Happiness and Positive Psychology.
Happiness research is a label for a wide range of research programmes that aim to uncover the correlates or casual determinants of happiness, life-satisfaction, or subjective wellbeing. Researchers, usually psychologists, sociologists and economists, rely on data gathered from surveys in which people report how they are feeling, how much money they make, the number of children they have, what kind of job they occupy, their belief in God etc. Researchers then search for patterns emerging from the collected data.
Happiness researchers tell us, to understand why some people are happier than others, we must first understand the thoughts, goals and behaviours that serve to maintain people’s happiness. Their focus has been on exploring different psychological processes that seem to play a role in sustaining or increasing a person’s level of happiness, such as counting one’s blessings, practicing altruism, avoiding obsessively dwelling on oneself and comparing ourselves to others. One of the main sources of people’s discontent comes from comparing ourselves with others in their family, at their workplace, and among their acquaintances.
Martin Seligman, who developed the theory of learned helplessness, has since 2000 been promoting the field of positive psychology, this includes the study of positive emotions such as happiness, optimism, and generosity (Seligman, 2002). Positive psychology seeks to study and reinforce the positive emotions that allow us to become better human beings and get more joy out of life. The research findings from positive psychology are intended to enhance and supplement what is known about human suffering, weakness, and disorder (Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005). The potential of happiness-enhancing interventions is further reflected in emerging research in positive psychology demonstrating that practicing certain virtues such as ‘gratitude’ (Eamons and McCullough, 2003) ‘forgiveness’ (McCullough, Pargament, & Thorsesen, 2000) and thoughtful ‘self-reflection’ ( King, 2001) can bring enhanced well-being.
In his study on Happiness; the Science behind Your Smile, Daniel Nettle conceives of happiness as a multivalent term encompassing three distinct levels: level one happiness consists of ‘momentary pleasures’, level two consists of judgements about feelings, and level three is concerned with quality of life, which Nettle sees as flourishing or fulfilling one’s potential.
What is it like to be happy?
A lot of the current research data on happiness has pointed to certain traits in people who are happy. Richard Layard says, happiness comes from within and without. It depends on our circumstances but also on our inner selves. He suggests that seven factors stand out in the lives of happy people Our family relationships, financial situation, our work, community and friends, health, our personal freedom and personal values.
People who constantly live on a superficial level more than likely experience happiness as something transitory. If we believe that happiness comes from outside of us, or if it is the outcome of anything, then it is limited to that thing. Nobody is looking for a limited happiness. Yet we search for it in things that are limited. The danger then for these people is that there is no option for real growth because living at this level there is always the never-ending search for the pleasure to bring the next momentary happiness.
What we do know, as fact,
• one’s state of happiness colours everything, people who are happy perceive the world as safer, make decisions more easily, rate job applicants more favourably, are more co-operative, and live healthier and more energised and satisfied lives (Myers, 2000 p.56-67).
• It seems everything in us has been programmed to believe that success and happiness are synonymous and we have learned a lesson from childhood, that if we spend our time and talents struggling toward fortune and prosperity until we have them in our grasp- all will be well.
• Studies agree on a single point that roughly 50 percent of almost every personality trait turns out to be attributable to genetic inheritance (Seligman,1994). So how happy we are may depend a lot on the happiness traits we inherited from our parents.
• When we try to predict, what will make us happy we often get it wrong, and happiness researchers all over the world find the same predictable errors, whether the pursuit involves romance, a new car, or a sumptuous meal.
• We need to develop our own philosophy of happiness and not to accept the consumerism philosophy delivered in advertisements that tout new cars, more fashionable clothes, or better restaurants. Look at our own life reflectively and to ask ourselves what has brought us most joy in our lives.
Researchers have found that happy people tend to.
Have high self –esteem be optimistic and outgoing Have close friendships, or a satisfying marriage, have work and leisure that engage their skills, Have a meaningful religious faith.
•50% of our happiness is based on our genes. The random set of genes you received from your biological parents defines your overall range of happiness. Some of us won the genetic lottery, are blessed with sunny dispositions and naturally see the good in life. Others of us have a tendency towards pessimism and glass-is-half-empty thinking. Some scientists describe this as a basic happiness “set point.”
• (Here’s the shocker) Only 10% of our happiness comes from external circumstances. Your financial resources, your career, the climate where you live, your health, whether you have a life partner, how hot you look – all these things determine just 10% of your ongoing level of happiness. (Think about how upset this fact makes marketers trying to get us to buy our way into happiness!) Why? It’s due to adaptation. No matter what good things or bad things happen to you – a promotion at work, a new car, getting married to the love of your life — you adapt and after a time (often not very long) it no longer carries much emotional benefit. Think about the last time you worked hard to accomplish something or bought something you really wanted. How long did the buzz last? How long before those positive emotions were replaced with the desire for the next thing? In one well-documented study, researchers found that both lottery winners and people who had become paraplegic returned to their original baseline level of happiness within one year of their life-changing event. Striving to achieve and acquire, while a fine way to spend your time, is not a path to sustainable increases in happiness.
•So, guess what? That remaining 40% of our happiness comes from our intentional activity: what we do and how we think. Forty percent of our happiness is therefore IN OUR CONTROL. Researchers have been actively testing what activities and thought patterns add to our happiness and which ones reduce it. Study after study has shown that as people integrate these activities into their lives and make new habits, they sustainably increase their happiness.
© Patrick Sheehan MA, MIAHIP.
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