Tuesday, November 19, 2013


While listening to a discussion about happiness the other day on The Talk the man said something that made me think.  In regards to them discussing what makes people happy and making a list of those things he sort of wondered if his happy list might fall short of his unhappy list.

Which got me pondering happiness.

Psychologist Ed Diener, author of Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, describes what psychologists call “subjective well-being” as a combination of life satisfaction and having more positive emotions than negative emotions. 

Yet Martin Seligman, one of the leading researchers in positive psychology and author of Authentic Happiness, describes happiness as having three parts: pleasure, engagement, and meaning. Pleasure is the “feel good” part of happiness. Engagement refers to living a “good life” of work, family, friends, and hobbies. Meaning refers to using our strengths to contribute to a larger purpose. Seligman says that all three are important, but that of the three, engagement and meaning make the most difference to living a happy life.

And so it brings up many questions about happiness. But what do we really know about happiness? Can we study it? Are we born with it? Can we make ourselves happier? Who’s happy and who’s not, and why? What makes us happy? Are we all born with different levels of emotions?  Do we have set points for emotions?

In Psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky book The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, she 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 believe we have a “set point,” or baseline, of happiness that is partly determined by genetics. When something good happens to us, we’ll be happier for a while, but then adapt to our new situation and return to our set point.

Chasing and achieving wealth, fame, and good looks may actually make us less happy. The researchers found that young adults who valued intrinsic goals, such as personal growth, close relationships, and community involvement, were more satisfied with their lives than those who had extrinsic goals, such as wealth and “achieving the look I’ve been after.”

But they are also learning how positive emotions actually cause us to be happier. They have even demonstrated that positive emotions undo some of the physical effects of stress.

As social scientists gather more and more data about happiness and well-being, we can see who tends to be happier.  Here are some interesting statistics regarding happiness that have surfaced. But I'm sure there are plenty more waiting to be uncovered as well.
  • People with strong ties to families and friends are consistently happier than those without social ties.
  • Some personality traits tend to go along with happiness. People who are optimistic, have high self-esteem, and are extroverted are more likely to describe themselves as happy.
  • Married people are happier, though scientists aren’t sure whether this is because of the marriage or because happy people are more likely to get married. It doesn’t seem to matter whether the couples are parents or not.
  • People who grew up with parents who divorced or in a home with a high level of conflict are less happy than people who grew up in homes with intact marriages.
  • In the United States, Republicans are happier than Democrats. Worldwide, conservatives are happier than liberals.
  • People who attend worship services regularly are happier than those who don’t.
  • The middle-aged and seniors are happier than the young; and this does not seem to be generational, as this is consistent across time in longitudinal studies. Younger people tend to have higher levels of negative emotions such as anxiety and anger.
  • People with enough money to make ends meet are happier than people who are poor, but beyond that more money doesn’t make much difference.
  • While men and women report similar levels of happiness in most studies, men now are somewhat more likely to be happy than women. This is a switch in recent decades; women used to be happier than men. 
Happiness is a fascinating subject, one that will continue to be studied.  But just think if you were to make a list of what makes you happy and what makes you unhappy....which list would be longer?  To find out make those lists now. After those are made make a list of what you could do to make yourself happier?

For a long time it seemed to me that life was about to begin...real life.
But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through fiirst,
some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid.
At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.
This perspective has helped me to see there is no way to happiness.
Happiness is the way.
So treasure every moment you have and remember that time waits for no one.
Happiness is a journey, not a destination! ~Souza

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