If you haven’t already heard, our Fijian neighbours over in the stunning South Pacific are officially the happiest people on Earth. So what do they know that the rest of us don’t?
To help answer this question, we looked to Professor Lea Waters (PhD), an expert in Positive Psychology and, more specifically, the topic of happiness.
She told us her seven guiding principles, borne out of decades of research, that, if followed, guarantee a happy and fulfilling life.
She related these principles to Fijian culture and demonstrated how Fijians are already putting them into practice.
After all, Fiji topped the Gallup International global poll for Happiness, Hope and Optimism as the happiest people in the world.
So without further ado, here are seven guiding principles to living a life of happiness!
1. Give and share as much as you can
It may appear counter-intuitive, but the more you give the more you get back. Research has consistently found that when you give, care and share with others, your mood lifts. Giving is effectively an anti-depressant with no side effects.
Fijians have known this for centuries and have built their communities on a foundation of giving and receiving. It doesn’t even matter what you give or how much you give – a little goes a long, long way.
“Happiness is all about connection and contribution. Everyone thinks happiness is this selfish endeavour, but one of the biggest things that make us happy is enhancing the lives of other people.”
Professor Lea Waters (PhD)
Ask any Fijian, and they’ll tell you she’s totally right.
2. Stay connected with family and your community
Relationships are like social serotonin that keeps us happy and healthy. According to science, communities that lack social connection are also likely to struggle with depression.
On the other hand, communities that have strong relationships are more likely to nurture greater levels of happiness all around.
Fijians are connected to their communities in a way that the West isn’t, and it all comes down to setting relationships as a major priority in life.
For a Fijian, their family doesn’t just include their mum, dad and siblings, but also extends to their cousins, second cousins, aunties, uncles, great uncles, etc. Basically, the concept of family for a Fijian embraces their entire bloodline.
3. Having a laugh and not taking life so seriously
Scientists have long known the benefits of laughing for our mental health. When we laugh we increase the amount of oxygen that’s pumped into our lungs, which then triggers our nervous system to relax. And a relaxed body has an immediate calming effect on the brain. It’s pretty simple, really.
One of the major reasons why Fijians are the happiest people alive is due to the fact that they love to laugh and joke around. Humour is one of the avenues to happiness, and for Fijians, it’s the default position in dealing with the inevitable ups and downs of life. If there’s one thing we can learn from our Fijian neighbours, it’s this: don’t take life so seriously!
4. Try new things and remain active
A stagnant life, one filled entirely with routine and a lack of adventure is one of the greatest pre-indicators of unhappiness. As human beings, we’re programmed to try new things and see ourselves in different ways. Staying active is also part of our DNA.
Another reason why Fijians are the happiest people on the planet is that they embrace adventure and novelty on a daily basis. From fishing to diving to working up a strenuous sweat, Fijians embrace a life of adventure and change.
5. Appreciate the simple things in life
You don’t need a lot in life to be happy. Simply savouring over the simple things in life – the roof over your head, the food on your plate, the fact that you can walk – has the cumulative effect over time of increasing your baseline level of happiness.
According to Dr. Waters, we should:
Adopt an attitude of gratitude. Gratitude is one of the most powerful ingredients for happiness. When you get into the habit of noticing and appreciating the good things in your day it gives you a bigger perspective on life and helps you to not stress the small stuff.
If you don’t believe Professor Waters, then just ask a Fijian.
Fijians don’t really have much in the material sense of things. Rather, they live a simple life surrounded by palm trees, pristine beaches and tropical waters. And yet they’ve been found to be the happiest people on the planet. This happiness is not the result of random chance but is due to the fact that Fijians appreciate the small things in life and don’t compare themselves to others.
And we should do the same.
6. Live in the present moment as much as you can
Related to the last principle of appreciating the small things in life, research in Positive Psychology has also found that people that live in the moment report higher levels of happiness than those that spend most of their time in the past or future. In other words, those that remain mindful in life are also happier in life.
Again, Fijians are masters at this craft. They rarely worry about tomorrow or next week, and they hardly ever dwell over what happened yesterday or last year.
Relishing the positives of the now and remaining in the present moment is a universal Fijian philosophy. And we should do the same, savouring the smell of that freshly-brewed cup of coffee, enjoying the pleasures of a crisp autumn walk, and the joy with being around the ones we love.
6. Disconnect from the world as much as possible
Finally, another key guiding principle espoused by Professor Waters is to disconnect from the world (and technology) as much as possible. Like it or not, there’s a strong correlation between happiness and disconnection – not disconnection when it comes to social relationships, but disconnecting from the world and all our responsibilities inside it.
For example, research shows that even a five-minute break from “‘task mode” or the general mayhem of everyday life – whether through meditation or taking a walk outside – helps to relax the nervous system and recharge the brain.
Unsurprisingly, Fijians report such high levels of happiness because they regularly disconnect from the rest of the world. True, they’re already isolated from global issues such as the conflict in the Middle East and poverty in Africa, but they also actively disconnect from the world by living in the real world, enjoying time with their families and friends, enjoying the great outdoors, and not investing much of their time in social media.
7. What does it all boil down to?
All in all, the secret to happiness isn’t really a secret. It’s quite simple, really.
Give instead of taking, connect with others, laugh as much as you can, and try new things. And appreciate the small things in life whilst living in the moment and disconnecting from “the world” as much as you can.
So says Professor Waters, and she knows a lot more than you and I – so listen up and take heed!
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