Life is not a series of thunderous epiphanies. Instead, it’s more like a sequence of whispers that crawl through our ears. One of those quiet murmurs is that happiness is a choice; one that doesn’t rely upon stimulation based on consumerism.
Kathy Saprano wrote an interesting article titled The Top 10 Things People Want But Can’t Seem To Get. The piece originated from a survey she ran that included over 700 people.
Number one on the list?
However, happiness is elusive. It’s something like trying to capture our own shadow.
We want to be happy, but the pursuit of it is backfiring. We are chasing finish line that doesn’t exist. Happiness isn’t something we arrive at — it’s something we become. Seneca, the Roman Stoic philosopher, said this:
True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.
Happiness is not contingent upon something we get or achieve.
Instead, if we work on ourselves to front-load happiness before anything else, we arm ourselves to respond to situations appropriately, good or bad. When good things happen, we can enjoy them without becoming attached to them. When difficulty arises, we can draw on the fact that we have the ability recover.
In other words, let’s be happy first instead of allowing circumstances to dictate our joy and contentment.
What follows are these eight studies can help us simplify the happiness formula.
Winning the lottery has long been associated with happiness. With more money than you could imagine, happiness would be inevitable, right? Phillip Brickman wanted to find out, so he conducted a study on the levels of happiness of those whose financial dreams had come true. He found that those who had won millions were no happier than the control group who had their basic needs met. Money is needed, and it’s important. But it’s not the secret to happiness.
The Michigan State study was born from a desire to help employees boost their mood during a workday. They found that fake smiling further withdrew them from doing their best work. But, yet when employees cultivate positive thoughts — like looking at photos from a vacation or their child’s recital — and the result is a genuine smile, mood and productive were enhanced.
Pro-active gratitude changes the experience of day-to-day life. Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough conducted a study that assigned a group to one of three conditions. One group would list their daily burdens; one group would list their neutral life events, and one group would list their daily blessings. The gratitude-outlook focused group exhibited heightened happiness relative to the comparison groups. In other words, be purposeful about looking for all the good in your daily life, it’ll make you happier.
Dr. Martin Seligman and the research team at the University of Pennsylvania analyzed the effects of writing a thank you letter and delivering it in person to someone who had never been properly thanked for their kindness. The participants reported an immediate increase in well-being and happiness. Some of the participants broadcasted positive happiness scores that lasted a month after the kind deed. Being kind makes us happy.
The University of Bristol took a group of 200 employees working for a pensions company and IT firm to see how exercise impacted their well-being and performance at work. The subjects were to choose their mode of exercise. Some did group classes; some did strength training others did team sports. The medium was not the focus, rather the impact of exercise was the aim. People who exercised reported enhanced moods, more motivation, better time management and increased productivity.
Basic needs should be meet when it comes to possessions. The clothes you wear to stay warm. The car that drives you to work. The table you eat off of. The computer you type on. After basic needs are met, studies show that investing in experiences rather than superfluous possessions yields greater happiness. The research suggests this holds true because it satisfies our need for social connectedness.
A study done in Canada looked at the effects of those who volunteered. The study confirmed that helping others is a noble concept. The volunteers experienced increased empathy and altruistic behaviors. Subjects also reported less risk for cardiovascular disease over time.
When the pre-frontal cortex part of the brain is active, it’s associated with good mood and happiness. Lowered activity in the parietal lobe part of the brain is related to feeling connected to the universe, nature or God.
The conduit for this cocktail of enhanced well-being? Meditation.
Dr. Andrew Newberg revealed in his study that a 12-minute daily meditation practice induces more activity in the prefrontal cortex while decreasing activity in the parietal lobe. Meditation allows us to bank on the fact that we can draw on happiness and contentment without pursuing money, toys, or accolades.