Hello my friends,
A quick question for you…Where do you sit on the happiness scale?
Are you happy? ….Yes? Or No?
Do you think you are happy but in reality you are not!
Happiness is very important, we all need happiness in our lives, but how can we achieve ‘Happiness’?
Edward Diener is the Smiley Emeritus Professor of Psychology in the University of Illinois. His nickname is Dr. Happiness. For the past three decades he has carried out research in the field of human happiness. It is not easy to measure happiness. Even the happiest of people feel unhappy at times and even unhappy people may have brief periods of happiness. In 1989 he created the Satisfaction With Life Scale (SWLS). The SWLS is a short 5-item instrument designed to measure global cognitive judgments of satisfaction with one’s life. The scale usually requires only about one minute to fill. (See graphic below)
In his book Happiness – Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth he sums up the research findings on happiness. In his book he makes the point that happiness is not a place but a process. It is not simply a pleasant state that comes about by obtaining the good things of life such as health, a good marriage and a large pay cheque. Though it seems like common sense, happiness does not come about by collecting the good things of life. It is more a process, a way of experiencing life that includes positive thinking, meaning and spirituality.
The second major point he makes is that happiness or psychological wealth is important for effective functioning. Critics have charged that as the emotion of happiness is transient it fundamentally is an unrealistic emotion, the pursuit of which is a waste of time. However, research shows that this is not true. Positive emotions or happiness help people to be healthier, improve relationships, think more creatively, become interested in new activities and find work more meaningful.
“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” said Shakespeare in Hamlet. The Stoic philosopher Epictetus said something similar – “People are not disturbed by things, but by the view they take of them”. So a happy mindset does help in keeping a person happy and Diener in his book gives useful advice on how we can maintain and foster such a happy mindset. The acronym he uses is AIM which stands for attention, interpretation and memory.
Most people think that it is the interpretation part that is important but forget that attention and memory are important too. To be successful at positive thinking you must first pay attention. Remember that old hymn, “Count your blessings, name them one by one…. See what God hath done…..you will keep singing as the days go by”. So pay attention to your successes and blessings.
The second letter of the acronym AIM stands for interpretation. How people interpret the world around them plays an important and significant role in how happy they are. People who tend to interpret the world around them as difficult and hostile are likely to become unhappy in their mood whereas those who see the world as a happy and friendly place are likely to be happy in their mood. Remember that song by Louis Armstrong, “I see trees of green, red roses too, I see them bloom, for me and you, And I think to myself, What a wonderful world”.
The third letter in the acronym AIM stands for memory. Research has shown that we don’t remember things exactly as they happened. A little inaccuracy in your memory is not such a bad thing if it enables us to remember with nostalgia the good old days which perhaps were not so good after all. Perhaps this may be one way that happy people differ from unhappy people. Happy people remember happy events and forget the bad moments and unhappy one do the opposite. Again research has shown this to be true. Happy individuals were found to have similar negative and positive events in their life compared to unhappy persons but they differed in how they recalled these past events. People who are happy by disposition tend to err on the positive viewing even negative events in a more positive or humorous light.
Research has shown that actively recalling good memories has beneficial effects on wellbeing. When people are asked to actively savor specific past events they report feeling happier when compared to a control group. An important aspect of savoring is focused attention. So spend some time each day thinking of you’re past happy memories and savoring those positive moments and it will improve your sense of wellbeing. As Patience Strong once said, your happy memories are like jewels in a jewel box, which you can take out from time to time and enjoy.
Try these out
Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky who migrated from Russia at the age of 10, is now a psychologist in the University of California. She is also a leading researcher on happiness. Here is Sonja Lyubomirsky’s recipe for happiness based on her work and that of others.
•Count your blessings: You can maintain a gratitude diary where you write down once a week three to five things for which you are grateful. These can range from mundane things like good weather to more important events such your job promotion.
•Practice acts of kindness: These can be systematic such as giving a meal regularly to an old age home or spontaneous, such helping an elderly person cross the road. When you are kind to people, whether friends or strangers, it gives rise to a cascade of positive events improving relationships all-round and causing people to reciprocate your kindness to you and even others.
