Pharrell Williams rocked the world in the summer of 2014 with his uplifting dance tune ‘Happy’.
People from countries far and wide danced to the track in front of a camera and uploaded their own copycat videos on to the internet to show how happy they were too.
And good for them. Of course happiness is what we all want for ourselves and our loved ones.
But is it something we can control? Or something that is thrust upon us by our circumstances? Why is Pharrell so happy?
Well, to start with he is a world-famous singer, producer and musician who is worth millions upon millions of dollars. He has a gorgeous wife and a beautiful son, who he can treat to the world’s coolest gadgets and foreign holidays any time he wants. And of course, he is living his dream as an international music star working with the greatest talents in the business on a daily basis.
OK, so it’s easy to see why Pharrell is happy, and good for him. He works hard, loves his family and does produce great music which delights the world.
But what if you’re not an international superstar earning millions of dollars a year and fulfilling your lifelong dreams every minute of every day?
What can the rest of the world do to make themselves happier too? Well, quite a lot actually.
40% of our overall happiness is up to us
According to expert psychologists and neuroscientists, 50% of our happiness is determined by our genes, with some people just more likely than others to feel good more often (be wary of moaning about your ‘grumpy old granddad’ now, because that may well end up being you).
A further 10% of happiness is related to the circumstances in a person’s life, such as their romantic relationship, their work satisfaction and financial security. These are factors which we do have a certain amount of control over, but sometimes with limited resources or opportunities to make a real difference.
It is the remaining 40% of ‘happiness’ that everybody everywhere can have a direct influence on, and improve their lives to make themselves more happy.
But how? The Irish Independent spoke to Ian Robertson, professor of psychology at Trinity College Dublin and founding director of its Institute of Neuroscience, about how human happiness can be controlled.
Here are a selection of some of the best ‘tricks’ we should all try and use to put a smile on our face.
According to research carried out at Fordham University in the 1980s, people who consistently help others on a daily or weekly basis have overall happier lives. The personal satisfaction people feel when they have acted to improve the circumstances of their fellow human being is known as the ‘helper’s high’ and is very real.
Anything from volunteering at a soup kitchen or youth centre, taking your friend out for a coffee to cheer them up after a break-up, or helping a stranger pick up their belongings when they fall; all are kind, helpful acts that will also benefit you.
Don’t be too harsh on yourself
People who are too critical of themselves, whether it be at work or at home, are more likely to suffer from frustration, low self-esteem and depression. Ambition is good, and setting yourself small, challenging but achievable goals is highly recommended. A feeling of self-worth when you accomplish something is a key contributor to overall happiness.
But make your targets realistic, and don’t get too down on yourself if you don’t reach them. Working hard towards something is in itself a great way to keep the mind focused and content.
Take a minute to stop and enjoy nature
In the 21st century, it is easy to become swamped down with daily tasks and chores and never get chance to actually stop and soak in your surroundings. Mother Earth has gifted us some beautiful sights, sounds and smells, and it is something we should all stop and enjoy every single day, even if just for a moment.
A two minute break in your garden admiring the birdsong, or a walk to work through the park to breathe in the fresh air rather than the traffic fumes are good ways to appreciate the world around us, before jumping back into the hectic day-to-day grind. Professor Robertson said: “Have a look at that flower in the park or sit and do nothing and try and be in the moment.”
Don’t measure your success by material things
An easy way to stop yourself being happy is by comparing your achievements and your wealth to someone who has more than you. This can leave you feeling worthless and inferior – not likely to result in happiness. Professor Robertson explained: “If our priority in life is the acquisition of material things, that will make us unhappy; there’s always someone wealthier, better looking, and cleverer than you. It’s the small things that make us happy.”
In other words, look at what you do have, not what you don’t. Large plasma screen TVs, fast cars and expensive clothes are all nice things, but not when you have nobody to share them with. Ultimately, all it takes to make most people happy is a loving partner and family, a secure, comfortable home, and a sense of challenge and achievement at work.
Take up a hobby
New things keep the mind alert and active, and stop the boredom of predictability taking over the mind. We all have to work, look after the kids, do the housework etc. What free time you can find, you should use to get active and do something different. Whether it is joining a local dance class, digging out your old tennis racquet, or finally trying to learn to play the guitar, do something fun for you.
Taking part in an activity that you actually choose is a reward for all the time you spend doing things you’d rather not do. It is also important to realise that as well as making everyone else in your life happy, you also deserve to have fun once in a while too.
And if none of that works for you, then here, watch Pharrell show you how happy life can get.