Getting Happy – What happiness research can tell us
by Joan French MA NCC LCPC
“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” Dalai Lama
Within the last decade there has been much research focused on the elements that go into making us happy. Happiness is defined by a leading Positive Psychology researcher and author of the book, Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman, as having three parts:
- Pleasure – the ‘feel good’ part of happiness
- Engagement – the ‘living a good life’ of work, family, friends, and hobbies.
- Meaning – our use of our own strengths to contribute to the larger good/purpose.
Positive Psychology is the scientific study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive. Researchers have developed various equations to define happiness, and it has been shown to be pursued by individuals differently. Though, it largely means the same across wide groups of people. In my opinion it can be characterized by one word very well: satisfaction… satisfaction in various arenas (general, work, family, self, etc.) and in varying levels ranging from contentment to joy/elation. What Positive Psychology and researchers found about happiness is very interesting. In this blog post I would like to highlight some of the major findings.
1. Nature and Nurture:
You have about 40-50% control over your own happiness. The other factors which control it include genetics and environment. This is good news! That means you potentially have the ability to affect your own level of happiness!
2. More money, more problems:
Researchers have found that once we have a certain level of money in order to sustain our basic needs, and maintain a comfortable lifestyle – that having more does not affect our happiness level positively – and can even lessen it!
3. All you need is Love:
Meaningful relationships and connections with others contribute to long-term happiness. The more connected with others you feel – the happier you will be.
4. Meditate — Alleviate:
An astounding amount of research suggests that changes which take place through meditation can make you feel happier and less stressed. It influences the ability to be mindful and engage in more empathetic behavior.
5. Get Away!
Having more ‘stuff’ doesn’t equal ‘happier’. Studies show that those who invest money in novel experiences (including vacations, family outings, etc.) experience more happiness than those who invest money into buying more stuff. So, if money is available to splurge on a fun family outing, it is likely to create happier kiddos long term-than buying expensive goods.
6. An Apple a Day:
Research tells us that engaging in a lifestyle which includes making healthier choices (including diet, exercise, and getting enough sleep) can bring about happy thoughts.
7. Keep Calm:
There is compelling evidence which reveals that those who are experiencing anxiety, stress, depression, and chronic anger do not live as long or as happily as others. That indicates it is worth it (in years) to have a more optimistic outlook in addition to seeking professional help for mental health issues affecting you.
8. Process over Product:
Studies show that concentrating on the journey, the process, toward the goal has been shown to bring more happiness and satisfaction than the end product. Being able to enjoy the small steps leading toward a final product are what creates meaning.
9. Reduce Commute:
The longer your commute to work, the less happy you are. Moving closer to your place of employment can be a positive decision related to maximizing happiness.
10. Be ‘In the Moment’:
The concept of ‘Flow’ was developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a professor of Psychology, and bestselling author. Flow, or in other words, being able to be completely immersed in an activity so that you lose track of time – has been shown to be an important component to happiness and fulfillment. How do you find it? You can have ‘flow’ by being completely engaged in an activity you enjoy doing!
Happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky says:
“The benefits of happiness include higher income and superior work outcomes (e.g., greater productivity and higher quality of work), larger social rewards (e.g., more satisfying and longer marriages, more friends, stronger social support, and richer social interactions), more activity, energy, and flow, and better physical health (e.g., a bolstered immune system, lowered stress levels, and less pain) and even longer life. The literature, my colleagues and I have found, also suggests that happy individuals are more creative, helpful, charitable, and self-confident, have better self-control, and show greater self-regulatory and coping abilities.”
We can control a certain percentage (40-50%) of our own happiness so making choices which could possibly better the chances of being happy seems quite worth it!