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ARE YOU HAPPY: Happiness Is A Science
Being Happy Is No Secret
There is a real science for Happiness. It has many names, including the Biology of Happiness, the Science of Happiness, and the Biophilia Theory. (Biophilia translates to the “love of all living things”.) Happiness is a difficult concept to define. Happiness can be an emotion, an action (laughter and smiling) and more. The English language has fewer words to describe happiness than any other language in the world. Different cultures have different ideas about how they define or measure happiness. Happiness is usually not what you might think.
When people in the U.S. are randomly polled about their happiness, as they are from time to time (usually for political research, or perhaps a social study) the answer is money. Americans have a tendency to believe that wealth can equate happiness, thus solving many financial woes. This theory has been busted by the scientific community; even lottery winners are happy for a while – maybe a year – and then they return to their prior state of emotion. Some individuals who have loads of money become even less happy as they develop trust issues with friends and family. Many cultures view money as a necessary tool, used to supply the things people need. Countries experiencing abject poverty produce some unhappy people, but wealth would not be the complete answer to their troubles. Money can help, but it cannot love or heal.
Questions about the pursuit of happiness have been around for ages. Scientists have asked questions about whether or not a person is born with the predisposition to be happy. Does an environment create happy people? Which factors make a person happy? Health? Sleep? Love? Family? The answers may surprise you. Here are some valid, honest facts concerning many cultures and their happiness.
Content with what you have? Happy people are. Many cultures, and people for that matter, are happy because they have what they need, not what they want. These individuals have food, shelter, clothing, and other amenities, but they do not spend their hard-earned money on frivolity. The mindset of practical people relieves them of the stresses conducive to keeping up with the Jones’. Practical people are content people, and they have what they need. Furthermore, these people have been found to appreciate the finer things in life far more than others because they are not conditioned to pursuing their wildest material whims. Contentment is a recipe for happiness.
Creative people are happy people. If a person does not get to do what they love as an occupation, they often pursue that love in the form of a hobby. It is no secret that using the creative side of our brain is hugely therapeutic and beneficial to our well-being. Painting, singing, composing, building – talent lives inside us for a reason. Scientific studies have found that people who neglect their talents are more prone to struggle with depression and grief than people who use their talents on a regular basis. The happiest individuals in the talent category are the ones who earn an income by doing that which they love. Even stranger, the happiest individuals were the ones who treid their hand at several different jobs or hobbies. If you need more happiness in your life, dust off that hobby and start creating.
Failure is a dirty word to most people. Our failures are something we hide or chalk up to experience. In other parts of the world, failures are embraced. You heard me. Failing is a right a person has – they have the right to fail miserably at something. Without failures, a person cannot have a success. The secret to the respect failure has garnered is that the act of trying is the most important part. When a person tries to accomplish something – that attempt is a measure of success. That person tried to do something; therefore the sting of failure was erased. If you want to be happy, stop being ashamed of your failures. People who believe they are allowed to fail and accept their failures gracefully are happy people.
When was the last time you paid it forward? The act of giving stimulates the same area of the brain that tells us when we are hungry and lonely. In other words, altruism is considered to be a primal instinct within the map of our brain. Showing goodwill to others is a happiness factory. Numerous studies have been done concerning study groups who donated time, money and acts of kindness versus groups who did nothing. Guess what? People who actively show goodwill toward others on a regular basis produce more serotonin (that feel-good stuff) than those who do not. I love the story about the woman who lost everything in hurricane Katrina. When she arrived at the civic center in Birmingham, AL a counselor asked her if she needed to talk. Her reply was this, “Talk? No! Put me to work helping others so I can feel good again!” She was absolutely right.
Envy is a killer. This joy kill is associated with contentment, but can stand alone. Scientists have discovered that people who covet, envy, or experience jealousy are miserable people. These unhappy individuals feel life is unfair and often resent those who have something they themselves do not have. This envious attitude can manifest in the work place, within families (sibling rivalry), in schools, or anywhere. People who carry envy in their hearts are prone to have anger management issues, depression and can even cause themselves a few health issues. Happy people are not jealous of others and do not experience envy. Happy people focus on their own personal lives and have an optimistic attitude. Happy people are thankful people; they do not take things for granted like their unhappy counterparts. Pessimism and optimism may each have endless facets, but the results show that a little optimism goes a very long way when it comes to being happy.
This leads me to discuss faith. Say what you will, but the proof is here. People who have faith in a spiritual or religious sense are happier people. Scientists have studied this one for decades, and research shows that individuals, communities, and cultures that practice their faith and believe in something bigger than themselves, you guessed it. These faithful people are happy people. The act or emotion of having faith conveys the raw act of trust. Trust is crucial to happiness, just ask any marriage counselor. People in love are happy because they have a deep sense of trust and they feel secure. People who feel they are loved feel validated and trusted. Faith and trust go hand in hand and the sense of security these two intangibles create is a winner in the happiness game. People who believe in a higher power feel OK about their lives. People who have faith have that bedrock of security others do not. Survivors of the Holocaust were asked how they kept from giving up. Their answer was in their faith. Unhappy? Try having a little faith.
When was the last time you took a vacation? I am not talking about a trip to Disney World. Down time is very important to happy people. Whether it is spending a day reading a good book, or hanging out with friends, we as human beings need down time so that our brain can regroup. Time spent away from work/school/stressful activity is a good thing. Relaxation is crucial to happiness. It is difficult for many people to make time for this relaxation. I have to laugh – as a busy mother of three and an employee, I find myself strategically lumping my downtime in with my hobby – which is good. Scientists have found that even small amounts of time away from demanding activities – say an hour, or even thirty minutes - reap huge benefits. Corporations are catching on; I have read about companies who now have nap times, or longer lunches. The results? Happier employees. Happy people take time out for themselves. Maybe it’s time to learn how to say no to some things….
Happiness is a tough nut to crack. Some people spend their lives trying to become happy, if not happier. Countless books have been written on the subject of happiness. Endless scientific studies have been conducted to determine which people are happiest and why. Is it really a secret, this happiness? I think not. Like love, happiness is a concept, an emotion so simple, yet it can seem so complex. Perhaps we forget that happiness is simplistic in its demeanor, and thus we overcompensate. Happiness is so many things to so many people. My hope is that we can come up with some more words for happy in the English language. I’m taking suggestions. In the meantime, go forth and be happy!