Happiness Wednesday!

Cover of "The How of Happiness: A Scienti...
The How of Happiness book cover

Hello Everyone! I hope you all are thrilled to be alive this gorgeous Wednesday. How is everyone doing on their quest for increasing their daily happiness quotient? Anyone? Anyone?

OK, I’ll start. As you may recall, my adjusted Happiness Project goals are focusing on the good in the moment and being kind. I’d love to report that I’m kicking tail with these goals, but truth be told, I keep forgetting. I realize, for instance, after I leave the grocery store, that the checker was really nice and I wasn’t friendly back.

I’m not mean, mind you, I’ve just allowed the buildup of stress from three months of unemployment and job rejections to take up way too much space in my brain. The good news is that I have NOTICED that I’m forgetting, thus making me more conscious of the fact that I need to pay attention to kindness and focusing on good stuff. That noticing is all part of intentional living, which brings me to the subject of this post.

I’ve been busy delving into “The How of Happiness” (not to be confused with the Tao of Happiness),  and I’ve come to an epiphany: Increasing your happiness takes work. Likewise, if you ain’t willing to do the work, you might as well just stop whining about not being happy. The epiphany really wasn’t that hard, since it was written right there on page 24:

“Consider how much time and commitment many people devote to physical exercise, whether it’s going to the gym, jogging, kickboxing, or yoga. My research reveals that if you deire greater happiness, you need to go about it in a similar way. In other words, becoming lastingly happier demands making some permanent changes that require effort and commitment every day of your life.”

Those wise words come from the book’s author, Sonja Lyubomirsky, a research psychologist and University of California-Riverside professor of psychology. She did her graduate work at Stanford and has continued studying the science of happiness for 18 years. The book’s claims are all based in science – double-blind studies and all that rot – which makes it unique among many tomes in the self-help pop-psychology area of your local bookstore.

What is fascinating about this science, though, is that alot of the suggestions for increasing one’s happiness up to 40 percent, are the same things people who aren’t social scientists have suggested: Expressing gratitute, cultivating optimism, avoiding overthinking and social comparison, etc., etc., etc. The difference is that Lyubomirsky gives the scientific data showing exactly how expressing gratitude changes the brain to increase happiness AND she gives specific ways to practice that skill. (And not once, so far, has Lyubomirsky complained that, as a kindergartener, she had to learn half the alphabet just to spell her last name when her classmates got off with “Smith” and “Brown”.)

There’s a ton of good stuff in the book, but one of the key things is that intentionality mentioned above. You have to decide that, yes, I really DO want to be happier, and then you have to accept that it will take work, and then you have to committ to that work. I am one of those folks who happen to believe that many of us in ‘merica have become fat and lazy and are addicted to quick-fixes (which, ironically, never fix anything for longer than about a day). But often, the work we would need to do to increase our happiness – make a date with a friend, spend time in prayer/meditation, committ a random act of kindness – doesn’t take that much time or effort. Yet, for some reason, many of us avoid those things thinking they WILL take too much time.

(Side note: something that makes me happy every single time it happens – and for which I will give up all sorts of time – is interacting with cute babies, like the one in this picture —


My 20 y/o daughter sent that photo to me last night, because, like me, cute babies are her kryptonite. Proof in point: We regularly waste plenty of time watching this laughing baby video on YouTube. I dare you to watch it and not crack up. My other daughter has seemed to find happiness in kickball!)

While we might disdain the idea of more work in our busy lives, the “work” of happiness leads to the really cool reward of actually being HAPPY! Lyubomirsky says research shows that about 50 percent of a person’s happiness is determined genetically. Only 10 percent is determined by life circumstance, so having more money or a bigger house won’t help you much. But the remaining 40 percent? Completely and totally under your control.

(Important caveat: if you suffer from clinical depression, you will need therapy and/or medication to bring you up to the place where you can control that 40 percent. Lyubomirsky has tests in the book that help determine both your set-point for happiness and possible depression, as well as a postscript on getting help with depression.)

Observations on the thinking and behavior patterns of the happiest people in researchers’ studies show that happy people:

  • devote LOTS of time to family and friends, nurturing those relationships
  • are often the first to offer helping hands to others, including strangers
  • practice optimism when imagining their futures
  • deeply committed to lifelong goals and ambitions, including “teaching their children their deeply held values

Lyubomirsky points out that the happy subjects in her research are not immune to life’s tragedies. They may even become stressed and emotional when something horrible happens. The difference, however, between them and the unhappy subjects is “the poise and strength they show in coping in the face of challenge.”

