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The Road to Happiness

[ 0 ] July 8, 2015 |

 

 You have a  job that pays the bills and a family who loves you. Life is peaceful and you are happy. Do you think you were born happy?  Imagine that something catastrophic happens or your circumstance shifts as you approach the different stages in your life. Do you have what it takes to bounce back? Your happiness is at the core of your well being. Think about how every other facet of your life is affected by your state of mind. Are you reaching your full potential? Are you as productive as you could be? If the person you share your life with is not happy, it may have a negative effect on your well-being. Would you agree? More to the point, whose life could you significantly affect in a positive way if you were truly happy? If you were given the tools to help  live a  more fulfilling life would you use them?

 

running towards 2

“The Foolish Man Seeks Happiness in the Distance,

 

happy under feet 2

 

The Wise Man Grows it Under his Feet.”

 

James Oppenheim- American Poet

Happiness is a state of mind. I offer that you can teach yourself to be a happier person if you were given the means to do so. I believe three things. If you can train your mind, you can change your life. If you can accept your circumstance, you can thrive. If you have faith, you have hope. There are thousands of research studies on happiness that propose “the good life” is yours for the taking.

So What is Happy? ……

 

 

life liberty

Happy is a feeling of contentment, joy, pleasure, well-being. Happiness is the feeling of positive emotions. (wikipedia). Happiness is subjective and means something different to each person. Some think that simply not suffering is happy. Others need intense joy to feel happy.  It has also been described as experiencing more positive emotions than negative emotions. For example, according to many psychologists a marriage is considered a happy marriage if there are five positive experiences for every bad one.  Barbara Frederickson, psychologist and professor at University of NC, says that happiness is 3 positive experiences to every negative experience. (PBS.org/this emotional life) Many experts refer to happiness as “the good life”. Psychologist, educator and author, Marty Seligman states that the good life is “using your  signature strengths everyday to produce authentic happiness and abundant gratification”.

Instead of treating mental illness with drug therapy alone, psychologist also incorporate the human behavior of happy into therapy. This practice is known as “positive psychology”. The experts that practice positive psychology are known as “positive psychologists”. According to Positive Psychology one of the aspects of living “the good life” is low mental illness. Please note that as I move forward with this argument, the aspect of mental illness is assumed to be low.

Are you happy? How happy are you?

 

 

 Where did you rank?

 

statistics source: Arthur Brooks of AEI. Chart made with chartstogo.com

statistics source: Arthur Brooks of AEI. Chart made with chartstogo.com

iseehappypeoplehere

Arthur Brooks, president of The American Enterprise Institute, says there are three elements to happy. Genetics, big life events and choices. Genetics account for 48% of our happiness. If true, that’s huge because we cannot change our genetics. Big life events are commonly referred to as “happiness boosters”. These events account for 40% of our happiness but they are not what helps us sustain long term happiness. A happiness booster could be a new car or boat, buying your dream home, the birth of your child or your wedding. According to Brooks, our choices only account for 12% of our happiness. But our choices are where we should focus if we want to be happy.

According to Brooks, our choices break down into four parts. Faith, family, community, and the most important factor, work. Faith is what sustains your believe system. Your ties to the community and what you give to your community is key to your value, self worth.  If your work creates value in your life and to others, you are more likely to be happy.  Earned success equals happiness. I don’t think it is quite that simple. If I stretch his words, it sounds more like gratitude. Especially when he speaks of faith, family and community. In other words,  if you are appreciative for the people in your life, focus on what you do have instead of what you don’t have,  your work is fulfilling and gives you a sense of purpose, you will be happy. (Video link:The Secret To Happiness) .

Psychologist Barry Schwartz argues that we are not happy because we have too many choices. He claims people were happier when life was simpler.

Watch Schwartz’s funny video, The Paradox of Choice. Schwartz gives us food for thought. Interesting opinion on happiness; he refers to it as synthetic happiness. That is the instinct to tell ourselves that we didn’t need or want something anyway, after it doesn’t work out. Now that’s an innate quality that comes  in handy.

