Thursday, February 18, 2010

The causes of happiness.

Post 430 - I read in today’s paper that a Columbia University study spent ten-years rating the health impact of happiness on more that 1,700 people. The researchers concluded that happy people are more likely to have less heart disease than grumpy people. So this suggested consulting wikiHow to find some of the causes happiness, which is the subject of today’s post.

In the 1970s, researchers following people who'd won the lottery found that a year after they'd hit the jackpot, they were no happier than the people who didn't. They concluded that we each have a baseline level of happiness. No matter what happens, good or bad, the effect on our happiness is only temporary and we tend to rebound to our baseline level. Some people have a higher baseline happiness level than others, in part because of genetics. However, it's also largely influenced by how we think. So improving our attitude towards life will increase our happiness permanently. Here are some starting points for doing just that:

• Follow your instincts.
In another study, two groups of people were asked to pick out a poster to take home. One group was instructed to analyze their decision carefully, weighing the pros and cons. The other group was told to listen to their gut. Two weeks later, the group that followed their gut was happier with their posters than the group that analyzed their decisions. Obviously, many of our decisions are more important than picking out posters. However, these findings suggest that the next time you have a decision to make and you've narrowed down the options, you’ll be happier if you follow your instincts and go with the one that feels right to you.

• Make enough money.
If you make enough money to meet your basic needs for food, shelter, and clothing (on average, about $40,000 a year), research shows that any amount you make beyond that will have little effect on your happiness. Your comfort may increase with more money, but comfort makes people bored rather than happy. That's why it's important to push beyond your comfort zone to encourage your personal growth. “Happiness and misery depend not upon how high up or low down you are - they depend not upon these, but on the direction in which you are tending.” according to the Victorian novelist, Samuel Butler. For the lottery winners mentioned earlier, lots of money didn't make them any happier. Once you’ve got enough money, your happiness isn’t significantly affected by more money, but rather by your level of optimism.

• Stay close to friends and family.
Today, people follow jobs around the world looking for increases in salary to make them happier. But relationships with friends and family have a far greater impact on our happiness than our jobs do. So the next time you think about relocating, consider how much more money it’ll take to compensate for the loss of happiness from moving away from your friends and family. If, however, your relationships with your family and friends are unhealthy or nonexistent, then choose a location where you'll make about the same amount of money as everyone else. Research findings suggests we feel more financially secure (and happier) when we're on similar financial footing as the people around us, regardless of what that footing is.

• Find happiness in the job you have right now.
Many people expect that finding the right job or the right career will dramatically change their level of happiness. However, happiness research makes it clear that our level of optimism and the quality of our relationships eclipse the satisfaction we get from our jobs. People with a positive outlook will make the best of any job, and don't depend just on their job to give their life a sense of meaning. They find it instead in their interactions with the people they care about. The capacity of our jobs to make us happy is relatively small compared to our outlook on life and our relationships with other people.

Some other tips?

* Smile. When you smile, whether you feel happy or not, your mood will be elevated.

* Don't hold grudges against anyone. Forgive, even if you can't forget.

* Don't stew over past mistakes. Learn from them and then move on.

* Don't get hung-up on material things. As Aeschylus reminded us thousands of years ago, "Life is a brief encampment."

The key thing to remember is that we’re in control of how we see the world and it's a mistake to depend on external factors or other people to make us happy. If you’re unhappy, it's your job to change how you view the situation. If you’re unhappy at work, don't blame the boss or your coworkers. Instead, change your outlook ... or move on!


Anonymous said...

What a great article!!!

Deborah Knight said...

Great summary of a lot of important research. Thank you for putting it so succinctly.