The Science of Happiness
Happiness, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is a state of well-being and contentment.
Ask one person what happiness means, and you will get a unique answer as each person defines the word by what it takes to make them happy.
You might find that some people talk about money and possessions while others speak of achievements, love, or health. Happiness is a state of mind or a state of being – based on personal experience and desires.
Because happiness is a personal state of being, it might seem strange to discuss a “science of happiness,” yet there is a new field of social science that focuses on the science of happiness called positive psychology – not to be confused with positive thinking. Positive psychology looks at what makes life worth living.
The scientific Study of Positive Psychology
Rather than focusing on the negative – what is wrong – positive psychology focuses on what makes people thrive not only in their relationships but in all aspects of life. The science of happiness is about feeling more fulfilled, productive, and, yes, happy at the end of the day.
Positive psychology does not disregard the negative aspects of one’s life, rather it encourages people to focus on the good as a way of overcoming the bad. It is often easier to see a solution to the bad when you come at it from a positive angle instead of trying to climb your way out of the center of it.
Think for a moment about what makes life worth living for you. It is caring for your family, creating a warm and loving home, reaching new heights in your career, or experiencing things you had never imagined yourself doing or seeing? Positive psychology helps you to get more of the things you want to improve your state of being and emotional outlook.
Using the Science of Happiness to Separate the Good from the Bad
It would seem virtually impossible for a human being to enter and exit this world untouched by a negative experience. From loss of a loved one to loss of a job, pain is certainly all around us. Positive psychology shows us how to focus on the positive elements to prevent the darker side of life from closing in – essentially separating the good from the bad and teaching us how to put each in its place.
Sometimes, the bad is a setback when everything seemed to be going right. As parents, we want nothing but the best for our children. Our emotional state is often intertwined with their physical state. Their bad days become our bad days. Their good days bring a ray of sunshine to our lives.
Finding the fleeting moments of happiness, even on the bleakest of days, can change our entire world. We have to work to keep those moments present in our everyday lives.
Each day, we face choices, actions, and experiences both good and bad. We often must do things that do not bring us happiness. Again, that feeling is in the hands of the holder. For you, doing dishes may be the worst of all your chores. Perhaps you put it off until there are no more clean cups or plates. Another person may relish washing dishes as it provides them with the time to spend deep in thought without mindful distractions. Again – it is how you allow yourself to view the situation.
“The Constitution only guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.” -Benjamin Franklin
Here are 7 habits that you can utilize right now to increase the happiness in your life. Be aware of the little moments and take time to appreciate them.
Acts of Kindness
When engaged in acts of kindness, whether through volunteering, donating, or exhibiting caring behaviors, your focal point is turned outward. This provides two key benefits:
- You are engaged in a selfless act that improves conditions for others
- Your mind is taken off any negative issues of your own while you create something for a greater good
Those individuals who regularly engage in acts of kindness report fewer feelings of depression and greater happiness in their lives. People who spend money on others report feeling better than when they spend it on themselves. Reflecting on giving can also increase feelings of happiness.
You have probably heard that keeping things bottled up inside is not good for you, and science has shown that sharing personal feelings helps to relieve depression and stress. Individuals who have at least one close friendship often appear happier than those who have many casual friends.
“Compassion leads to happiness” ~ Michael Pritchard, featured in HAPPY
Cultivating and spending time with family and friends in a close and caring relationship increases overall happiness and mood. A small close network that allows you to open up will provide more of a benefit than casual relationships that focus on impersonal topics.
Related: Why Family Time Matters!
Focusing on the Moment
Savoring the moment you are in is an easy way to reduce stress and boost positive emotions. Be mindful of where you are at any given time. Here are some excellent ways to find the good in any moment:
- If you are rushing to your car to get somewhere, stop for a few seconds and take a look around. Is there a squirrel running up a tree, a bird flying overhead, or a flower blowing in the breeze? Take a moment to smile at something in nature that you do not control.
- If you are in your home, stop and find an object to look at. Instead of seeing the clutter on the table, look at a beautiful photo on the wall. Instead of the dishes in the sink, see the remnants of a meal you lovingly prepared to feed your family. In any given moment, you have the choice of what you see and how you perceive it.
- If you are having a tough day with your child, stop for a moment and focus on one positive aspect of the day. Think about a smile or a touch, or possibly even how the rays of the sun reflected of your child’s hair. Taking that one moment to picture something positive can be the ray of happiness that can turn your whole day around.
- If you are in the middle of a difficult day at work, stop and reflect on how you have a job (even if it is one you do not like) and how many others are unemployed and worrying where their next meal will come from. It may not change how you feel about your job, but it will provide a different point of view.
The body and mind are interconnected in many ways. The better you feel physically the better you will feel emotionally. Exercise is one of the best mood builders there is thanks to a host of hormones that respond to physical activity.
Just as you nurture your relationships, you have to actively engage in the nourishment of your physical well-being. That includes exercise, proper nutrition, adequate sleep (7 – 9 hours), reducing stress, and going out into sunlight for 15 minutes each day.
Spirituality is another subject viewed in different ways depending on whom you ask. Some people might say that it is about their religious beliefs while others would say that it is about an emotional or soulful connection. Spirituality is a personal journey that one can take alone or with others.
Prayer is often thought of as a reflective and meditative act. It calms the mind and the body, and often leads us to answers and reduces stress. People who are actively engaged in their religious communities often report feelings of increased happiness.
It can be hard to feel grateful at times when you are in a state of overwhelm, and nothing seems to be going in your favor. That is when looking at the difference between an optimist and a pessimist can help. An optimist always sees opportunity, even in the bleakest moments. A pessimist will see difficult even in places of opportunity.
If all of life is just one big test – one lesson we are here to learn, then everything that crosses our path is just one more opportunity for growth and gratitude. No matter how bad something is at the moment, it could always be worse. As long as we have breath in our lungs, we can always say that.
Be grateful for each experience as it is a part of the human adventure.
Discover Your Strengths
Everyone has something they are good at. Yes, it often seems as though some people lined up early and got more strengths than the rest of us, but, perhaps they have just learned how to cultivate them better – or sooner than we have.
Your strengths could be talents, virtues, or abilities. They may be physical – playing an instrument or excelling at a sport. They may be mental or emotional – calculating math problems in your head or always managing to see the good in others.
To learn more about the science of happiness, check out these websites:
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This post originally appeared on our November/December 2017 Magazine