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Monday, January 3, 2011

Life: The How of Happiness

Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky

Is It Possible to Become Happier?
Different cultures have different beliefs about the importance of happiness. People in some cultures, like Russia, are less likely to believe that happiness is a reasonable, desirable, or attainable goal to pursue.

Most of us aren't flourishing. Nationally representative samples of U.S. adults indicate that slightly more than half of us (54%) are "moderately mentally healthy yet not flourishing - that is, we lack great enthusiasm for life and are not actively and productively engaged with the world.

Studies show that 50% of individual differences in happiness are determined by genes, 10% by life circumstances, and 40% by our intentional activities.

Rich people aren't as happy as we'd expect. The richest Americans, those earning more than 10 million dollars annually, report levels of personal happiness only slightly greater than the office staffs and blue-collar workers they employ.

Marriage doesn't make us as happy as we think. Although married people are happier than single ones, the effect of marriage on personal happiness is actually quite small; for example, in 16 countries, 25% of married people and 21% of singles described themselves as "very happy."

 Happy people accrue more money. One example of such a "happiness benefit" is that those who are happy as college freshmen have higher salaries 16 years later (when they are in their mid-30s) without an initial wealth advantage.
How Happy Are You and Why?
 Money brings problems to the very rich. In a study of 792 well-off adults, more than half reported that wealth didn't bring them more happiness, and a third of those with assets greater than $10 million said that money bought more problems than it solved.

Happy people think they're better looking than they are. Happier people rate themselves as more attractive than do their less happy peers, but objective judges cannot tell the difference.
Practicing Gratitude and Positive Thinking
 In the days after 9/11, gratitude and sympathy were the most common emotions. In the days immediately after September 11, 2001, gratitude was found to be the second most commonly experienced emotion (after sympathy).

Overthinking (i.e., rumination) ushers in a host of adverse consequences: It sustains or worsens sadness, fosters negatively-biased thinking, impairs a person's ability to solve problems, saps motivation, and interferes with concentration and initiative.

Happy people care less about others' successes. Happy people are less affected by unfavorable social comparisons (e.g., observing a peer who is worse off) than unhappy ones.
Investing in Social Connections
Satisfied and stable couples are relatively more likely to idealize each other.

 Hugs make people happier. Students at Penn State who were instructed to give or receive a minimum of five hugs per day over the course of four weeks and to record the details became much happier. Students who merely recorded their reading activity showed no changes.
Living in the Present
 Reminiscing benefits older people. The more time older adults spend reminiscing, the more positive affect and higher morale they report.

The practice of repetitively replaying your happiest life events serves to prolong and reinforce positive emotions and make you happier, whereas systematically analyzing your happiest life events has the reverse effect.

People high in mindfulness - that is, those who are prone to be mindfully attentive to the here and now and keenly aware of their surroundings - are models of flourishing and positive mental health.

 Studies have shown that nostalgic experiences spawn positive feelings, reinforce our sense of being loved and protected, and even boost our self-esteem.
Taking Care of Your Body and Your Soul
Religious people are happier, healthier, and cope better with trauma.

 Half of us feel worse, not better, when we exercise. In one study, participants were asked to cycle at 60% of their maximum heart rate. Over the course of 30 minutes, half the participants reported feeling progressively better, and half claimed to feel progressively worse.

 Botox lifts hard-core depression. Ten clinically depressed women whose depressions had not responded to treatment by either drugs or psychotherapy were administered Botox to their frown lines. Two months later, 9 out of the 10 participants were no longer depressed, and the tenth had much improved.
The Hows Behind Sustainable Happiness
 Friends triple our chances for keeping weight off. Participants undertook a 4-month-long weight loss program involving diet, exercise, and behavioral changes. Of those who embarked on the program alone, 76% completed it and 24% maintained their weight losses in full for an entire 6 months. In contrast, of those who engaged in the weight loss program with three acquaintances, friends, or family members, 95% completed it and 66% maintained their weight losses in full.

It's maladaptive to be too happy.

Contrary to popular belief, most people who repeatedly try to kick habits are successful. Schachter found a 63% success rate for self-cure of smoking and obesity, and Klem et al. found that 43% of people who had kept off 30 pounds for at least 5 years reported that maintaining the weight was easier than losing it. 

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