Special Series: 5 Ways to Happiness

, Posted: Mon, November 18 2013 at 10:53 AM, Updated: Fri, November 22 2013 at 6:21 PM

Got the blues? Well it's no secret, high unemployment plagues our area. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, previously known as food stamps, Head Start and other important programs that help people have seen cuts.

Understandably, it can be tough to find a bright spot. However, all week NBC 5 News will be giving you five tips you can do that experts say will increase your overall happiness. Today is day one.

Tom Winmill who works at the Oak Knoll Golf Course in Ashland says he would consider himself a happy person.

"Well I guess that I'm still alive has a lot to do with it. The area we live in, the person I live with [which is] my wife, my friends make it easy to be happy," said Winmill.

Add to that golf, his hobby and a sport he enjoys...is his job.

What is Happiness?

Sure, Winmill says he's happy, but what exactly is happiness anyway?

"At its basic, it's an emotion. It's a way that we feel but it's also a way of thinking [...] It's also a way of behaving. Happiness is a very multifaceted, complex phenomena," said Doug Smith, an Associate Professor of Psychology at Southern Oregon University who has studied happiness.

Professor Smith is our happiness expert who we'll be referencing all week. He says happiness is subjective. It means only you know if you're happy.

The Role Genes Play in Being Happy

For Winmill, who works at a job he loves and sees himself as a naturally happy person...

"For me, I think it's more genetic."

But can someone be prewired for happiness?

"I think the short answer to that is yes," said Smith.

In fact, some research suggests genes determine up to 40% or 50% of a person's inherent happiness.

"There are easy babies and there are difficult babies. I think some of us are maybe more satisfied, more compliant, more easygoing than others," Smith said.

No "Happy Genes?" No Problem!

However if you're not one of those people born with so-called "happy genes," not to worry. Professor Smith says there's lots of room for negotiation and change.

"I think we are wired to be social creatures [...] that's a big sense of what contributes to our happiness."

So if you're human, there's hope for happiness.

Step One to be a Happier Person

According to experts,one of the first steps to happiness is making a conscious choice to be happy. Smith says it's as simple as figuring out what you're good at.

"For most of us we are very well equipped or well sensitized to recognize our weaknesses. We're kind of programmed, I don't do this right, I don't do that right. But I think recognizing your strengths is step number one," Smith said.

According to Smith, what you're good at can easily translate into what you love to do.    

"Identify those things that you do well and that make you happy and do more of those things."

For Winmill, one of the things he loves is of course golf.

But he says that's not the only aspect of his job that he enjoys.

"What makes me the happiest is if I can help somebody [...] give them a nice tee time, get them started, tell them how good it's going to be out there, wish them goodluck [...] and that brings me joy."

The idea of serving others is definitely one other aspect of cultivating your own happiness that we'll address later this week.

Tune in Tuesday, Nov. 19th for Happiness Tip #2

On day two of NBC 5's week-long series: 5 Ways to Happiness, we'll tell you about a simple tweak you can do in the way you think that may help you be a happier person.

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