We can all get to that place of poise and strength – or at least get closer to there than we are now, according to the book. I really recommend reading it if you struggle with a low happiness set point, as I do, and want to increase your happiness.

And now, courtesy of Gretchen Rubin, founder of the international Happiness Project, here are seven things you can do RIGHT NOW to increase your happiness in the next hour. Before I read her post, I had already done No. 2, and I can tell you I’m still feeling pretty happy from that small task. I’m going to work on No. 5 after this post, because what better time to have some fun than a holiday weekend? Try some of the tips yourself and let me know how it goes!

Also, jumping off something one commenter said last week, Buddhist practices have been shown to boost happiness and/or contentment. Gretchen has an interview today with writer Amy Ferris in which Ferris explains that chanting everyday, twice a day, makes her happy. A Buddhist, Ferris has been doing that practice for more than 30 years. (Recall what Lyubomirsky said about the “work” of happiness – the commitment it takes to certain practices?) Read the whole interview here. My favorite quote from it is this:

“… happiness is not a destination. It’s not somewhere I’m going. It’s a choice. I choose to be happy — or at least try to – every day.”

Those of you who are interested in choosing happiness or participating in this weekly chat on it, let me know in the comment section what your observations have been on your life and happiness practice this past week and/or what you would like to commit to in the upcoming week. Me, I’m going to commit to 15 minutes of quiet spiritual/inspirational reading, twice a day. Here’s wishing us all some good luck!

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7 thoughts on “Happiness Wednesday!

  1. Hi Renee, I’m still working on the Happiness Project and found that laughter is a great uplifter, such as laughing while reading that Dave Barry book I won from you, and laughing on hearing a recent Monty Python CD.  That’s why I want to check out Laughter Yoga (see my blog on the movie coming to the Loft Theater next Wednesday).
    Have you noticed that children seem happier than adults?  Loved that baby photo!

    1. Carolyn: Glad you like the Barry book. Laughter Yoga? That’s interesting. As for kids, I remember reading some study when mine were little that said the average preschooler laughs more than 100 times a day … by the time one reaches adulthood, it is fewer than 10.

  2. from the Tucson Peace Calendar:

    Laughter Yoga
    Thursday, September 3rd, 2009
    5:30 pm – 6:15 pm

    Workshops & Teach-ins

    Laughter is healthy – and contagious! Join us for group laughter sessions that include brief breathing exercises and a few minutes of gentle stretching.  Laughter offers many documented health benefits and a wonderful emotional release. Build the “feel good” factor in your life!  $1.Lotus Massage & Wellness Center [map]
    2850 E. Grant Rd.

    Contact: Lotus Massage & Wellness Center

  3. I have a few suggestions, naturally, but from personal experience I can confidently state that, for males at least, the best thing you can do to increase your happiness is to grow old 🙂
    It is amazing how much happier you become after all of those hormones that drive you crazy when you are young finally settle down.

  4. And Final comment #3- The recomendation of Buddhism was not simply a recommendation of certain of it’s practices, such as meditation.
    Iwas a recommendation of it as a “religion”, as opposed to things such as Christianity.
    Buddhism is a religion which was designed, and is solely concerned with, helping its followers achieve happiness ( or Nirvana).
    As such it stands in stark contrast with religions such as christianity which are not really concerned with happiness but which have evolved for the single purpose of increasing the number of it’s adherents.
    Suffering in order to advance the faith can be a good thing in christianity.
    If you don’t believe me, go see the very popular Passion of the Christ 🙂

  5. “Results from the Womens’ Health Initiative Study (U of Pittsburgh 2009 American Psychosomatic Society Annual Meeting) — which has followed more than 100,000 women over age 50 since 1994– found after 8 years of tracking that women who expect good things to happen were 14% more likely to be alive than those who were pessimistic.  The optimists were also 30% less likely to die from heart disease and less likely to have high blood pressure, diabetes or smoke cigarettes.”
    from page 4 of  Sept. 2009 “Well Being” publication of UA Lifework Connections, Vol 29. No. 9.

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