Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Happiness Factor

January 9, 2010

In the beginning (hmm that sounds familiar) psychology focused on understanding all emotions, not just those related to pathology. The War changed all that. Scientists needed to address post-traumatic stress disorder, understand how to treat it, in order to help veterans suffering flashbacks and depression from their experiences in battle. Psychologists developed a deep understanding of difficult emotions: anxiety, anger, depression. Little attention was paid to contentment, happiness, pleasure, and satisfaction.
Is that part of how cynical became the preferred emotional accessory? Smiling, happy people viewed as dumb, unsophisticated while the brooding skeptic, weary of the world’s offerings, was the intellectual, the realist?
Maybe that’s changing. Psychology has gradually returned to understanding the importance of contentment and happiness. Thank goodness. If emotions are information that we need to live our lives, leaving out the positive surely handicaps us. Indeed it does.
Turns out positive emotions play a critical role in our emotional health. When we’re content, that’s when we build resilency. We bank the positive for use when we need it. It also allows us to think in a broader way, more open to information. We can better build relationships during our happy times.
Happy people, it turns out, tend to be more intelligent and accomplished, not less. They are also realistic in their assessments of the world. Happiness over the long term is not about the joy of the moment, but about building a life with meaning. Meditation, acts of service, relationships are all building blocks.
Though we all have spontaneous moments of happiness, the foundation of a happy life is the result of effort and work. Some people are biologically predisposed to have a higher happiness set point than others and less work will be required to maintain a happy view. Others may have to work to elevate their set point, but it can be done.
Recovering from depression does not necessarily mean happiness. Working on adding meaning to your life may be necessary to prevent relapse and to build the life you want. Understanding happiness can be helpful to those who suffer from depression as well as the person who simply wants to improve their life. Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Projectis one example of research-based information hitting the general market.
Step One in elevating your happiness set point is to develop an attitude of gratitude. Practice each day listing three events or people you are grateful for in your life. Be as specific as possible. Write them down, track your progress for a couple of months. Thinking of these each night before you go to bed can add significantly to your happiness quotient.

If you are interested in more of the steps to happiness recommended by researchers in positive psychology, try this free ebook: 

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