The Keys to Happiness, and Why We Don't Use Them
Lloyd, Special to LiveScience
posted: 27 February 2006 08:55
"It requires some
effort to achieve a happy outlook on life, and most people don't make it."
Psychologists have recently
handed the keys to happiness to the public, but many people cling to gloomy
ways out of habit, experts say.
Polls show Americans are no
happier today than they were 50 years ago despite significant increases in
prosperity, decreases in crime, cleaner air, larger living quarters and a
better overall quality of life.
So what gives?
Happiness is 50 percent
genetic, says University of Minnesota researcher David Lykken. What you do with
the other half of the challenge depends largely on determination, psychologists agree. As Abraham Lincoln once
said, "Most people are as happy as they make up their minds to be."
What works, and what doesn't
Happiness does not come via
prescription drugs, although 10 percent of women 18 and older and 4 percent of
men take antidepressants, according to the Department of Health and Human
Services. Anti-depressants benefit those with mental illness but are no
happiness guarantee, researchers say.
Nor will money or prosperity buy happiness for many of us. Money that lifts
people out of poverty increases happiness, but after that, the better paychecks
stop paying off sense-of-well-being dividends, research shows.
One route to more happiness is
called "flow," an engrossing state that comes during creative or
playful activity, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has found. Athletes,
musicians, writers, gamers, and religious adherents know the feeling. It comes
less from what you're doing than from how you do it.
Lyubomirsky of the University of California at Riverside has discovered that
the road toward a more satisfying and meaningful life involves a recipe
repeated in schools, churches and synagogues. Make lists of things for which
you're grateful in your life, practice random acts of kindness, forgive your
enemies, notice life's small pleasures, take care of your health, practice positive thinking, and invest time and energy into
friendships and family.
The happiest people have strong friendships, says Ed Diener, a psychologist
University of Illinois. Interestingly his research finds that most people are
slightly to moderately happy, not unhappy.
On your own
Some Americans are reluctant to
make these changes and remain unmotivated even though our freedom to pursue
happiness is written into the preamble of the Declaration of Independence.
Don't count on the government,
for now, Easterbrook says.
Our economy lacks the
robustness to sustain policy changes that would bring about more happiness,
like reorienting cities to minimize commute times.
The onus is on us.
"There are selfish reasons
to behave in altruistic ways," says Gregg Easterbrook, author of "The
Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse" (Random
"Research shows that
people who are grateful, optimistic and forgiving have better experiences with their
lives, more happiness, fewer strokes, and higher incomes," according to
Easterbrook. "If it makes world a better place at same time, this is a
Diener has collected specific
details on this. People who positively evaluate their well-being on average
have stronger immune systems, are better citizens at work, earn more income,
have better marriages, are more sociable, and cope better with difficulties.
Unhappy by default
Lethargy holds many people back
from doing the things that lead to happiness.
Easterbrook, also a Visiting
Fellow at the Brookings Institute, goes back to Freud, who theorized that
unhappiness is a default condition because it takes less effort to be unhappy
than to be happy.
"If you are looking for
something to complain about, you are absolutely certain to find it,"
Easterbrook told LiveScience. "It requires some effort to achieve a
happy outlook on life, and most people don't make it. Most people take the path
of least resistance. Far too many people today don't make the steps to make
their life more fulfilling one."
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