 

 Sonja Lyubomirsky, a social psychologist at the University of California, has a slightly different opinion of where happiness comes from than Arthur Brooks. In her book, “The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want”, she states that 50% of our happiness is determined by our genes, 10% is life circumstances and 40% is the choices we make.  I like her odds a bit better. If you buy into her theory, you have a better shot of being happy because we can control the choices we make.  In fact, she thinks that we don’t realize how much control we actually have when it comes to making ourselves happy. Lyubomirsky ,along with many other experts on happiness, believes that focusing on positive emotions greatly contributes to personal happiness.  Positive emotions include gratitude, serenity, joy,hope, pride, laughter, engagement, meaning, love and inspiration. More importantly we need to stop believing “the seven myths” of happiness. (7 Myths Of Happiness). When we fall into these traps we make ourselves unhappy. We believe that finding the perfect significant other, marriage, a great job, children, excellent health and financial success will make us happy. These life events are happiness boosters. They are short lived. My interpretation, happiness comes from within. But I also believe that a very big portion of our happiness does come from our relationships with others. We are designed by nature to connect with others. Lyubomirsky also states when we believe that we will never recover from devastating life events, we cause unhappiness. Happiness is a combination of the dealing with the good and the bad. Happiness is determined on how we process the negative experiences in life, as well as focusing on positive emotions. My interpretation: acceptance, making the best of your circumstance. Pulling on your strengths and happier side to bounce back from devastating life events.

happy diagram

Women typically report being happier than men. Married women are happier than married men. Widowed women are happier than widowed men.  Studies show that single people are no less happy than married people. If you believe that you need to be married to be happy, you may settle for the wrong person and make yourself even more miserable. This indicates that we need to make wise choices, choices that will foster long term happiness instead of instant gratification. Arthur Brooks states that mid-life crisis is real. In fact, in a survey he conducted, many men reported being unhappy in their forties.  Lyubomirsky refers to the mid-life crisis as thinking the best years of your life are over.This way of thinking is detrimental to our happiness. Older people are actually happier than younger people. As we age we become wiser, we know ourselves better. We gain the ability to focus on the present and the future, not the past. Studies show that people are happier when they look toward the future instead of living in the past.

 News Flash Hot Off The Press

 

July 7, 2015. The Today Show reported on their Secret To Happiness Series that you can be happier at work by using the 5 3 1 method: 5 minutes of meditation, 3 writings of gratitude and 1 act of kindness. A recent poll finds that less than 13% of us are happy at work.  According to Dr. Richard J. Davidson, a positive psychologist, and professor of psychiatry we can train our brains to be happy. He also says that happier people are healthier people. Read more/ watch the broadcast here.

Learn to Meditate in Five Minutes

 

 

 

Lecturer Tal Ben Shahar- Six Steps to Happiness

 

Step 1:  Tal Ben-Shahar , teacher and lecturer at Harvard, states that our negative experiences are good for us. ( Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson substantiates this claim). We need to feel the bad to appreciate the good. As the old adage says, no pain , no gain.  We must give ourselves permission to be feel the bad emotions. Ben-Shahar says, “give yourself permission to be human”. Negative emotions are anger, frustration, anxiety and the like. If we suppress these feelings we are setting ourselves up for failure. Early on, we are taught to hide our negative emotions. Little boys are taught not to cry. We are taught not to display anger and fear. These emotions almost become taboo in our society, so we hide them. This is detrimental not only to our emotional health but to our physical well-being. This is not to say that you should go around displaying anger or putting fear in other people. However, if you are angry, embrace it. Allow yourself to recognize that you are angry and that perhaps to have the right to be angry. Validate your own feelings. He like Lyubomirsky, reminds of us the serenity prayer. There it is again, acceptance. Work through your feeling so you can move on. Healthy, wouldn’t you agree?

serenity prayer

Step 2: Simplify your life. Today, our society can be so busy. Doing less has a positive effect on your state of mind, your relationships and sex lives. We are more productive when we do less. We need to stop and smell the roses. He says our best ideas come to us when we are doing absolutely nothing. So true for me. I come up with my best ideas while taking a bubble bath.  How about you? What’s your Feng Shui? The professor draws analogies using the words of some of the worlds’ greatest thinkers:  Nelson Mandela and Henry David Thoreau. Powerful.

“Simplicity, simplicity,simplicity!  I say let your affairs be as two or three, not a hundred or a thousand: instead of a million, count half a dozen…In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and the thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, if he would not founder and go the bottom and not make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator who succeeds. Simplify. Simplify.”

