“One of life’s sharpest paradoxes is that the key to satisfaction is doing things that are risky, uncomfortable, and downright unhappy!”
The question “How can I be happy?” is a source of continuous pondering and countless research studies. One of the latest compilations and statistical analysis of data on this topic appeared in the August 2013 issue of Psychology Today, “What Happy People Do Differently” (by Todd B. Kashdan, George Mason University and Robert Biswas-Diener, author of The Courage Quotient).
The pursuit of happiness is a billion dollar industry, and for good reason. In a recent study by Ed Diener (University of Illinois) and Shieghiro Oishi (University of Virginia)—that included a whopping 10,000+ participants, from 48 countries—Diener and Oishi concluded that being happy ranks higher, as a desirable personal outcome, than other “old fashioned” measures of well-being, such as: feeling that you have true meaning in your life, finding your way to prosperity, and even getting into heaven!
Happiness is a State of Mind (not just an emotion)
The authors of this Psychology Today article assume, like most contemporary psychologists, that true happiness is more than a mere emotion – it is, instead, a state of mind. As such, happiness can be cultivated by intentional and strategic acts and thoughts, much like changing a habit.
In other words, only a small portion of what most of us consider “happiness” has to do with how we feel at any given moment. Instead, the sense of being a “happy person” has to do with a person’s cognitive reflections, expectations, ideals, and acceptance of what you cannot change”.
40% of our capacity for happiness is within our power to change.
— Sonja Lyubomirsky, University of CA, Riverside
Most striking is Diener and Oishi’s finding that the unique habits of those that are happiest in life point toward engagement in activities that lead people to feel uncertain, discomforted, and even guilty! “Happy people, it seems, engage in a wide range of counterintuitive habits that seem, well, downright unhappy.”
“Truly happy people seem to have an intuitive grasp of the fact that sustained happiness is not just about doing things that you like. It also requires growth and adventuring beyond the boundaries of your comfort zone. Happy people are, simply put, curious”.
Happy people tend not to view being uncomfortable and vulnerable as the end of the world. Instead, they see such feelings as temporary and a sure-fire way to becoming stronger and wiser. “Curious people, it seems, invest in activities that cause them discomfort as a springboard to higher psychological peaks”. (Based on a 2007 study by Todd B. Kashdan, George Mason University and Michael Stegger, Colorado State Psychologist).
I have always thought that teenage boys are some of the happiest people on the planet. Now I know why! Your chances of being happy are greater when you are somewhat “out of it”!
Happy people tend not to pick apart other people and situations. They are less skeptical than their more unhappy counterparts. The most bliss-filled among us tend, also, to be uncritically open toward strangers and may even appear naïve. (Based on a study led by Joseph Forgas (University of New South Wales)).
Happy folks are less likely to be analytical and detail-oriented. Depressed people, however, are more likely to reflect on and process (over and over again) their experiences – for which they pay a big emotional price. (Paul Andrews, Virginia Commonwealth University).
At school, work, and in relationships, too, the happiest among us, say Oishi and Diener, are not the A students, the best performers on the job, or the individuals who strive for smooth sailing in their relationships. Strict expectations of ourselves or others do not, apparently, bode well for a happy state of being.
“Sweating the details seems to be a job for the miserable . . . and they better get to it . . . because all of the happy people already went home!”
Be a Cheerleader
The happiest people among us are the ones who are present when things go right (not just wrong) for others. This is because we are actually buoyed by others’ good fortunes. After all, don’t we all know that two positives make a positive?
“When romantic partners fail to make a big deal out of each other’s success, the couple is more likely to break up. On the flipside, when partners celebrate each other’s accomplishments, they’re more likely to be satisfied and committed to their relationships, enjoying greater love and happiness”.
— Shelly Gable, University of California, Santa Barbara
Feelings as Radar
The most psychologically healthy people recognize that “emotions serve as excellent feedback – an internal radar system providing information about what’s happening (and about to happen) in our social world”. (Kashdan and Biswas-Diener) Hiding from negative emotions is not where it’s at, in terms of attaining and sustaining a sense of well-being. Instead, acknowledging emotions and being able to intuitively utilize that information to better your situation (as opposed to allowing those same emotions to exhaust you), and balancing your emotional reaction, depending on the circumstances, is what will put you on the fast track to developing positive happiness habits.
Happy people tend to be pretty thick-skinned. Though some people are born this way, even the thin-skinned among us can learn to toughen up a bit. The authors of this article suggest that those of us with thin skin should practice simply tolerating an emotionally challenging feeling for a little bit. No judgment. No acting out. No numbing. No ramping up. Just deal with it. Over time, your ability to withstand day-to-day negative emotions will expand and, since you cannot avoid them, your “skin will thicken” and you will have the emotional energy to shift it to the positive!
Balancing Pleasure with Purpose
People who are happiest, says Steger, tend to be “superior at sacrificing short-term pleasures when there is a good opportunity to make progress toward what they aspire to become in life”.
Further, making advances toward achievement of our goals causes us to feel more engaged while, at the same time, helps us tolerate any negative emotions that arise on the journey. (Richard Davidson, University of Wisconsin, Madison).
Happiness is not a goal…it’s a by-product of a life well lived.
– Eleanor Roosevelt
Posted by Elizabeth Revell, Mediation Assistant and Robin Graine, JD, Virginia Supreme Court Certified Mediator
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What Happy People Do Differently | Fairfax VA Divorce Mediator