If I were to tell you that the study of human happiness has now moved its way from psychology and philosophy to the realms of neuroscience research, what would you think? If you’re anything like me, you’d probably think that science has taken it too far – happiness is a simple human emotion that doesn’t need to be overanalyzed. Well, guess what…it doesn’t matter what I (we) think because that’s exactly what’s happening.
I came across an interesting article today that explains how science and happiness are connected and discoveries that are emerging from this research. The article is called The Science Behind a Smile, and it’s an interview with Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert, known for the book Stumbling on Happiness.
I found the research to be pretty interesting, but what really blew my mind were some of the findings. So, let me share a bit about the interview and what was said, and then let’s discuss in the comments section. I’d love to hear your thoughts!
WHY FOCUS ON HAPPINESS NOW?
According to this article, a major reason the study of happiness is exploding right now is because governments all of over the world are trying to figure out what makes their citizens happy. They are eager to understand how that happiness is measured and how can it be increased. Happy citizens equal gains for all aspects of society.
WHAT ARE HAPPINESS RESEARCHERS DISCOVERING?
After studying thousands of people, one of the first discoveries was that people are not good at predicting what will make them happy and for how long that happiness will last. The expectation of happiness or unhappiness is far greater than it actually is. A recent study showed that very few experiences affect humans for more than three months.
Why three months? Some researchers say it’s because humans are good at finding the silver lining. Overall, we have the ability to make the best of things and are more resilient than we give ourselves credit for.
Researchers have also distinguished between natural happiness and synthetic happiness. Natural happiness is the feeling we experience when we get what we want, and synthetic happiness is the feeling we produce when we don’t. Most people probably prefer natural, but apparently, there is no difference. With synthetic happiness, you just have to seek out new things to make you happy as a result of not getting what you want.
This one may be obvious, but researchers have also found that people are happiest when they’re challenged enough to where they can achieve they’re goals by working hard. People are also happy when they have strong social ties. This doesn’t mean that only social butterflies are happy, but rather that the quality of your connections says a lot about your overall level of happiness.
Also, the frequency of positive experiences is a much better predictor of happiness than the intensity. So, the next time you think buying that expensive car (ahem, Vishnu) is going to make you super happy, think again! Smaller bits of happiness have a longer lasting effect.
WHAT CAN PEOPLE DO TO BE HAPPIER?
– Enjoy the small stuff because it matters more than you think. So, dance in the rain, give your significant other a huge kiss, eat a piece of chocolate every day, etc. – it all adds up to something great!
– Be patient. There’s no magic pill for happiness. The little things you can do to increase it are obvious, but you have to do them consistently and then wait for the results. It takes time.
– Meditate, exercise, get enough sleep, volunteer, keep a thankful thoughts journal, and talk to people about why you’re happy.
– Pay attention to where your mind is throughout the day. Gilbert mentions that when you wake up in the morning, don’t just think about all the places you have to be and all the things you have to do, try to engage your mind and think about what you’re going to do with it.
WILL THIS RESEARCH EVENTUALLY MAKE PEOPLE HAPPIER?
Gilbert makes a great point at the end – science can only tell us how to live our lives, but when it comes to what kind of lives we should want to live, that’s up to us.
One of the reasons I really liked this article is because I think it’s so applicable to the western lifestyle. So many people base their level of happiness on material goods and experiences, and while I too enjoy my “goods,” those things are so fleeting and temporary. And while I’m positive there’s something to be said about the experience and thrill of making those kinds of purchases, I don’t see that as being true happiness. In my opinion, happiness is intangible.
As this research points out, it’s kind of like a Lego set. No one part on it’s own does much, but when all the pieces come together, that’s when you have something beautiful and meaningful. Kind of cheesy I know, but I was thinking about my little cousin and his love for Legos!
So what do you think – is there much merit to happiness science and research?
Compete this this sentence with a personal example: Happiness is _________.
Recently, I’ve found that happiness is being able to do a balance pose in yoga class without tumbling over. Today, happiness is knowing that by the time the sun sets, Vishnu will be here with me!
Don’t let those faces fool you, we’re oh so happy!
Have a wonderful and hopefully happy weekend!