Dr. Amy Lopez from the Helen and Arthur E. Johnson Depression Center recently gave a talk on "The Science of Happiness" at a Kent Denver Parents' Association meeting. In addition to sharing her journey of exploring happiness, including results from her surveys of hundreds of people, Dr. Lopez gave practical tips we can use to increase our happiness. She reported that, for Americans, happiness has been declining, and given that happier people are healthier people, this is an important topic for us all.
According to the research, about 50% of our happiness is determined by our genetics—we each have a happiness "set point". Research also shows that happiness levels change throughout our development. People in their early 20s are generally very happy and hopeful, which declines in the late 20s and early 30s. Happiness tends to increase again in middle age, and returns to a peak happiness at age 66. Despite these biological constraints and rhythms, we do have some ability to raise our happiness levels.
Dr. Lopez recommends the following strategies to elevate your happiness:
- Shift your mood by moving your body—dance!
- Manage emotions through gratitude, meditation and fun.
- Incorporate meaning and purpose into your life.
The most surprising takeaway that Dr. Lopez shared to lift happiness levels is to literally do nothing. The more creative the work you do, the more downtime your brain needs to organize. Creativity literature actually recommends doing nothing for two to six hours per week. So if you think you need to work hard to be happier, take heart! You can simply do nothing...and wait.