Is everybody happy?

Is everybody happy? No. Can everyone be happy? The science of positive psychology says we can be - with some effort. Read how. Photo: Luca Nisalli (Flickr)

WASHINGTON, March 5, 2013 ― “Happiness depends more on the inward disposition of mind than outward circumstance” ― Benjamin Franklin

Ask anyone what they want from life and they trumpet; “To be happy.” Is everybody happy or happily ever after? Not by a longshot.

With the divorce rate hovering around half the marriage rate, and with suicide being the third-leading cause of death for people 14-25, it might seem there’s something grim in the water. But the water’s fine; Franklin had it right.

According the American Journal of Psychology, happiness can be measured in the same manner as depression, with identifiable sources and causes. Current studies from the University of Pennsylvania reveal a fascinating statistic: Up to 50 percent of our happiness is genetically influenced, 40 percent self-influenced, and a mere 10 percent influenced by our finances and jobs.

Personal happiness is such a compelling topic that Harvard University reports an elective course titled “How to be Happy,” taught by Tal Ben-Sharar, author of several internationally best-selling books on happiness, has a waiting list of over 1,000 students looking for help pining down this elusive emotion. 1,400 students are enrolled in any given semester. This class is based in a relatively new field called positive psychology, which focuses on strengths, means and ways to become happy or happier and emphasizes personal growth via positivity.

The field of positive psychology, modernized by ex-president of the American Psychological Association (APA) Dr. Martin Seligman, is a powerful scientific approach to fostering joy. It promotes inner strengths, increase pleasure or flow, nurture folks to flourish, and create enduring mindfulness, values and talents. Additionally, the statistics demand attention; we can all live lifes of chronic, buoyant happiness beyond the ephemeral smiley moments of passing pleasures. Yes, we can be happy despite our turmoil.

For some, happiness is simply having something to do, things to look forward to, to love and be loved. For others, happiness is as elusive as catching the wind. No matter – either way, the question is, “where do we start?”

We start with baby steps. Smile! The Journal of Psychological Science reports the simple act of smiling, even if we are angry as hornets, will reduce blood pressure and heart rate, thus offsetting stress and the old standby of fight or flight within our minds. Of course, this is more than difficult when your jaw is clenched in anger. Conversely, research shows a frown has the opposite affect, suggesting a meaningful connective physiological phenomenon.

Another baby step that is proven successful is to write down the five things in your life that bring you the most happiness and or gratitude then post it somewhere you can see it first thing in the morning. This daily early reminder will start you off with positive emotion and thought. Be certain to pause and smile at this list every time you see it. Seek to visualize this list every time you feel angry or stressed out.

Subsequent columns will strive to help you enhance levels of personal happiness from many perspectives. Meanwhile, know that based on research, happiness stems from our thoughts and emotions which create feelings that dictate behavior and consequently, represent our character. Be mindful, Greek philosopher Heraclitus proclaimed, “Character is destiny.”

Stay tuned as we venture into the world of positive psychology, then buckle up as we obtain the emotional tools and coping skills that can propel us to a happier lifestyle with less stress and anxiety to promote growth via self-confidence and relative bliss obtained from all positive psychology has to offer.

Aristotle decared, “Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life; the whole aim and end of human existence.” He too, had it right.


Paul Mountjoy is a Virginia based writer and a member of the American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science.











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