February 2005 Insight Newsletter

Happiness Promotes Effectiveness

Winter in Canada encourages thoughts about how to be happier, apparently affecting print editors, too. Time Magazine ran an extensive series on happiness in January. The short version: a number of world experts have developed this relatively new field of Psychology to get away from the fact that previous studies confined themselves almost exclusively to what can go wrong with the human psyche. Looking at what can go right is literally a more positive step.

It turns out very simple things make us happier. Money is only a temporary fix. Everyone wants about 20% more, so once we’ve accustomed ourselves to a raise, we soon find ourselves wanting more again. Above a certain quite low level – about $25,000 annually – having more money doesn’t ensure people will be happier. We can find even gloom among the wealthy.

1. Simple Things Make Us Happier – and More Effective

It’s hard to say one is truly happy because it’s such an intangible and relatively fleeting feeling, but we all know we’re happier at some times more than others. What makes us happier includes reminding ourselves of good things that have happened during a day, week or even lifetime – counting our blessings. Counselors in the area recommend keeping a journal and filling in three good things that happened each day before you go to sleep… or maybe ten once a week or a review of your life achievements every few months. Any of these can help remind you that life is worth living and raise your spirits. Reviewing such lists periodically also makes one feel better.

Odd things stand out as particularly helpful. Writing a letter to someone who positively influenced your life – and then delivering it to them – or making a point to help someone once a week or so are both things that measurably increase one’s happiness level, simple as they seem.

Researchers have been able to make pessimists act like optimists and vice versa simply by having each group read a list of statements. In the first case, they read 25 or 30 sentences that start out neutral and become progressively more optimistic… and vice versa to deflate optimists. This simple tactic was shown to move people to act in the opposite style for a time. With practice altering your approach can become habit.

Solid, supportive family relationships and activities help us be more positive. Faith, whether religious or not, and the feeling of having a purpose also make a big difference. Learning to forgive and develop resilience to stress and challenges are additional contributors. One can begin with the simpler approaches and build up to these.

Interestingly momentary pleasures, while very appealing on the surface, aren’t as effective as long term factors in garnering high ratings of overall life happiness. Taking care of your health, diet and relationships can sometimes seem like chores compared to a momentary fling, yet in total terms, they’ve repeatedly been confirmed as bringing greater positive results.

Most importantly, building up your happiness quotient creates an optimistic outlook that enables people to take risks and gain rewards to a greater degree. For this to be highly effective it is advisable to develop your happiness level as much as possible. Marty Seligman’s original book, Learned Optimism, based on his early research still sells because it identifies how this works. Results you achieve reinforce happiness provided you take the time to count those new blessings periodically. If nothing else it’s a great relief to know you don’t have to give up one for the other, but rather you can and you are better off to aim for and go after both together.

Becoming more positive in every way you can produces better results!

2. Laughter Creates Balance and Happiness

Humour provides one of the most powerful balancing influences in our lives. Laughing out loud not only relieves tension, but oxygenates our bodies to make us measurably healthier as well as happier. Now groups are starting up laughter clubs around the world as you can see at LaughYoga.com. I’m sure this is something one can practice on one’s own, too, but studies clearly show we laugh much more often and harder among other people. As a social activity it definitely shines.

3. Other Common Myths and Positives

One myth about happiness is that singles are lonely and sad compared to married couples. Not so according to recent studies. We tend to have a “happiness set point,” though we can slowly move it up through steady practice. While happiness increases during the engagement and honeymoon phases of courtship and marriage, our “normal” levels tend to reassert themselves soon afterward unless we make an effort to improve.

While there’s evidence that some people end up living alone because they’re unhappy, living alone isn’t what made them that way. Pets, on the other hand, generally seem to offer reliable help while sports fans can benefit from the group highs, sharing in the victories of winning teams. Such simplicity as clear wins in games is rarely mirrored in the bumps and twists of real life, raising a need to build resilience. Not surprisingly people who experienced occasional setbacks as children or youths are often better equipped to face life’s challenges, but fortunately it’s clear that anyone can learn techniques that add resilience and happiness later in life.
A lot more information is available at PositivePsychology.org or by searching for researchers by name on Google, like Marty Seligman, Edward Diener, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and others.