Throughout the past year, I have devoted a large proportion of my reading time to studying the topic of “happiness” deeply in order to gain minor subject matter expertise. Although there may be some discrepancies as to the actual weights which should be ascribed to each category depending on the study, by in large, all psychology presents “Happiness” formulaically as an equation: H = S + C + V, where H is your enduring level of happiness, S is your set range, C is your life circumstances, and V includes activities and actions under voluntary control. Much has been written on the topic and to really even scratch the surface I’d need at least another blog post, but at a very high level, researchers have determined that one’s experience of happiness is a function of our own inherited set point/range which accounts for roughly 50% of the equation, C or one’s life circumstances (gender, income, job, relationship status, race, nationality, etc.) weighs about 10% (something most people grossly overestimate), whereas V, the variables and actions that are within our control to impact accounts for the rest. V, therefore, has been the focus of my Happiness Project since it is really the only part of the equation which can be influenced to a large extent. The premise is that in investigating those particular activities which might produce positive affect for me personally and deliberately resolving to take said actions regularly, I should be able to shift H in the right direction. It’s easier said than done sometimes, but it’s also not an impossible or even daunting task compared to what one might think. As mentioned, most people believe that one’s circumstances matter more than they do in reality, so they spend a lot of time chasing after the big events, objects or constructs. However, evidence suggests that it really is all about the little things.
By now I have had the opportunity to learn these concepts through the lens of multiple experts in the field and they roughly all agree that the primary reason why our life circumstances matter a lot less than we assume is due to principle of adaptation. Former APA President and founder of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, described a major “barrier to raising [one’s] level of happiness [as] the ‘hedonic treadmill,’ which causes [us] to rapidly and inevitably adapt to good things by taking them for granted. As [one] accumulates more material possessions and accomplishments, your expectations rise. The deeds and things you worked so hard for no longer make you happy; you need to get something even better to boost your level of happiness into the upper reaches of its set range. But once you get the next possession or achievement, you adapt to it as well, and so on.” He cites several studies which show that major events like being fired or promoted lose their impact on one’s happiness in less than three months, wealthy people are only very slightly happier than poor people, and physical attractiveness or even objective physical health are not at all correlated. Cross-cultural studies around the world have demonstrated the power and pervasiveness of the hedonic treadmill as well as the tendency for participants to hyperbolize the extent to which winning the lottery, securing a new home/job, or even suddenly becoming a paraplegic will have on their overall and enduring subjective wellbeing. When we get more, we expect more and are less satisfied with anything less.
Therefore, as trite as it may sound, it really is all the little things which matter most. Up to 40% of how happy we are is within our control and dependent upon the actions we take, the thoughts we allow to occupy our minds and the habits that we keep. There are a lot of different areas where we might choose to focus our energies depending upon our own passions, talents, strengths, or interests but it doesn’t require relocating to a new city, starting a different career, increasing one’s income and possessions, or losing 10 pounds. Nor does everyday of our lives need to be grandiose or monumental – something I was reminded of just this past week. It was my birthday, it was Jon’s birthday, and it was Valentine’s Day and usually since all these celebrations converge together in such a short space of time we make some sort of extravagant plans. Last year we went to London Fashion Week, the year before we went to a Real Madrid game in Madrid and we have been to see one of my personal hero’s, co-creator of the Whole30, Melissa Hartwig give a presentation at King’s College. But this year is different – last week was BUSY with lots of things at the studio and Jon’s work. And we have some big goals in terms of saving money this year, plus Jon has limited vacation time since we have weddings and other events coming up. After consistently rushing from one event to the next throughout the week, we decided to make the weekend more lowkey.
So it wasn’t glamorous, but it was still special filled with all the little things that we enjoy on a regular basis. After I finished teaching for the weekend, we had a few of our usual long puppy walks while chatting together, went to church, ran errands, I meal prepped and we had planned to go out to dinner. Unfortunately, the restaurant we had planned to go to only had reservations available after 8:00 PM – which is practically midnight in my book, I become RAVENOUS daily by 5:00-5:30! So we decided to stay in, enjoy a simple meal together, and play a game. I had found some little cards which were Valentine’s themed with anagrams, word plays, trivia and knowledge-of-each-other type questions which were laughter and story provoking. It was fun to slow down, stay home and appreciate some of the little things I love about our relationship. It was a great weekend – simple, but quintessentially perfect. Just like the Buffalo Broccoli I cooked up as a side to accompany our salmon. It’s one of my favorite go-to side dishes which is a simple six ingredient recipe (if you even count S+P!) and an INSANELY delicious, tried and true crowd pleaser. It’s tasty enough to impress holiday dinner guests, but also easy enough to cook a big batch as part of your weekend meal prep and enjoy throughout the week, if you can resist eating it all in one go!
- Broccoli Florets (roughly 1" x 1") 6 cups (600 g)
- Melted Coconut Oil 1 TBSP
- Sea Salt .25 TSP
- Coarse Black Pepper .25 TSP
- Paleo Mayo .25 cup ([(recipe HERE)
- Frank's Red Hot Sauce 3 TBSP
- Preheat the oven to 400F / 200C and line a baking sheet with foil.
- In a large bowl, toss the broccoli with the melted coconut oil, salt and pepper and then spread over the foil on the baking sheet.
- Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes or until the broccoli starts to crisp up/brown a bit.
- Remove from oven and add the broccoli back to the bowl along with the Paleo Mayo and hot sauce. Toss well to coat evenly and then return the broccoli to the baking sheet.
- Place in the oven for an additional 5-10 minutes or until slightly crisped. The sauce will form a thin crust which is OH.SO.YUMMY.
- This is a very tasty side dish served right away, reheated later, or even eaten cold throughout the week. It's quick and easy and I often make it as part of meal prep or as a side option which appeals to most taste buds while being more interesting than plain steamed veg!