 

   Henry David Thoreau

In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Nelson Mandela speaks of the importance of putting time aside for reflection, the opportunity to sit down and think. This reminds me of what Buddist Monk Matthieu Richard says about our state of being, looking to the outside world for happiness instead of within. We need to be strong and self-confident on the inside. He also says “We can train our minds in habits of well-being to generate a true sense of serenity and fulfillment”.

click here to watch Matthieu Richard's Video

click here to watch Matthieu Richard’s Video

Step 3: We need to make what Ben-Shahar refers to as “self concordant goals”. These goals should be defined by our interests and by what is important to us. These goals should be what we want to achieve and not what we have to achieve. This happiness guru advises that we find both pleasure and meaning in the same goal. What would that be for you? He quotes Sheldon & Eliot “Those people who can identify sets of goals that well represent their implicit interests and values are indeed able to function more efficiently, flexibly and integrally across all areas of their lives”.

Step 4: While Ben-Shahar doesn’t focus much on this topic in his lecture,  he says healthy relationships are most important to our well being. In fact, he states that ” healthy relationships are the #1 predictor of well being”. If you want to be happy, you need put in the time to develop meaningful relationships with others. He agrees with other experts on happiness that a happy marriage is 5 positive experiences for every one negative experience. You reap what your sow. Show and tell your significant other that you love them.

Step 5: He is extremely passionate about the mind to body connection. Three factors here: sleep, meditation and exercise. He is very big on meditation (relates back to that doing nothing state). Tal jokes that he is a bit A.D.D so he prefers yoga to meditation. He says that meditation has a positive effect on the frontal cortex of the brain. Positive moods originate in the frontal cortex. In addition, exercise is way underrated when it comes to our happiness. Ben-Shahar refers to exercise as the “unsung hero”. Exercise strengthens our bodies, thereby strengthening our emotional well being. He says that not exercising is like taking a depressant. Our bodies were meant for motion.  We have all heard that exercise releases endorphins. He advocates that exercise is also a major stress reliever.

Step 6: Focus on the positive. Failure equals Happiness;” Learn to Fail or Fail to Learn.” If nothing went wrong in our lives would we appreciate the good in our lives? Again, gratitude. Would you agree, as stated in this lecture, that we tend to take the good things in life for granted?  Tal Ben-Shahar concludes that “Happiness is largely contingent on our state of mind”. Gratitude is the key. He speaks of a study published by The Journal of Personality and Social Sciences on using gratitude to transform anxiety. We are encouraged to keep a gratitude journal and write daily about that which we are grateful. This will help balance the negativity that we face in the world on a daily basis. He ends his lecture with this quote by Helen Keller:

I wondered how it was possible to walk through the woods for an hour and see nothing of note. I who cannot see find hundreds of things; the delicate symmetry of a leaf, the smooth skin of a silver birch, the rough shaggy bark of a pine. I who am blind can give one hint to those who see: use your eyes as if tomorrow you will have been stricken blind.  Here the music of the voices, the songs of a bird, the mighty strains of an orchestra as if you would be stricken deaf tomorrow. Touch each as if tomorrow your tactile sense would fail. Smell the perfume of flowers, taste with relish each morsel, as if tomorrow you could never taste or smell again. Make the most of every sense. Glory in all the facets and pleasures and beauty which the world reveals to you.” 

 

Helen Keller

This review by Fashionlove was posted on-line that sums up Tal Ben-Shahar’s work: “As someone who has watched all 23 lectures of his “Harvard – Positive Psychology” class on Youtube, I would say Tal teaches way more than just “smell the roses”. He taught me how to smell the roses, where to find the roses, and how to grow my roses so I can smell them whenever I want/need to. I highly recommend his lectures to everyone. I sure learned a lot from his class.”

Do yourself a favor! Click here to watch his video

Do yourself a favor! Click here to watch his video

Buddist Monk David Steindl-Rast concurs with Tal Ben-Shahar.  Steindl-Rast says, “It is not happiness that makes us grateful, it is gratefulness that makes us happy”. He says every moment in life is an opportunity to be grateful. A gift. Being grateful in each moment, for each moment, is not something we have to earn. This is given to us, it is innate.

