Recipe for Happiness?

Psychologists have been taking a growing interest in measuring happiness over the last decade. In retrospect, this seems to be a no brainer, but it is a fairly new approach for professionals who were historically more accustomed to focusing on life’s problems in order to help people thrive.

Happiness is a subjective emotion involving sensations like pleasure and satisfaction, contentment, serenity, comfort, meaningfulness, optimism and hope. We do not yet know what causes it, but research has discovered that there are a number of things that are highly correlated with happiness.

One thing we have discovered is that happier people live longer. We have also discovered people with supportive relationships such as a spouse, friendships and family tend to be happier. Another important element is having meaning in life and goals to pursue.

We have also discovered what is not highly correlated with happiness – wealth. As long as basic needs like food, water, shelter and safety are met, more money does not appear to equal more happiness. This has long been the lore, but now we have data to back it up.

Fortunately, research has discovered that happiness can be increased and is not purely bound by our personalities or genetics. University of California, Riverside, psychology professor Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD used the analogy of a successful diet. It takes focused effort and commitment to a lifestyle change to create sustainable happiness (Monitor on Psychology, April 2008, Volume 39, No. 4).

So what are some of the likely elements of a “happiness diet”?

  • Gratitude – being thankful for what you have
  • Altruism and kindness – helping others
  • Forgiveness – letting go of anger and blame
  • Optimism – focusing on the positive and fostering hope
  • Love & affiliation – have a loving partner, friends and/or family
  • Esteem – not comparing yourself to others
  • Self-actualization – setting reasonable goals and pursuing your potential
  • Finding meaning – discovering what motivates and inspires you, exploring your faith
Dr. Martin Seligman’s Authentic Happiness Website offers scientifically studied questionnaires measuring life satisfaction, love, personal strengths and happiness. A mental health professional or life coach may be helpful in assisting individuals toward their happiness goals. You can find mental health professionals in your area through online therapist locators such as those hosted by the American Psychological Association, Psychology Today, Network Therapy and GoodTherapy.

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