March 7, 2014
Happiness is related to greater success at work, more resiliency, less burnout and stress, more satisfying relationships, increased creativity, intelligence and flexibility of thought, improved immune system functioning and greater productivity. Happiness is more than a mere emotion; it is a habit we can improve with specific daily practices. Science is showing that some habits cultivate more happiness than others. One of the most powerful habits for happiness and life satisfaction is self-compassion, or self-acceptance. Yet this is also one of the most secret habits, one that is least likely to be practiced.
The non-profit organization, Action for Happiness, in collaboration with Do Something Different, asked 5,000 people to rate themselves between 1 and 10 on ten habits. These ten habits have been shown in the latest scientific research as being instrumental to happiness and well-being.
The top ten habits, according to science, are…
Being kind to others (giving)
Being around others (relationships)
Appreciation of the world around you
Learning new things (approaching the world with curiosity)
Goals (having significant direction in life)
Resilience (finding ways to bounce back from challenge)
Positive emotions (awe, joy, love, contentment, relaxation, etc.)
Meaning (having a purpose in life)
Acceptance and self-compassion
Kindness is the Most Practiced Habit
Of these valid approaches to happiness and satisfaction, most of the participants report being kind to others most frequently. And this is the most reliable way that science knows of to boost your mood to a positive place…do something kind for someone else. And fortunately, many people report doing kind acts quite frequently (7.41 out of a possible 10).
Being around others, or relationships, was a close second. Participants were asked, How often do you put effort into the relationships that matter most to you? The average score was 7.36 out of 10. And 15% of people scored the maximum 10 out of 10.
Most excitingly, the survey also looked at which habits are most closely linked to people’s life satisfaction. All 10 habits have been shown in studies to be strongly linked to life satisfaction.
Self-compassion Trumps Them All
What you may NOT know is that self-compassion, or self-acceptance, is the habit that predicts happiness most strongly. Unfortunately, self-compassion is also the least frequently practiced habit. Self-compassion was the lowest average score from the 5,000 participants (average rating of 5.56 out of 10). Only 5% of people put themselves at a 10 on the self-compassion habit. Around one in five people (19%) scored an 8 or 9; Less than a third (30%) scored a 6 or 7; and almost half (46%) of people rated themselves at 5 or less. We are not taught to be self-compassionate. We are not taught to be self-accepting. I would argue most of us are socialized in the opposite way…win at all costs, strive to be the best, you are not enough, you are not worthy, never be satisfied. This must change. And there are proven practices to do just that.
But I digress. Let me return to the study findings.
Physical exercise is another highly rated happiness habit. Yet this one came up relatively low as well. The average answer to How often do you spend at least half an hour a day being active? was just 5.88 out of 10, with 45% of people rating themselves 5 or less.
Professor Karen Pine, a University of Hertfordshire psychologist and co-founder of Do Something Different, stated: “Practicing these habits really can boost our happiness. It’s great to see so many people regularly doing things to help others — and when we make others happy we tend to feel good ourselves too. This survey shows that practicing self-acceptance is one thing that could make the biggest difference to many people’s happiness. Exercise is also known to lift mood so if people want a simple, daily way to fee happier they should get into the habit of being more physically active too.”
Dr Mark Williamson, Director of Action for Happiness, reported: “Our society puts huge pressure on us to be successful and to constantly compare ourselves with others. This causes a great deal of unhappiness and anxiety. These findings remind us that if we can learn to be more accepting of ourselves as we really are, we’re likely to be much happier. The results also confirm us that our day-to-day habits have a much bigger impact on our happiness than we might imagine.”
So how can we practice the self-compassion habit?
Here are three positive actions shown in research by Kristin Neff from University of Texas, Austin, that people can take to increase their levels of self-compassion:
- Be as kind to yourself as you are to others. Speak to yourself as if you are 4 years old when you fall short or make a mistake. See your mistakes as opportunities to learn. Notice things you do well, however small.
- Ask a trusted friend or colleague to tell you what your strengths are or what they value about you (and let them know of their strengths too!)
- Spend some quiet time by yourself. Tune in to how you’re feeling inside and try to be at peace with who you are. Remind yourself “I am worthy. I am worthy of love. I am worthy of success. I am worthy of happiness.”
Key Survey Question Average score (Frequency of engaging in habit)
- Giving How often do you make an effort to help or be kind to others? 7.41
- Relating How often do you put effort into the relationships that matter most to you? 7.36
- Exercising How often do you spend at least half an hour a day being active? 5.88
- Appreciating How often do you take time to notice the good things in your life? 6.57
- Trying out How often do you learn or try new things? 6.26
- Direction How often do you do things that contribute to your most important life goals? 6.08
- Resilience How often do you find ways to bounce back quickly from problems? 6.33
- Emotion How often do you do things that make you feel good? 6.74
- Acceptance How often are you kind to yourself and think you’re fine as you are? 5.56
- Meaning How often do you do things that give you a sense of meaning or purpose? 6.38
A final question posed was: Overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?
The average score was 6.49, compared to a national average of 6.34 reported in the UK National Values survey 2013.
For more info on happiness, well-being and positive psychology, check out my newest site at HowICanBeHappy.com.
To life, love and laughter,
Positive Psychology Coach
Anger Management Specialist
913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280
Danville CA 94526
Positive psychology blog: http://DrJohnBlog.GuideToSelf.com
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Source: University of Hertfordshire. “Self-acceptance could be the key to a happier life, yet it’s the happy habit many people practice the least.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 March 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140307111016.htm>.