Back to the topic of happiness here. Do you ever wonder why true happiness eludes so many people? Everyone seems to be looking for it so it seems more people would be finding it. While most in the developed world report being reasonably happy, only a minority of Americans say their “very happy”. At the same time, the majority of Americans report being unhappy at work. Maybe the bigger question is “what’s at stake” in the pursuit of happiness? As you’ll see if you read further, a lot more than most imagine.
Star gazing makes me happy. I love to look at the stars, especially when it’s pitch-black. That’s when you can see small, distant dim stars that don’t show when the moon is out or with high levels of ambient light. Those stars are still a challenge to see under the best of conditions. But oddly enough, the best way to bring a dim star into focus is using a technique my dad taught me when I was a kid: focus on something else nearby instead (thanks dad, your still the greatest!).
Happiness, like gazing at a dim star in the night sky, seems to disappear when you focus on it. On the other hand, when you pursue positive experiences and activities that give you engagement and meaning happiness can come into into view . Victor Frankle’s comments are helpful here for putting happiness in context: happiness is something that ensues not something that you pursue. In other words, the explicit pursuit of happiness will leave you empty handed but when you pursue the right things, happiness comes home to roost.
Just as happiness is a by-product of what we do and who were are becoming, so are the benefits it brings…..and there are many:
- Better Health– for both minor and major illnesses, as well as for now and in the future …..even independent of other things that negatively impact health like smoking, inactivity, alcohol consumption and age. In fact, the Director of Public Health at Dumfries and Galloway NHS says happiness might be as powerful a predictor for health as smoking, diet and physical activity….if not more so! He also reiterates the fact that happiness is not a destination but something that ensues. Yes, our level of happiness is also something we can do something about. Two of the most powerful, evidence based activities for long-term happiness, according to Shawn Achor, are exercise and meditation (even if just focusing on your breathing for 2 minutes!).
- Less depression. This makes sense since depression and happiness are polar opposites. Prescribing activities known to boost happiness should be the intervention of choice in many cases, not mind-numbing drugs, which is current practice.
- Longer Life– The classic “nun” study is truly amazing. A large percentage of nuns who were happier (expressed more positive emotions) lived longer by age 80 than their less cheerful peers. They also had less disease and lower mortality rates (didn’t die as often when they were sick). What’s even more telling is that they also seemed to have a natural immunity against Alhzheimer’s disease. Furthermore, those that did have anatomical findings of it on autopsy didn’t exhibit the symptoms!
- More success– In their scholarly paper “Benefits of Frequent Positive Affect (2005)”, Lyubomirsky, King & Diener discovered that success across all life domains is preceded by emotional flourishing, not the other way around.
- Improved work productivity– Up to 12% in one study.
- Better performance (great TED talk, btw)- If you can raise somebody’s level of positivity in the present, their brain experiences what has been called a “happiness advantage”. That simply means your brain at performs significantly better when in a positive rather than a negative, neutral or stressed state. Your intelligence, creativity and energy levels all rise. People are 37% better at sales and doctors 19% faster as well as more accurate at coming up with the correct diagnosis when they perform with the “happiness advantage”.
- Greater earnings– A one point increase in life satisfaction at age 22 has been associated with almost $2,000 higher earnings per annum at age 29. In general, a happier kid becomes a wealthier kid. HOWEVER…it’s not about the money. Numerous studies show the opposite isn’t true; greater wealth doesn’t lead to great happiness.
Clearly, being a happy person brings along with it more life impacting and life altering benefits than you can imagine. If you want to read more, the article “Why does happiness matter?” is excellent and has a TON of great links.
Another side benefit of happiness is that it is contagious. In a large study conducted over a 20 year period, Fowler and Christakis convince demonstrated that happiness is similar to an emotional contagion in that it can be transferred directly from one individual to another. As it turns out, our own level of happiness is influenced by the happiness of those with whom we are connected.
What benefits of being happy you most in need of right now? Perhaps a better question is what positive experiences and activities that give you engagement and meaning do you need to pursue so that happiness can ensue?
Please leave a comment, I’d love to hear about it.