing.
- Just because you have free time doesn’t mean you have to fill it with the next thing on your to-do list. When we find ourselves with an unexpected block of free time, it’s tempting to use it to “get things done.” If you have a good friend you don’t have enough time to see, how about a spontaneous invite for coffee or a walk? Or an afternoon movie, if you close the office early or an appointment cancels. These are things that we can consciously do to add more pleasure into our days, and that add up over time to create our “life.”
- It’s all about people. Research shows that those of us who have strong connections with others – family, friends and community – tend to feel the best about themselves, their lives and the world around them.
- Move. There is no substitute for physical activity if you want to feel better, look better, and have more energy. If you incorporate regular exercise into your life you will simply live better, and you may live longer. It’s about as close to a fountain of youth as there is.
- Express your appreciation to the people around you. When we let others know they matter to us, we strengthen our relationships with them. Taking time to reflect on the gratitude we have for others benefits us as well, because we are the beneficiaries of the positive and warm feelings these thoughts generate.
So what’s the takeaway? One of the basic aims of positive psychology is to build well-being, and building well-being is possible by making conscious choices about our behaviors and attitude. We don’t have to wait – for Glinda, or that new job, or the right relationship, or anything really. You have the power to live the good life now. You always have.