Factors in Happiness
Happiness…it’s a broadly defined and sometimes vague and elusive term, yet we all know what it is and how it feels. Seeking and increasing one’s happiness is a huge area of literature and all over the self-help sections. Some books claim they have the secrets or the recipes for happiness, but just like most things in life, its really a combination of several things and balancing things out that is right for you. I recently read an article in Psychology Today titled “What Happy People Do Differently” going through this topic that I thought I would share.
Yes, it is true that our genetic predisposition and our innate temperament play a large role in our overall mood or our emotional thermostat’s “set point.” Some research suggests as much as 60% of our mood is based on these pre-determined factors. But that still leaves 40% that we can try to mold.
Variables that researchers have found to be largely at play when studying “happy people” are those including taking risks, not getting caught in details, friendships, feeling negative emotions, and purpose.
There is a time and place for us to take chances and try something out of our comfort zone. Often trying something new can be anxiety-provoking, but it also awakens our curiosity, an important component of our lives and feeling happy. Think of a time when someone convinced you to try something new that you were apprehensive about, and you ended up loving it. Those experiences can be more fulfilling than the usual go-to or tried-and-true activities or foods.
Studies have shown that people struggling with depression may actually have a more “realistic” view of the world, noticing more minute details in the environment around them than others. There is a balance here. One does not want to be completely naïve or unaware, but focusing too much on the small things and losing sight of the bigger picture can be negative too. Think about a time you’ve been in a bad mood and it feels like you’ve noticed every eye roll or annoying habit of those around you. Now think of a time you’ve felt happy and either don’t notice these things, or do but simply breeze past them.
Relationships and a sense of connectedness and belonging are important human needs that we all have from birth. In fact, infants cannot survive with only food, but need connection and a sense of attachment to others to survive and thrive. It is important to be there for one another in times of need, but research also shows that it is important for your happiness to be there for your significant others in times of celebration and success too. It increases both your and their levels of happiness.
It might seem counter-intuitive to say that happier people also are good at experiencing negative emotions, but all emotions are important in a well-rounded emotional life. There are times when we feel sadness, anger, anxiety, and jealousy. Being able to tolerate these emotions rather than rushing to brush them off, forget about them, or dismiss them is important to our emotional experience, and actually helps us to move through them more efficiently and appreciate the positive emotions on the other side. Research shows that our flexibility in feeling emotions is the important factor. We can feel sad about something and cry about it to our friend, but conceal it when at work and continue to get through the day productively.
Lastly, finding a sense of purpose in our lives. This one seems like a topic in itself, but think of it as finding ways to increase those activities that make you feel fulfilled and energized. What do others give you praise for? What are you proud of? These activities are different for everyone, and people who feel happiest find ways to keep these activities in their routines.
You can find the full article in the Psychology Today August 2013 edition or go to www.psychologytoday.com.