One of the deepest quests of human beings is to find happiness, in fact most of things we all do are directed towards finding lasting happiness.
In one of my recent workshop on Happiness a participant Anil asked me what makes us happy? He said he is a high achiever, has practically everything but still that lasting happiness remains mysterious.
And same is the case with most people, a sense of deep happiness most of the time remains elusive. Most of us have a fair idea as to what makes us happy, but lot of time what we think will make us happy will not really make us happy. So what Really Really Really makes us happy? I asked Anil what he thought should make him happy. And he outlined the following, incidentally most of the participants agreed with him.
Success- Most People believe that success will make them happier but a review of 225 studies in the Psychological Bulletin found that happiness doesn’t necessarily follow success. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Happiness leads to success.According to the study’s findings, happy people seek out and undertake new goals that reinforce their happiness and other positive emotions.
Money- Money can impact happiness only to an extent. One survey of 1,000 Americans, conducted in 2010, concluded that money does make us happier – but only up to a certain point. The findings, by psychologist Daniel Kahneman and economist Angus Deaton, both from Princeton University, showed that self-reported levels of wellbeing increased with salary up to $75,000 (roughly £50,000) a year. But after that, increasing amounts of money had no further effect on happiness.
Status- It is once again very transient and while it may give a temporary kick when you get the status but the associated rise in happiness peters out pretty fast.
Sleep: Yes good sleep does leave you happier. When we look to the literature on sleep people who sleep in a more regular, comfortable, non-interrupted way score higher on indices of happiness and subjective well-being.
Exercise: Looking into the research on exercise, there’s been large scale surveys across several countries have confirmed a moderate association between physical activity and pleasure. However, happiness benefits of exercise have a little bit more to do with extent to which a person has some goals around that exercise and less to do with some kind of immediate momentary experience.
While above factors at best play a role in happiness but are not pathways to long term sustained happiness. So the question once again comes up what bring us Lasting Happiness? An overwhelming body of research suggests that social connection and kindness and what researchers are calling pro-social behaviour are key to the pursuit of happiness. This is especially true for creating sustained happiness free of external factors.
The 4 major attitudes, behaviours and emotions which have strongest connection with happiness are listed below:
1.Compassion: The act of compassion is very conducive to happiness.
A study at Princeton University examined the effect of practicing compassion towards others over a 1 week period. Participants (N = 719)were recruited online, and were assigned to a compassionate action condition or a control condition which involved writing about an early memory. Multilevel modeling revealed that those in the compassionate action condition showed sustained gains in happiness (SHI; Seligman et al. in Am Psychol 60:410–421, 2005)
2.Gratitude: In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.
A leading researcher in this field, Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, tested the impact of various positive psychology interventions on 411 people, each compared with a control assignment of writing about early memories. When their week’s assignment was to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness, participants immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores. This impact was greater than that from any other intervention, with benefits lasting for a month.
3.Forgiveness: Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one getting burned. ” –Buddha
You would have heard umpteen times from your elders that you should forgive for your own sake. Now even the research is supporting this advice. Forgiveness is terrific for lasting happiness, once you let go of your anger and grudge it creates happy hormones in your mind. Research says forgiving can be an extremely powerful act of creating happiness.
One such study found that those who forgave had less anger, less stress, less rumination and lowered reactivity in comparison to those who held onto their anger and pain (Harris et al., 2001).
Aristotle said that ‘happiness depends upon ourselves’ and a new study suggests it is possible to physically grow a happier brain through practices like meditation.
Although scientists have known which hormones produce emotions like pleasure or desire, it has been unclear where the feeling of overall contentment and well-being stems from.
To find out, scientists at Kyoto University asked 51 volunteers to rate their own happiness levels and then scanned their brains to see if they could spot any differences between the upbeat individuals and their more glum counterparts. Intriguingly they discovered that an area of the brain called the precuneus was larger in people who were happier. It suggests that happiness can be worked like a muscle and meditation strengthened this area of the brain. One great example of generating happiness with meditation is Matthieu Ricard, officially the happiest man on this earth.
Its time to start indulging in these practices to become happier every day. We explore these topics further in subsequent posts.