Clearly, happiness is something that everyone wants. To be happy is in fact, one of our most basic and fundamental desires. So if everyone has always wanted it, and if everyone is actively seeking it, why doesn’t everybody have it?
That’s a rather difficult question for several reasons, but the solution may not be as complicated as you think. In the field of personal development we often base our conclusions on experience rather than scientific research. I thought it might be enlightening to have a closer look at some recent scientific findings in the field of happiness, and see if we can make some practical application.
What is happiness anyway?
What does the term happiness mean to you personally? We all have our own version of what we think would constitute true happiness. Some feel that it hinges on material possessions or personal health. Others feel that happiness is directly linked to the quality of our relationships, or that it depends on our circumstances. So allow me to ask…
Do you think that happiness is an elusive quality controlled by outside forces like health, wealth or relationships? Do you suspect that it might be determined by genetics or living conditions? Or do you feel that happiness it controlled by something else entirely?
Let’s consider some recent findings
Materialism. Some have said that happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have. This logic sounds so reasonable that two university psychologists decided to put it to the test. Their results suggest that people can grow accustomed to their possessions and thereby derive less happiness from them.
Here’s their conclusion, “Simply having a bunch of things is not the key to happiness, our data shows that you also need to appreciate the things you have. It’s also important to keep your desire for things you don’t own in check.” Source
Relationships. While a close and meaningful relationship has the potential to be a real and lasting source of happiness, scientific research in this area is obscure. However, there is a set of statistics that illustrate the fact that relationships do not always produce the desired happy results.
As you may have guessed, I am referring to the divorce statistics for the U.S. They are as follows: 50% percent of first marriages, 67% of second and 74% of third marriages end in divorce, according to Jennifer Baker of the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology in Springfield, Missouri. Source
Genetics. Some researchers now claim that happiness is mostly genetic. Psychologists, who used data from 900 pairs of twins, identified evidence for common genes which result in certain personality traits that predispose individuals to happiness whatever their circumstances. Source
Another ground breaking study claims that individuals who carry the happiness gene don’t pay much attention to negative things happening In their lives and, instead, they focus on the happier aspects of life. In the process, they end up becoming more sociable and are generally in better shape psychologically. Source
Does that mean that happiness is genetic?
I wouldn’t jump to any conclusions just yet. Instead, Let’s consider another factor also being studied by science. I found this on to be especially meaningful because it is something that we all have control over, and the research is extensive.
Gratitude. In a published paper called: Highlights from the Research Project on Gratitude and Thankfulness, Michael E. McCullough from the University of Miami made this observations. “Gratitude is the ‘forgotten factor’ in happiness research.”
His group is engaged in a long-term research project designed to create and disseminate a large body of scientific data on the nature of gratitude, its causes, and its potential consequences for human health and well-being. Source
What they found
Psychological and Physical Well-Being effects of gratitude
1. In an experimental comparison, those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis – exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events.
2. A related benefit was observed in the realm of personal goal attainment: Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based) over a two-month period compared to subjects in the other experimental groups.
3. A daily gratitude intervention (self-guided exercises) with young adults resulted in higher reported levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy compared to a focus on hassles or a downward social comparison (ways in which participants thought they were better off than others).
4. Participants in the daily gratitude group were more likely to report having helped someone with a personal problem or having offered emotional support to another, relative to those focused on hassles or social comparison.
5. In a sample of adults with neuromuscular disease, a 21-day gratitude intervention resulted in greater amounts of high energy positive moods, a greater sense of feeling connected to others, more optimistic ratings of one’s life, and better sleep duration and sleep quality, relative to a control group.
6. Children who practice grateful thinking have a more positive attitude toward school and their families.
Measuring the Grateful Disposition
1. Most people report being grateful (an average rating of nearly 6 on a 7 point scale).
2. Well-Being: Grateful people report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, optimism and lower levels of depression and stress. The disposition toward gratitude appears to enhance pleasant feelings more than it diminishes unpleasant emotions. Grateful people do not deny or ignore the negative aspects of life.
3. Sociality: People with a strong disposition toward gratitude have a greater capacity to be empathic and to take the perspective of others. They are rated as more generous and more helpful by people in their social networks.
4. Spirituality: Those who regularly attend religious services and engage in religious activities such as prayer and reading religious material are more likely to be grateful. Grateful people are more likely to acknowledge a belief in the interconnectedness of all life and a commitment to and responsibility to others. Gratitude does not require religious faith, but faith enhances the ability to be grateful.
5. Materialism: Grateful individuals place less importance on material goods; they are less likely to judge their own success and that of others in terms of possessions accumulated; they are less envious of others; and are more likely to share their possessions with others relative to less grateful persons. Source
How does this information benefit us?
We see that it is our attitude that has the greatest influence on our personal level of happiness. Sure, we can gain some enjoyment from material possessions as long as we appreciate what we have. Good health obviously contributes to our happiness as do meaningful relationships and favorable circumstances. But there are plenty of people who have all of those things but still can’t find happiness.
What about genetics? If we lack the so called happiness gene (if such a thing even exists) are we destined to an unhappy life? It has been said that our genetics are only that stage upon which we act out our life. How we choose to express those genetics is completely up to us. We determine what aspects of our genetic potential we will express, and how.
It all comes back to attitude!
If you want to be happy you must take responsibility and stop looking to things or people to make you happy. You are the source of your own happiness, stop looking elsewhere. Instead of seeking happiness, start creating it. Here are a few ways to get rolling:
1. The attitude of gratitude. Express gratitude daily for everything. Don’t forget to appreciate you smallest blessings. Remember, this one is scientifically proven to produce tangible results.
2. Be thankful to others. Appreciate the people in your life, and practice saying thank you for any courtesy they show you. It is too easy to take those around us for granted. Show them the same consideration you would like shown to you.
3. Honor other people. This goes beyond courtesy; it is a form of giving. Treat everyone you meet as if they have a big sign on their chest saying “make me feel worthwhile.” If you do this you will discover a hidden source joy.
4. Be positive. A positive attitude will move your focus toward all that is good in your life. That means you will not be focused on anything negative. For an excellent article on how to do this read: Positivity Leads to a Flourishing Life
5. Project happiness. Even if you are not feeling especially joyful, adopt a joyful persona. Your body language and words send powerful signals to your nervous system. You can change your feelings by acting the way you want to feel, and it happens very quickly.
6. Perform acts of kindness. Don’t wait to be asked, if you see an opportunity to do something nice for someone else, do it! It doesn’t need to be a big thing, hold the door for a stranger, or smile a anyone you make eye contact with. Look for opportunities to make others feel good.
7. Make a decision to be HAPPY. This is the most important step on the road to a happy life. Simply make up your mind to be the happiest person you know, and you will be. You are the key to your own happiness, so go ahead and unlock it once and for all.
What do you think?
Did I leave something out?
The lines are open!