Happiness is a subjective experience and is considered by many as an intangible art. It has been widely studied by scholars and other mental health professionals, and has been found to be a dynamic state; even the happiest people feel sad sometimes, and the bluest people experience joyful moments.
Researchers tell us that laughing is good for both our physical and emotional health:
- Laughter causes our bodies to release neuro-chemical compounds that helps elevate our mood and relieve stress.
- Laughter strengthens our immune systems by emptying our lungs and bringing in more oxygen into our bodies – much like having a magical hand massaging our organs.
Happy people are also more superior in the following aspects:
- They are more creative and optimistic.
- They are more motivated and learn faster than others.
- They function better in a team.
- They worry less about making mistakes and as a result, make fewer mistakes.
What makes people happy?
High IQ? A good education? Good weather? Neither of these seemingly favourable circumstances really lifts one’s spirit. On the same note, studies tell us that neither additional income nor wealth boosts happiness.
If you want to achieve happiness by changing the external circumstances of your life, the following research findings could serve as your guidelines:
- Avoid negative events that bring about negative emotions
- Surround yourself with people who are generally positive and happy, and build strong social networks
- Build close bonds with your family members
Three components of happiness
Positive Psychology, a relatively new psychological approach initiated by Martin Seligman, brings new insights to authentic happiness. Three components of happiness are identified: Pleasure, Engagement, and Meaning.
Level 1: Pleasure
The first level of happiness is pleasure; some examples include sports, watching comedies, shopping, and having delicious meals. These activities are shortcuts to happiness, but we should also be aware that excessive repetition may result in desensitization and diminishing returns. People tend to expect or demand more intense pleasure in a never-ending hedonistic spiral, and eventually these activities fail to rouse the excitement. This notwithstanding, there are some knacks to longer-lasting pleasure:
- Identify an optimal period of time undertaking a pleasurable activity. Following a time-table and ensuring a reasonable interval in between each event can help retain the level of excitement.
- Reinforce positive experiences of the activity by sharing with others, taking photographs, or buying souvenirs.
- Celebrate the fact that you have an opportunity to enjoy, instead of lamenting the time spent on the activity
Level 2: Engagement
The second level of happiness is engagement. Being fully engaged and immersed in a particular activity brings gratification. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychology professor at the University of Chicago who is devoted to finding the cause(s) of true happiness and satisfaction, describes that moment of keen focus as “flow”. From that perspective, gratification may stem from a deep involvement with family, work, romance, and hobbies (such as rock climbing, painting, reading a stimulating book, working on a challenging project, teaching a child the alphabet, etc). The main psychological ingredients of flow are:
- Focus on a clearly-defined goal.
- Involvement, concentration and absorption in the doing.
- Immediate feedback as to how well we did.
- Full utilization of skills in matching the challenge.
Gratification is a deeper experience than pleasure. Pleasures are momentary, sensual or emotional delights brought by relaxation and entertainment, while gratifications come from the active engagement in doing a specific task that stretches our mental and physical capabilities. We are the consumers in enjoying pleasures, but we become the investors and builders for psychological capital in engaging.
Level 3: Meaning
Meaning is the highest level of happiness. To pursue a meaningful life means that you are using your personal strengths to serve a greater good. Strengths are not necessarily talents; they can be moral and trainable traits like courage, love, knowledge and justice. To make your life more valuable and colorful, pay attention to the needs of people around you and serve beyond the self.
Many people build happiness upon pleasures, but the effective building of perpetual and authentic happiness goes in the reverse direction.
Other Tips for Creating Personal Happiness
- Count your blessings. Write a “gratitude journal” and list things and events that you are thankful for.
- Learn to forgive. Let go of your anger and hurtful feelings; shift the focus to enjoying the present.
- Stay healthy. Have a well-balanced diet and exercise regularly.
- Enhance your skills in coping with stress and build resilience. Books, seminars and life coaching can help you acquire knowledge and skills, but your commitment to do so is the key for change.
There is no set rule or formula in creating happiness: you are the expert on this subjective experience. If you are experiencing challenges that are preventing you from creating personal happiness, contact your work life coach who can help you gain insight and new perspectives. Reach out to us www.healtheminds.com