There actually is a Science of Happiness
It is based on the fact that happiness is a tangible result of brain activity. Today’s Positive Psychology Movement focuses on making the world, and its inhabitants HAPPIER. By evaluating our outlooks, attitudes and strengths we can feel more satisfied, be more engaged with life, have higher hopes and dreams and enjoy ourselves. For more information and access to brief questionnaires that illuminate happiness factors.
What is happiness?
According to Psychology Today, “the most useful definition—and it’s one agreed upon by neuroscientists, psychiatrists, behavioral economists, positive psychologists, and Buddhist monks—is more like satisfied or content than “happy” in its strict bursting-with-glee sense. It has depth and deliberation to it. It encompasses living a meaningful life, utilizing your gifts and your time, living with thought and purpose.
It’s maximized when you also feel part of a community. And when you confront annoyances and crises with grace.
It involves a willingness to learn and stretch and grow, which sometimes involves discomfort. It requires acting on life, not merely taking it in. It’s not joy, a temporary exhilaration, or even pleasure, that sensual rush—though a steady supply of those feelings course through those who seize each day.
There has been real progress in understanding happiness and how to get it. Here are the greatest hits, as it were, that jump out from the research.
Some People Are Born Happy
Some lucky souls really are born with brighter outlooks than others; they simply see beauty and opportunity where others hone in on flaws and dangers. But those with a more ominous orientation can alter their outlook, at least to a point. They can learn to internally challenge their fearful thoughts and negative assumptions—”she thinks I’m an idiot,” “I’m going to get fired,” “I’ll never be a good mom”—if not eliminate them altogether. Engaging in positive internal dialogue is actually a mark of the mentally healthy.
Getting What You Want Doesn’t Bring Lasting Happiness
You think happiness would arrive if you were to win the lottery, or would forever fade away if your home were destroyed in a flood. But human beings are remarkably adaptable. After a variable period of adjustment, we bounce back to our previous level of happiness, no matter what happens to us. (There are some scientifically proven exceptions, notably suffering the unexpected loss of a job or the loss of a spouse. Both events tend to permanently knock people down a notch.)
Our adaptability works in two directions. Because we are so adaptable, points out Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, we quickly get used to many of the accomplishments we strive for in life, such as landing the big job or getting married. Soon after we reach a milestone, we start to feel that something is missing. We begin coveting another worldly possession or eyeing a social advancement. But such an approach keeps us tethered to the “hedonic treadmill,” where happiness is always just out of reach, one toy or one notch away. It’s possible to get off the treadmill entirely, Lyubomirsky says, by focusing on activities that are dynamic, surprising, and attention-absorbing, and thus less likely to bore us than, say, acquiring shiny stuff.
Pain Is a Part of Happiness
Happiness is not your reward for escaping pain. It demands that you confront negative feelings head-on, without letting them overwhelm you. Russ Harris, a medical doctor-cum-counselor and author of The Happiness Trap, calls popular conceptions of happiness dangerous because they set people up for a “struggle against reality.” They don’t acknowledge that real life is full of disappointments, loss, and inconveniences. “If you’re going to live a rich and meaningful life,” Harris says, “you’re going to feel a full range of emotions.”
The point isn’t to limit that palette of feelings. After all, negative states cue us into what we value and what we need to change: Grief for a loved one proves how much we cherish our relationships. Frustration with several jobs in a row is a sign we’re in the wrong career. Happiness would be meaningless if not for sadness: Without the contrast of darkness, there is no light.
Mindfulness Brings Happiness
Mindfulness, a mental state of relaxed awareness of the present moment, marked by openness and curiosity toward your feelings rather than judgments of them, is a powerful tool for experiencing happiness when practiced regularly. “If you bring mindfulness to bear on negative feelings, they lose their impact. Just let them be there without struggling against them, and you’ll eventually feel less anxiety and depression Harris says. Don’t banish your negative feelings, but don’t let them get in the way of your taking productive actions, either.
Happiness Lies in the Chase
Action toward goals other than happiness makes us happy. Though there is a place for vegging out and reading trashy novels, easy pleasures will never light us up the way mastering a new skill or building something from scratch will.
And it’s not crossing the finish line that is most rewarding; it’s anticipating achieving your goal. University of Wisconsin neuroscientist Richard Davidson has found that working hard toward a goal, and making progress to the point of expecting a goal to be realized, doesn’t just activate positive feelings—it also suppresses negative emotions such as fear and depression.
Yes, Money Buys Happiness—At Least Some Money and Some Happiness
Money does buy happiness, but only up to the point where it enables you to live comfortably. Beyond that, more cash doesn’t boost your well-being. But generosity brings true joy, so striking it rich could in fact underwrite your happiness—if you were to give your wealth away.
Happiness Is Relative
Whether or not we are keeping up with the Joneses—a nagging thought known as status anxiety—affects how happy we are. Some are more obsessed with status than others, but we’re all attuned to how we’re doing in life relative to those around us. To stop status worries from gnawing at your happiness, choose your peer group carefully. Owning the smallest mansion in a gated community could make you feel worse off than buying the biggest bungalow in a less affluent neighborhood.
Options Make Us Miserable
We’re constantly making decisions, ranging from what to eat for dinner each night to whom we should marry, not to mention all those flavors of ice cream. We base many of our decisions on whether we think a particular preference will increase our well-being. Intuitively, we seem convinced that the more choices we have, the better off we’ll ultimately be. But our world of unlimited opportunity imprisons us more than it makes us happy. In what Swarthmore psychologist Barry Schwartz calls “the paradox of choice,” facing many possibilities leaves us stressed out—and less satisfied with whatever we do decide. Having too many choices keeps us wondering about all the opportunities missed.
Happiness Is Other People
Positive psychologist Chris Peterson, a professor at the University of Michigan, says the best piece of advice to come out of his field is to make strong personal relationships your priority. Good relationships are buffers against the damaging effects of all of life’s inevitable letdowns and setbacks.
Do Your Happiness Homework
You can increase positive feelings by incorporating a few proven practices into your routine. Lyubomirsky suggests you express your gratitude toward someone in a letter or in a weekly journal, visualize the best possible future for yourself once a week, and perform acts of kindness for others on a regular basis to lift your mood in the moment and over time. “Becoming happier takes work, but it may be the most rewarding and fun work you’ll ever do,” she says.”
“I used to be an unhappy person. Now I know I don’t have to be that anymore. I have a choice and my choice is happiness!” A.E. Wiltshire