The #1 Contributor To Happiness

Karen Salmansohn,

may cause happiness not salmon

 Guess what’s been reported to be the number one contributor to happiness?

Money? No.

Good looks? Nope.

Popularity? Still nope.

A hot sex life? Guess again!

According to a report by The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, all these mentioned life goodies were topped by the biggest life goodie of them all:

Autonomy – defined as “the feeling that your life – its activities and habits — are self-chosen and self-endorsed.”

This makes sense, when you take a moment to contemplate how lovely autonomy can make you feel – and how miserable its absence can make you. In fact, when you’re upset about something in your life – a love break up, a job problem, your weight – it’s usually because you’re feeling as if you’re no longer in control of this area your life and bigtime lacking autonomy. Indeed, much of what creates sadness, anger, regret, disappointment – all these bad boy emotions – is having a feeling of being “autonomy-challenged”!

Researcher Angus Campbell emphatically endorses the perks of autonomy. “Having a strong sense of controlling one’s life is a more dependable predictor of positive feelings of well-being than any of the objective conditions of life we have considered,” says Campbell.

A University of Michigan nationwide survey also sings the praises of autonomy – reporting how the 15% of Americans who claimed they felt “in control of their lives” also raved about having “extraordinarily positive feelings of happiness.”

All of this reminds me of that now famous study on on those mice who researchers either gave cheese or electric shocks – no matter what these mice did. Purposefully these researchers created no logic to when the mice would be rewarded with cheese or punished with electric shocks. After a while, these mice eventually learned that their actions had no effect on their environment, and they lapsed into a state of passive listlessness and depression. Even when the experiment changed over, and the mice were given autonomy to avoid the electric shocks or gain more cheese, the mice were so depressed, they just lay there, choosing not to do anything at all!

Luckily, unlike a mouse, you as a human have that terrific homo sapien perk called “consciousness.” Meaning? You know better not to give up, even after your autonomy has been temporarily challenged. You know after a difficult time, you can take back the control you have over your life!

How to begin?

Psychologists suggest if you want to resiliently bounce back after a sideswiping, that you slowly increase your “internal locus of control” – the power you have to make easy, small changes. Studies even show that all you have to do is take control of a few small actions – and you’ll be on your way to feeling like the master of your destiny once again.

Here’s A Quick Happy Example Of Increased Happiness Due To Increased Internal Locus of Control: Yale psychologist Judith Rodin encouraged depressed nursing-home patients to exert more control in their lives, by motivating them to make a few small but key changes in their environments. For example Rodin made sure patients were asked to decide for themselves if they wanted the air conditioning on or off, if they’d like to change the channels on the TV, or if they’d like to have different foods for dinner, or if they’d like to re-arrange the furniture in their rooms. Plus Rodin pushed patients to request changes in various nursing home policies – which they subsequently received. As a result, 93% of these patients became more alert, active, and happy. Similarly upbeat results where shown in prisoners who were allowed to move chairs and take control over lights and TV remotes.

Is an out-of-control life challenge making you feel “out of control” over your entire life? If so, stop lying around doing nothing. Stop sleeping late. Stop watching too much TV. Start recognizing that this lack of a disciplined schedule will only increase your feelings of being out of control of your life.

“For unhappy people, their time is unfilled, open, and uncommitted. They postpone things and are inefficient,” says Oxford University psychologist Michael Argyle. “For happy people, time is filled and planned. They are punctual and efficient.”