•Savor life’s joys: Pay more attention to moments of happiness and joy.
•Thank a mentor: If there is somebody out there who has helped you in important moments of your life, don’t wait, thank him or her preferably by meeting the person.
•Learn to forgive: Write a letter of forgiveness to a person who has hurt you. Persistent rumination on past wrongs and thoughts of revenge have a detrimental effect on your mood. Forgiving increases positive feelings and gives you peace of mind.
•Invest time and energy in friends and family: The biggest factor in happiness appears to be personal relationships, not money, job title or even health.
•Take care of your body: Sleep well and exercise regularly and don’t use addictive substances. A healthy body is definitely a major booster of happiness.
Develop strategies for coping with stress and difficult moments in life: Hard times come to all but belief in a higher power or higher secular meaning in life has been shown to increase life satisfaction.
What are the sources of happiness?
Happier people are more likely to live longer and tend to be healthier, more successful, and more socially engaged than people who describe themselves as less happy. But what causes happiness? And can we change how happy we are?
Three basic sources of happiness
Researchers have explored three basic sources of happiness: genetics, including temperament and personality; life circumstances, such as wealth and health; and our own choices.
We tend to overestimate the importance of life circumstances in how happy we are.
We think if only we had more money, or a better job, or fell in love, that we would be happier. And we sometimes underestimate how much control we have over our own happiness. Psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, in her book The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, analyzed studies and reports that 50% of our happiness is set by our genes, 10% by life circumstances beyond our control, and 40% by our own actions. Researchers say that people tend to have a “set point” or “baseline” level of happiness, but that this point can change.
Even though genetic factors like temperament and personality play a large role, there is almost an equally large role under our own control. We have the power to make choices that can raise—or lower—our set point.
One way to become happier is to cultivate positive emotions.
At one time psychologists saw positive emotions simply as the sign of a happy person. Now they are learning how positive emotions actually cause us to be happier.
Some of the positive emotions that psychologists are studying:
Here are some ideas on how to bring happiness into your life over a 4 week period:
Week 1: Keep a Daily Diary
Can you easily identify the daily activities, interactions and occurrences that make you happiest? Keeping a daily diary will help you identify the situations and people that make you happiest. Take note of these occurrences, which can be as small as listening to music while working, talking to a good friend, or spending time with your family – and slowly begin to increase the frequency of those tasks which make you happiest.
This step is about self-awareness and thinking critically about your daily reactions and emotions. Only by understanding why we feel the way we do can we expect to make lasting meaningful change.
Week 2: Fake It Till You Make It
This week, you are going to put a smile on your face even if you’re feeling blue, grumpy or burdened. A response called facial feedback indicates that when you smile, you send a signal to your brain that says, “I am happy.” Additionally, if you’re smiling, you’re likely to seem more approachable and happy to others – and people are more likely to smile back. We experience positive emotions more frequently than negative ones, but negative emotions are unfortunately stronger.
It’s important to remember that you aren’t attempting to eliminate all your negative emotions – such a task would overwhelm anyone. Instead, try to increase the instances of positive emotions (remember your daily dairy!).
Week 3: Create a Diversion
When you find yourself drowning in a sea of negative thoughts – “I’m overweight,” “I’m unlikeable,” “Why am I even at this party?” – you need to find a strategy to stop ruminating. This applies to social situations and when you are spending time alone. It may seem like an overwhelming task to divert your attention from issues swirling in your own mind – but all you need are 1 or 2 escape mechanisms.
If alone, put on your favorite song and sing along or go for a long walk. When in a social setting; try to concentrate on what others are saying in the conversation rather than what’s going on in your own mind.
Week 4: Random Acts of Kindness
During the fourth week of your happiness action plan, you are going to commit 1 random act of kindness a day. By feeding a stranger’s parking meter, sending someone a thank you note, or paying someone a compliment, you give yourself a burst of positive emotion. By practicing small acts of kindness, you will perceive yourself and others more positively. You’ll also appreciate your good fortune in comparison. Give yourself a self-worth, self-esteem boost by helping others.
And remember, life is for living so make yours a HAPPY one 🙂
Namaste with Love