2. What is happiness?
3. How happy are you?
4. How to become happy
5. Final words
Everybody wants to be happy.
You, me, your best friend, your family. Even your boss. Happiness is such a lucrative incentive that it motivates people to do the craziest things: swimming with sharks, jumping from airplanes, dieting, training, and even working from 9 to 5 for their entire life. Dan Gilbert, Professor of Psychology at Harvard University says:
“Everyone who has observed human behavior for more than 30 seconds seems to have noticed that people are single-mindedly motivated to feel happy. Even when they resist happiness in the moment, by dieting, or working late, they are usually doing so in order to increase future happiness”.
Since happiness plays such an important part in our life, we ought to know what it is and where we can easily find it, right? Wrong! This is a challenging task, resulting in years of wrong decisions and frustrating activities. You set yourself a goal to become a lawyer and earn a lot of money. You invest hundreds of hours into studying and practice, spend thousands of dollars on education until you finally get into court and realize that this isn’t what you wanted at all. The problem is that we live in a society, which is lacking introspection and self-knowledge. In most cases, our parents, teachers and friends tell us what is right for us. They fool us into thinking that we have to strive for certain things, in orderd to be happy. Because we never question authority and we comply gently with societal pressure, we end up with a major depression at the age of 30. So the next time you find yourself doing things other people have told you to do, stop and think for a second if this is really what you want to do.
In order to be happy, you have to get to know yourself. Who you are, what you like, where you want to go. Develop the habit of spending quality time on your own, instead of constantly being around your laptop, phone, music, television and many more. This is the first step to a healthy and fullfiled life.
2. What is happiness?
We want to be happy, but what exactly does this mean? Is happiness an emotion, or a way of life; is it temporary, or constant; is it something that depends on you, or on your surroundings? A specific branch in psychology, positive psychology, has embarked on a journey to find the answers to those and similar questions. Psychologists use more specific terminology in defining happines and often implement the term “subjective well-being”. Subjective-well-being is described as a combination of life satisfaction and having more positive emotions than negative emotions (Diener, 1984). One of the leading researchers in positive psychology, Martin Seligman (2011), explains that happiness consists of three parts: pleasure, engagement, and meaning. Pleasure is the “feel good” part of happiness. Engagement refers to living a “good life” of work, family, friends, and hobbies. Meaning refers to using our strengths to contribute to a larger purpose. According to Seligman, all three are important, but engagement and meaning contribute the most to living a happy life.
The scientific world offers us two fundamentally different paradigms as a guide on living happily: hedonism and eudaimonism. Hedonism refers to short-term happiness (or moment-by-moment happines). It is caused by positive emotions and is characterized by pleasure seeking and pain avoidance. Eudaimonism, on the other hand, is an interesting approach because it distinguishes well-being from happiness per se and claims that well-being can only be achieved by self-realization, and the fulfilment of one’s true nature, even if this does not bring moment-by-moment happiness. Both approaches are very different from one another, but they somehow complement themselves. The key to happinnes may lie somewhere in between.
3. How happy are you?
Do you consider yourself a happy person? Do you have the life you have been dreaming of? Now is the best time to find out. Researchers have created a useful structure for studying happiness: Happiness is made up of pleasure, engagement, and meaning, It involves both daily positive emotions and a global sense that life is worthwhile. With the help of this model, psychologists are learning all the time about who is happy, what makes them happy, and why. Ed Diener and his collegues (1985) have created a 5-Item questionnaire “Satisfaction with Life Scale” which tries to measures happiness. The scale is designed around the idea that one must ask subjects for an overall judgment of their life in order to measure the concept of life satisfaction. Try it for youself and see if you are surprised by the results.
Write down a number from 1 to 7 (1 – strongly disagree, 7 – strongly agree)
1. In most ways my life is close to my ideal
2. The conditions of my life are excellent
3. I am satisfied with my life
4. So far I have gotten the important things I want in life
5. If I could live my life over, I would change almost nothing
If your sum score is under 20, the next section is especially important for you. Keep reading to find out how you can change your life in just under 5 minutes.
4. How to become happy
Tip #1: Accept yourself the way you are
Comparing yourself with others is not always a good idea. Some may be happier than you, but this does not mean that you cannot be happy for yourself. Research suggests that about 33% of our happiness is genetically influenced (De Neve, et al., 2012). But having “good” or “bad” genes should give you no reason to think that you have no control. "Genes matter, much like the influence of genes on cholesterol levels. And just as cholesterol levels are also influenced by diet and exercise, so happiness is also influenced by behaviors under our control." (Layous & Lyubomirsky, 2014). More than 60% of the equation is still unsolved and is entirely up to you. Embrace yourself and start flourishing.
Tip #2: Express your emotions
How many times have you heard these words: No, don’t say that! This is innapropriate! Do this, not that! Stop laughing, you are bothering us! Society has constructed a behavioral codex and has labeled our primary emotional responses as “unacceptable”. Of course, this does not come without a price. Recent research has shown that suppressing emotions has clear costs for psychological and physical health (King & Pennebaker, 1998). Furthermore, people high in repressive tendencies tend to be less happy (De Neve & Cooper, 1998). The message is clear: you have to act and behave in accord with your inner beliefs. Do not be afraid of your emotions and let them be: cry, when you feel like crying and laugh, when you feel like laughing. There is no such feeling as expression your true inner self.