09/12 2013

Oh Happy Day: What’s Making You Unhappy and How to Fix It

Happiness is a hot topic these days.

It was the headliner on a Dr. Oz show a few weeks ago. Time Magazine featured the “Pursuit of Happiness” in its summer double issue. “What Happy People Do Differently” was the July cover of Psychology Today. My friend Tim Jones just wrote about happiness in his humor blog, View from the Bleachers.

Is it a happy coincidence that my book club recently selected Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project as our choice of the month (or two months, as the frequency of our group dictates)? Though our eclectic group of women didn’t actually enjoy the book, the complete antithesis to our objective in reading it in the first place, The Happiness Project did prompt intriguing conversation and contemplation.

According to a recent Harris Poll, only one in three Americans is happy today. While people, generally speaking, have more confidence in our economy, happiness is not bouncing back to pre-recession levels.

What makes us unhappy?

According to Planet Green, unhappy people have a number of things in common, from hating their jobs to constantly worrying about money. They may not like where they live or even like themselves. They may be lonely and don’t have pets to compensate.

Are people born happy?

It turns out that genetics plays a role in our happiness – about 50% in fact. Each of us is born with a predetermined ‘set point,’ according to US News and World Report. Life circumstances, such as wealth, health, marital status and appearance, only influence about 10% of our happiness and well-being. The remaining 40% can be controlled by how we think and behave.

So how do we get happier?

According to the USA Today: “The happiest people spend the least time alone. They pursue personal growth and intimacy; they judge themselves by their own yardsticks, never against what others do or have.” Oh and being grateful helps, too.

In How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky suggests that activities and actions which help some people become happier may not achieve the same effect for others. For example, a morning jog or gratitude journal might work wonders for many, but do little to improve the disposition of everyone else.

A few happy tips

My book club consists of ladies ranging in age from 34 to 50. Some are married; others single. A few are divorced. Most, not all, have children. Our varying backgrounds spawned unique perspectives on how to seek and find a happier self.

Make more money. Like many, our group was conflicted over the issue of money. Though having lots of it doesn’t guarantee bliss, worrying over lack of it certainly causes stress. Interestingly, the widely accepted Easterlin paradox, suggesting that economic growth does not lead to happiness, has recently been questioned. New studies have shown that extra income can increase happiness in a wealthy country.

Go with the flow. And know that happiness ebbs and flows in our lives, over time, especially when dealing with with ex-partners, financial stress, marital woes and loneliness. There’s comfort in knowing these life circumstances, while monumental at the time, only make up for 10% of our long-term prospect of being happy.

Socialize less online. One of my book club friends confessed that Facebook was depressing at times, in part because posts are usually celebratory in nature. After all, who is anxious to share a bad hair day, a family conflict or a demotion at work? According to NPR, a recent research study by the University of Michigan showed that college-aged adults using Facebook led to declines in moment-to-moment happiness and overall life satisfaction. Like our small sample, it is believed that social comparison made the subjects feel more glum.

Get “real” friend time. Gretchen Rubin supports this notion in her book, as do many other experts on good health and happiness. Talking to your friends – in person or on the phone – is proven to improve your mood and make life more enjoyable. Whenever I leave a book club meeting, I have a skip to my step, regardless of book quality – thanks to the lovely women who brighten my spirits.

Meditate. Studies have shown that meditation can physically change the brain, increasing happiness and reducing stress. Meditation is also a useful tool to improve present moment awareness. Like acceptance, forgiveness and gratitude, living in the present moment can help you become happier with what is, rather than waiting for what might never be. It can also help you discover your authentic self – so you can find joy from within.

 

Related articles:

 

Time Poll: What Makes Americans Happy

MSNBC: How Happy Are Americans Really?

Oprah: Ten Ways to Find Happiness

Oprah: Find True Happiness

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