Monthly Archives: February 2014

# 37 Consider The Real Sources of Happiness

blue-dotdreamstime_xs_25061966The set range we are born with is a powerful predictor of happiness.  How-ever, within that set range there is much fluctuation from lows to highs.  That fluctuation is due to what we put in our lives that is associated with happiness.  Researchers in the field of happiness are narrowing in on what makes us experience life at the upper end of that range.  These things are:

*    Important relationships.  No surprise here.  People who have people are the luckiest people in the world.  The married are happier than the unmarried.  Old people who have a companion live longer than those who don’t.  The happiest people are the most gregarious.

Black family at church

*    Flow.  Flow is a term coined by researcher Csikszentmihalyi to describe an experience that people have when they are engaged in work or other activities that are highly enjoyable.  This occurs when the activity provides a close match between the demands made on us and our highest level of skill and ability.  In other words, the demands are not beyond our capabilities nor unstimulating and redundant, but call upon us to use our abilities in an optimal way.  During experiences of flow, we feel completely focused, self consciousness disappears, and we lose track of time.  We don’t necessarily feel “happy” at that time, but feel very alert, very motivated, very alive.  Afterward, we describe that state as a happy experience.

*    Commitment to something larger than ourselves.  For many, this is an  involvement in a religious faith, but it doesn’t have to be.  For others, it may be raising their children, building a public monument, or doing volunteer work.  It might be caring for a sick relative or cleaning up the environment.  The important factor is that it has no immediate benefit to self.

*   A sense of control.  This is a theme that emerges from hundreds of studies in the fields of psychology.  People with low levels of control over what happens to them have much higher rates of unhappiness, stress, frustration, and depression.  This has been shown to be true for adults, employees, children of divorce, even infants, monkeys, and dogs in the laboratory setting.

*  Consider the times in your life when you have been the happiest, either for a few weeks or months, or even a phase of life when you were the happiest for several years.  Which of these key ingredients were present in your life?

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*  Which key factors do you most need in your life now?  What would you have to do to develop them?

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# 36 Calculate Your Set Point For Happiness

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GaugeAbraham Lincoln said, “People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”  One hundred and fifty years later, researchers have found that there is much wisdom in Lincoln’s observation.    Just as people appear to have a set point with their weight, and thus tend to be slender or tend to be plump, people tend toward the gloomy, negativistic side of life or they tend toward a lighthearted, optimistic outlook.  Most people have a set point that is somewhere around the middle or just above it most of the time, regardless of life circumstances.  Research also suggests that this set point is genetically encoded in us when we are born.

Consider the happiness index to be a scale from 1 at the bottom to 10 at the top, and 5 being the middle of the scale.  Toward the bottom of the scale people feel these emotions most of the time:  angry, discouraged, helpless, frustrated, bored, out of control, lonely, distrusting, pessimistic, unimportant, and cynical.  At the top of the scale people feel this way more than half the time:  encouraged, hopeful, thankful, challenged, in control, optimistic, cheerful, important, trusting, and generous.

What is your lifetime set range for happiness?  (Give a 5 point range)

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Describe a time in your life when you were at the low point of this range?

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Describe a time in your life when you were at the upper end of this range?

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What was the fundamental difference in these two periods in your life?

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Where are you in your set range right now?  (within a three point range of your five point set range)

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What might you do more of in order to move your set point one point higher and more in line with your life at the time when your set point was at its highest?

