November 4, 2007

What is Happiness?

In this short video, bestselling author of, Stumbling on Happiness, Daniel Gilbert describes his research into the sources of happiness in everyday life.

As Gilbert points out, our psychological "immune system" can keep us happy even through depressing circumstances. Gilbert's work helps us understand the adaptive nature of rationalization and human value systems.
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1 comment:

John Place said...

Understanding Happiness

There are a lot of misconceptions floating around out there regarding happiness.

Let’s take a look at the top 7 happiness myths so we can address them quickly and effectively whenever they begin to affect us:

1. You can’t learn to be happier: It wasn’t long ago that researchers believed that every human being was born with a set “happiness point,” but thankfully, the growing field of positive psychology has proven that happiness is greatly influenced by factors that you have the power to control or influence: friendships, romantic relationships, finances, careers, and mental habits, to name a few. In other words: yes, you can learn to be happier.

2. The quest for happiness is all in your mind: Yes, happiness is an experience of the mind. But no, the quest for happiness is not 100% mental. Some people would have you believe that we should all learn to be Jedis or Zen Masters, capable of being happy with no regard for our surroundings or circumstances. I hate to burst the bubble on this philosophy, but it’s just not realistic. The real world can – and will – affect your happiness. To use an obvious example, if you had a wild dog chewing on your leg, I would humbly suggest that you’d be better off removing the dog than trying to convince yourself to be happy in spite of it. I say this not to be flippant, but to illustrate that sometimes the quickest path to happiness is addressing our internal attitudes, and sometimes it’s changing our external realities.

3. Thinking about happiness will make you unhappy: Some people insist that thinking about happiness will make you unhappy, but it’s more accurate to say that until you take the time to consider your own happiness, the things making you unhappy may remain hidden from you, doing their work unnoticed, silently dragging you down. It’s better to bring them into the light so you can deal with them. Over time, the net effect is positive.

4. Being rich will make you happier: Once your basic needs are met, more money does not equal more happiness. In the words of Richard Easterlin, “Few generalizations in the social sciences enjoy such wide-ranging support as that of the diminishing marginal utility of income.” While it’s true that the jump from poverty to middle-class yields a substantial happiness increase, every additional dollar from that point forward provides ever-decreasing benefit, and other factors (such as job satisfaction and relationships) become more important than ever.

5. Money doesn’t matter: Unfortunately, some people take the “money can’t buy me happiness” mindset to illogical extremes, denying any connection between money and happiness. Oh, there is a connection, and if you’re not making enough money to afford necessities or to pay your electric bill, you’ve probably experienced the connection firsthand. Making at least a middle-class wage is a proven way to boost your happiness because it allows you to compare favorably to others and to afford the things that society considers necessary.

6. A life of leisure will make you happy: We all have fantasies of endless vacations on sun-swept beaches, but studies have shown that a life of leisure quickly leads to boredom. The extent to which you make so much money that you never have to make any more is the extent to which you must confront the greatest challenge of all: yourself. This progression from basic needs to self-actualization is classic Maslow. And if you’re lucky enough to figure out what you want to do with all your freedom (many aren’t so lucky), you’ll probably find that you agree with Harvard Psychology Professor Tal Ben-Shahar, who says that in spite of all your freedom, you cannot be happy without work. And by work, I mean productive, fulfilling activity, not necessarily a 9 to 5 job.

7. Happiness is just a mood: There are two types of happiness. Firstly, there’s the present-tense emotion of happiness, the mood. Secondly, there’s our holistic evaluation of the way our lives are going. In other words, just because you’re sad or angry right now doesn’t mean that you’re unhappy with your life in general. Many personal development techniques focus exclusively on state management – controlling your moods. And while I admit that state management is important, it’s also important to give the other type of happiness its due by focusing on activities that fill your life with meaning and purpose.

When it comes to happiness myths, this list is really only the tip of the iceberg; maybe we’ll cover the rest in a future article. But for now, let’s reflect on the way these particular myths may have propagated within each of our lives, influencing our daily choices and even our long-term aspirations.

How many of the ambitions we aspire to truly hold promise of fulfillment and happiness? If our idea of happiness is clouded by misconceptions, probably not many.

Synergy 

The key to energy and happiness is synergy.  Unfortunately, many people are living with antagonism.  Let’s take a look at the difference.   

Synergy is a force that causes your total energy to be greater than the sum of its parts.  We experience the magic of synergy whenever we dedicate ourselves to work that fulfills us.  

They say there is no such thing as a perpetual motion machine, but a human being working at something he loves comes close.  I love writing articles for this Web Site, so my work makes me happy.  My wife senses my good mood when she gets home from work, which helps our relationship, which in turn makes me feel even happier!  My ever-increasing happiness, sense of purpose, and confidence makes everything I do easier and more enjoyable.  That’s the power of synergy!  If you spend your time in pursuit of something you find personally fulfilling, the positive energy spreads to every area of your life.  You end up with more energy, not less.  And your happiness is contagious, so it spreads to others.  

Antagonism

 The opposite of synergy is antagonism. 

The term antagonism implies forces in opposition, which makes sense because we experience its harmful effect whenever we work in opposition to our internal motivations.

Figuring out your internal motivations can be hard work, but it’s a lot harder to spend your life doing work you hate.

I have a friend who hates his job so much that even a half-day at the office leaves him drained and grumpy. He comes home from work in a foul mood, which causes him to argue with his wife, which in turn further increases his stress and leaves him more tired and depleted. If you dedicate yourself to tasks that do not fulfill you, antagonism can spread like a cancer to every area of your life. 

Reasons to Hate Your Job

There are as many reasons to hate your job as there are stars in the sky: bad boss, poor utilization of natural skills, unhealthy environment, unrealistic expecations. But even if you are lucky enough to find a job with a fantastic boss and stellar environment, there is one important question waiting for you at the top of the mountain.  And that question is, Do you find the work fulfilling in and of itself?

Many people become frustrated with their jobs long before they ever reach the point of questioning their ultimate fulfillment, while others seem to live happily without any sense of purpose at all.  But for people like me (and maybe you too if you’re still reading this), the need for purpose and fulfillment is a major driving force.  After all, we spend more of our life working than we spend on anything else.  Shouldn’t we spend that time on something that matters to us?   

Living Synergistically

If you want to live synergistically, find something you are truly passionate about, then get behind the mighty plow of your life and start pushing. What things are you good at? What do you love to do? What activities cause you to lose all track of time? The answer to these questions may help reveal your natural gifts. These may be cognitive gifts, such as problem solving, number crunching, or abstract thinking. Or you may have emotional gifts, such as the ability to empathize with and care for others. Perhaps you have physical gifts, like strength, speed and agility. And the question is, Can you get someone to pay you to use your natural gifts to accomplish a mission you believe in?  

Uncover Your Message 

I believe everyone has a message inside of him or her waiting to get out. A message doesn’t have to be something you tell the world explicitly, but it should be something you want to communicate to the world through your actions.  Your message is the reality that you want others to experience, understand, and appreciate.  Quite simply, your message is your purpose in life.  

So what’s your message? Is there a particular topic you love sharing with others? If so, maybe your message lies somewhere within that topic.  If you’re not sure what your message is (like most people), I will help you discover it later in this series of articles.  For now, the point I want you to remember is this: The key to reaping the benefits of synergy is finding a way to use your natural abilities to communicate your message.  Once you uncover your message, the work will come flowing out of you like a river.  That’s the perpetual motion of synergy at work.   

Find a way to live your message, and synergy will be yours. And your life will no longer be about juggling all your obligations; instead, it will be about living the life you were meant to live.

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