Lesson 1 – Getting started

This session will cover:

  • Identifying your happiness baseline
  • A tangible formula for understanding happiness
  • Some activities to help you work to raise your baseline

What Actually Makes Us Happy

We each have a happiness baseline, which is specific and unique to us. Yours and mine are different. Mine is probably different now from when I was younger. Yours is yours, and you may know what it is, or you may have never thought about it.

Our baseline is often determined by external factors or experiences.

I’m sure you’ve had things that have happened to you before that have made you happy, only to find that it doesn’t last, such as:

  • A new relationship
  • A pay rise or promotion
  • Winning at something you had been striving or training for

Then you also have times when bad things happen and you are drop under your baseline for a while. And although it might not seem like it at the time, that doesn’t last either.

In both cases, you come back to that baseline.

But we can actually raise our own baseline, if we are prepared to do what it takes.

Here is an equation for Happiness:

H = G + C + T&A

Happiness = Genetics + Circumstances + Thoughts & Actions


We all have a genetic predisposition for happiness that accounts for roughly 50% of our happiness.

Researchers argue over the exact numbers, but what matters is this:

As with nearly everything, some people win the genetic lottery of life, and some people don’t.

However, even if you are one of those unlucky people seemingly doomed for misery, don’t give up just yet!

There’s still 50% of that equation left to work with.


These are our external circumstances, which we often tend to focus on the most:

Money, status, jobs, cars, beautiful houses, and other external things that we mistakenly chase in the pursuit of happiness.

Now, I hate to break it to you but, despite popular opinion, money and the playthings it will buy won’t make you happy. Those people on Instagram that appear to have it all (it’s curated – you know that, right?) – they don’t have it all. Two million followers don’t make them less lonely and $2M won’t make anyone lastingly happy.

Ed Diener was the first person to study happiness scientifically. Diener compared people on the Forbes list of wealthiest Americans with the general population and found that they were only slightly happier than average, with 37% being less happy than the average.

Your circumstances are dictated by external factors. Your upbringing, school, neighbourhood, teachers, friends, how happy your parents were, the profession or job you have chosen, health issues, world crisis that you may have got caught up in. You cannot control all circumstances, but you should not sit back and blame them either.

Now, since we cannot control our genetics, and we can only in part control our external circumstances, there’s only one thing left to increase our happiness baseline.

Thoughts & Actions:

If you want to increase your overall happiness, there are two ways to do that:

  • Work to change your thoughts, and
  • Work to change your actions.

So, what are some of the thoughts you can change and some of the actions you think you can do to raise your happiness baseline? Here are some facts.

Happy people:

  • Are better at relationships
  • Are more grateful for everything
  • Are more helpful and philanthropic
  • Are optimistic about the future
  • Live in the present
  • Savour life’s pleasures
  • Often have either a spiritual or religious practice – but many don’t
  • Are generally pursuing meaningful and significant life goals.

However all the studies done on happiness are correlational (relationship between 2 or more things). Just because a person does the above doesn’t mean they will be happier.


It takes 21 days to form a new habit and as 40% of your every day is made up of habits you should choose them mindfully. If you change your habits you can change your life.

Our brains are constantly changing and rewiring. The brain is made up of billions and billions of neurons – they’re interconnected. Electrical currents run down them to make the connections. Once new connections are made the behaviour becomes automatic. So the 21-day cycle of doing exercises that are designed to make you happier can improve many areas of your life.

Normally you will get one (or I might take the liberty of making it two) exercises to do for the following 21 days.

This week I am giving you five though, as you may be starting from a zero base. You can do one, or any amount up to five. It’s up to you.

  1. Gratitude Journal – each evening write down 3 things in your life or 3 events that you are truly grateful for.   They need to be different each day (that means you can’t be grateful for your Labrador Goldie every day).
  2. Experience Journal – at the end of the week (the weekend might be a good time) journal for between 2 and 10 minutes on something that happened through the week that made you feel great, or even just slightly happy. This reinforces the great feelings of when the thing happened. To make it even stronger the experience verbally with someone.
  3. Exercise – go for a walk, swim, dance in your kitchen, kayak, climb a mountain, ride a bike, go to the gym, take a yoga class, run around with little kids – anything. Just do something active.
  4. Meditate – start with 2 minutes. Clear your mind, and focus on your breathing – in and out.
  5. Perform a Random Act of Kindness – sign a petition, give money, send a thank you card, tell someone you appreciate them, compliment a colleague on their good work, tell a stranger that you. Anything – large or small. Just do it regularly. It will make you feel great as well as the other person, and the act will be a ripple of positivity out into the world.

You will multiply the impact and outcomes if you involve the people who you live within any of the activities above.

Download the pdf for offline access – see below resource list

Resource List


he Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor
The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin
The Happiness of Pursuit – Chris Guillebeau
Reasons to Stay Alive – Matt Haig
The Second Mountain – David Brooks
Moment of Lift – Melinda Gates
Wolfpack – Abby Wambach
The Path Made Clear – Oprah Winfrey
The How of Happiness – Sonja Lyubomirsky 
Short Cuts to happiness: Life-Changing Lessons from My Barber, Tal Ben-Shahar
The Miracle Morning – Hal Elrod
Atomic Habits – James Clear
Hidden Potential – Adam Grant
Build the Life You Want – Arthur C. Brooks & Oprah Winfrey
Happiness is the Way – Dr Wayne W. Dyer
Flourish – Martin Seligman
Becoming – Michelle Obama
Make Your Bed – William H. McRaven




Happier with Gretchen Rubin
Get Merry – Emma and Carla Papas
Super Soul Sunday – Oprah Winfrey
Do the Thing – Melissa Urban
Being Well – Dr Rick Hanson
The Lively Show – Jess Lively
The Science of Happiness
The Happiness Lab – Dr Laurie Santos
(this is not necessarily about happiness – it’s just Paul and me having a natter about stuff as we’re getting older – it made us happy!)




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