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References

Barton, W. E.  1976.  Abraham Lincoln and his books:  With selections from the writings of Lincoln and a bibliography of books in print relating to Abraham Lincoln.  Folcroft, PA:  Folcroft Library Editions.   Braungart, J. M.,  Plomin, R., DeFries, J. C., & Fuller, D.  1992.  Genetic influence on tester-rated infant temperament as assessed by Bayley’s Infant Behavior Record:  Nonadoptive and adoptive siblings and twins.  In:  Developmental Psychology, 28, 40-47.   Costa, P. T., McCrae, R. R., & Zonderman, A. B.  1987.  Environmental and dispositional influences on well being:  Longitudinal follow-up of an American national sample. In:  British Journal of Psychology, 78, 299-306.  Headey, B., & Wearing, A.  1989.   Personality, life events, and subjective well http://psychology.ucdavis.edu/labs/emmons/being:  Toward a dynamic equilibrium model.  In:  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57, 731-739.  Lykken, D., & Tellegen, A.  1996.  Happiness is a stochastic phenomenon.  In:  Psychological Science, 7, 186-189.   Tellegen, A., Lykken, D. T., Bouchard, T. J., Wilcox, K. J., Segal, N. L., & Rich, S.  1988.  Personality similarity in twins reared apart and together.  In:  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 1031-1039.

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# 35 Consider What Is Not a Source of Happiness

dreamstime_xs_20937845blue-dotMost of us have a pretty good feel for what happiness is–a sense of positive emotion, of well being, of satisfaction with life.  However, as a culture we have many misguided notions of what “causes” happiness.  We seem to think that happiness is what happens to you if you have good things happening to you, a comfortable life, and freedom from stress and work.

Researchers have been zeroing in on the true nature of this thing called happiness.

We have learned that it is not associated with:

*     Immediate gratification through food, sex, pornography, drugs, alcohol, shopping, other similar experiences.  Though these experiences bring about a brief euphoric state, they are short lived, and leave no lasting effects.  In fact, once the experience is over, we may feel a sense of flatness, emptiness, and a craving for another short burst of euphoria.

*    Money, fame.  Did you know that a study of lottery winners found that they  were happier for up to a year after they won the lottery, then were about as happy as they were before winning the lottery?  Studies of the super-wealthy find them to be no more happy than people of modest means, provided their basic needs are met.

*   Age.  Youth does not bestow happiness, nor does old age consign one to misery.  People of all age groups are about equally happy, except that  older people are slightly happier than the young.

*   Education.  Though educational attainment may enable a person to achieve  more career success, more social status, and more wealth in some cases, it does not appear to be associated with happiness.  A famous study of  Harvard men found them to be no more happy in later life than a group of inner city men.

*    Exercise, health.  Surprisingly health and fitness do not appear to be associated with happiness unless one has two major illnesses.  Even one major illness does not appear to affect most people’s basic level of happiness.  Studies of paraplegics find them to be no more unhappy than those who can walk.  After about the first year of rehabilitation and recovery, paraplegics return to pre-trauma levels of happiness.

*    Good looks.  People who are attractive have been found to be no more happy than people with average attractiveness ratings.

*    The culture we live in.  People in affluent cultures such as the U.S. and Sweden are not happier as a group than people who live in, say, Mexico.  As long as a society can meet the basic needs of the people for food and shelter and as long it is a democracy, people are about equally happy in richer and poorer societies.

Consider how you have pursued some goal in your life with the expectation that as soon as you obtained it you would be happy, only to find that it was short lived and you did not arrive at a plateau in which your overall happiness was any higher than before.

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Which of these goals are you still pursuing?  Has it brought you happiness?  What would you have to do to change this pattern?

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References

 ABC News 20/20 with John Stossel.  July 3, 2002.  “The Secrets of Happiness.”   ABC News 20/20 with John Stossel.  “The Mystery of Happiness.”  Jan. 18, 2009.  www.youtube.com/watch?v=TcT7wJgmYGE   Diener, Ed.  2000.  Subjective Well Being:  The Science of Happiness and a Proposal for a National Index.  The American Psychologist, 55, (1), 34-43.   Meyer, David.  2002.  The Funds, Friends, and Faith of Happy People.  The American Psychologist, 55, (1), 56-67.  Seligman, Martin.  May, 2002.  Plenary Address.  Georgia Psychological Assn.  Savannah, Georgia.   Seligman, M. 2000.   Positive Psychology:  An Introduction.  The American Psychologist, 55, (1), 5-14.

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