University

02/07/2011

Anyone selling happiness doesn't know anything about it

Happy Faces Americans, we have been deceived. 

The great rat race doesn’t bring happiness!  More money doesn’t either!  Forgot what you were told:  more espresso shots to stay awake at work, Ambien to stay asleep at night, and Prozac to keep you from screaming aren’t actually inching you any closer to a happy life.

Throw out your self-help books and career guides.  It turns out happiness doesn’t come from success, success comes from happiness. 

If you want to be happy, research shows, deepen your sense of identity, your sense of intrinsic value, and find your purpose in life.  Do that, and success will follow.  Nothing else counts for nearly as much as we’ve been promised. 

Social psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, at the University of California Riverside, recently conducted a meta-analysis of 225 studies about their well-being. Lyubomirsky discovered that work and social relationships are both the cause and consequence of happy states in life. Relationships and work environments that promote creativity, identity, structure and purpose accentuated happy dispositions -- and people who had those dispositions tended to make more money.

Sonja’s research on happiness suggests that young adults and adolescents who are “happy” initially have a greater chance of procuring jobs that further their state by providing environments that give rise to actualization.

Overall, the lifetime research of Lyubomirsky and colleagues suggests that a person’s level of happiness results from: a genetically determined set point for happiness (50 percent), circumstantial factors of happiness (10 percent), and happiness-relevant activities and practices (40 percent)

So, what can you and I do about the forty percent of happiness in our lives that we can control?

Here are some of Sonja’s empirically validated strategies – statistically proven to promote happiness:

1)  Journal of Gratitude: Express gratitude and happiness regarding the good things that are happening in your life. Repeat three to five times a week. Gratitude is the antidote to negative emotion – and it’s proven! Dive in!

2)  Cultivating Optimism: Find the silver lining. Write down one’s ideal future and realistic ways to accomplish it. Be sure you write this in the present tense – because it is possible.

3)  Distract Yourself: When ruminations and comparisons start in and dampen your level of happiness, stop the cycle by reading, socializing, or another activity that distracts one from the cycle of negativity.

4)  Nurture Social Relationships: Social support and bonds are proven to be factors that lead to longer and happier lives. Set aside time and connect with those you love.

5)  Painful Experiences: Everyday, take fifteen minutes to write about a painful experience. Get it out on paper. And, then kiss it goodbye!

6)  Forgiveness: Take an empathic role and see things through the perspective of the other. Engage in spirituality or religion to strengthen this capacity.

7)  Body: Grab your yoga mat and exercise thirty minutes a day. And more, set aside at least ten minutes to do mindful meditation. It’s a radical perspective, stop your doing and start being! Turn off the IPod and be attentive to the breath and inner movements in your body!

 

These techniques are all proven by recent research – but of course profound thinkers have documented the way depth of living and sense of purpose promote happiness, and happiness promotes success. 

Some fifty years ago, long before happiness research and mindfulness practices became mainstream, Abraham Maslow spoke of happiness and the natural propensity to strive toward inner fulfillment asthe inclination of all human beings. Maslow understood that intrinsic happiness and fulfillment logically spills over into worldly success, as one’s natural passions meet the external realities and needs of the world. In Motivation and Personality, Maslow elaborates stating,

“Human life will never be understood unless its highest aspirations are taken into account. Growth, self-actualization, the striving toward health, the quest for identity and autonomy, the yearning for excellence must by now be accepted beyond question as a widespread and perhaps universal human tendency…the common feature of the needs for self-actualization is that their emergence usually rests upon some prior satisfaction of the physiological, safety, love and esteem needs.”

 

Einstein also knew something about happiness and success. He said  “Try not to become a man of success, but rather to become a man of value,” and spoke directly to what really creates long-term satisfaction.

That has nothing to do with the rat race -- and anybody who tells you happiness is a secret you can buy doesn't know how it works. 

-- Liz Schreiber

Photo by See-ming Lee from New York, NY, USA (Happiness / 20100117.7D.02031.P1.L1.BW / SML) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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