Lyubomirsky, and  Tal Ben-Shahar both agree that money does not buy happiness. In fact, quite the opposite may be true.  Once our basic human needs are met, more money or status does not contribute to our long term happiness. We don’t need a lot of money, we just need to allocate it properly. Money is a happiness booster, a temporary fix. A windfall of money is considered a life event. There are many studies on people who win the lottery. These studies show that their lives are dramatically changed for the worse. They end up cutting off their friends and family because all they want from them is money. All their relationships suffer and they end up isolated, lonely and unhappy. Micheal Norton, author and professor of business administration at Harvard has an interesting take on money. He says money can buy you happiness in this video on Ted.com. Money can make you happy if you spend it on other people or for a good cause…..gratitude. His studies show that people have a higher level of satisfaction by using their money to help others in need. For example, if you buy a pair of shoes or food for a family living in poverty, you will feel a greater sense of accomplishment than if you spent it on yourself. He conducted a study of sales people that work for a company in Belgium. He split them into two teams. He gave them each 15 euro. One team spent it on themselves, the other pooled their money as a team , bought a pinata and had fun. It was a bonding experience for the team. As a result, their sales were higher than the other team.

See here where you can donate to an excellent cause for teachers and students in low income schools. Go to Donorschoose.org and make yourself happy.

Bruno Frey, author of” Happiness, A Revolution in Economics”, says that money does buy happiness to a certain degree. When you have a multitude of disposable income, you use the money to help you achieve what you want. As a result, you have a higher well-being than those without money. That is not to say that more money equals more happiness. Studies show that once you surpass a certain income level, accumulating even more money does not bring more happiness. Accumulating “things” with money is only a happiness booster. It will not bring long term happiness.  Bruno also states that people who are happy and passionate about what they do for a living excel and therefore may make more money than those who do not enjoy their professions.

What makes us happy in everyday life?

Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi is a prominent research psychologists. He developed a system of satisfaction that he refers to as flow. Flow is being completely engaged in an activity that you enjoy immensely. You are so focused on this activity that everything else is blocked out. You enjoy it so much that it is pure pleasure and you loose all sense of time. Csikszentmihaly says that we need to spend more time on activities that bring us flow. This activity puts you in a zone. What puts you in a zone? He says it can be a sport, a game of chess, art, cooking, music, any hobby or it can even be your work. You are challenged by the activity but not intimidated by it. You know you will not fail at it.  Whatever it is for you, you should do more of it. He says flow is not drinking alcohol or using drugs. Flow is not staring at the TV. Flow is not a chore. According to Csikszentmihaly, we will live a happy life if we have flow in most of the things we do.

Watch a Video about "Flow" here

Watch a Video about “Flow” here

Yes, you can train your mind to be a happier person. Happy people develop loving, honest and meaningful relationships with others. They surround themselves with true friends and loved ones. They give of themselves and make themselves available to others who need them. When difficult times arise, happy people depend on their support system to carry them through. They focus on the positive experiences in their lives. In difficult times we need feel the negative emotions while focusing on positive emotions at the same time. If we remind ourselves to be grateful for all the good in life, we will see light at the end of the tunnel. Happy people rely on their faith to push forward and look toward the future. I saw a quote once, “let go of what was, accept what is, have faith in what will be”. How apropos. In catastrophe, know that the unhappiness is temporary. This too shall pass.

Footprints

Happy people build value and self worth in their lives by participating in their communities. There is a great sense of joy, fulfillment and reward you feel when you are useful to others. There are many ways to contribute; coaching, volunteering, mentoring, tutoring. When you are grateful in your life, pay it forward. The reward is abundant. If you are fortunate, you earn a living doing what you love. You have flow in your work. Also incorporate flow in your recreational life. Take the time to do things you enjoy doing. On the surface this may seem minimal but it will have a large impact on your state of mind.

Happy =state of mind,b what & how u love,do what u love. Practice = perfect. Train ur mind & set urself up for happiness #InquiringmindsVCU

— Karen Logan (@4mebyme) July 5, 2015

Happiness is no accident. Happiness is a combination of gratitude, acceptance, faith, healthy living and wise choices. Happiness is discovering your strengths and using them to your advantage.  Research proves that people who are happy do in fact cultivate happiness. The studies and surveys from the experts above prove there are habits that happy people practice regularly. Happiness is a direct result of being grateful for what we have and learning to accept what we cannot change.

 

Get Your Happy Certificate! Click Here for an online course

Get Your Happy Certificate! Click Here for an online course

Click here for Citations 

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Category: Health & Wellness, Lifestyle, Uncategorized

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