Happiness: no matter your age, where you are, or where you are from, most everyone wants to enjoy their family, friends and things you do. It’s slippery to attempt to define happiness; it’s such a wide range of variables and is not the same for everyone, but in general terms, happiness is usually characterized by a pleasant, positive state of mind, emotions, or life.
It is often considered to be fundamental to human nature and a means of quantifying life’s enjoyment. Understanding and defining happiness is often attempted by psychologists, social scientists, psychiatrists, philosophers, spiritual and religious people, medical personnel, economists, ethicists, and a variety of others, including the musings of authors and poets. Because it is subjective, there remains a range of views as to what makes people happy or improves happiness levels, both short or long term.
Some consider happiness “just a feeling,” but happiness doesn’t just magically happen, nor does it mean that everything always go smoothly or that you won’t have hard times, or that you may not experience enjoyable and difficult things all in the same day. The goal is to make a conscious decision and, if needed, to adjust attitudes sufficiently, to be happy, in as many areas and ways as possible, every day, and to not put others in charge of your happiness, nor allow them to take it away.
Upsets happen to everyone, but it’s possible to feel angry or sad or concerned without always letting it ruin the entire day. In fact, researchers report that people who claim to be happy have about the same amount of upsets in life as people who report being unhappy: it’s the “not what happens but what you do with what happens” thing. We know happier people experience definite benefits. Most obviously, of course, is that being happy simply feels better than being unhappy. It releases “happy chemicals” in your brain, which increases brain function and ability to problem solve; improves overall heath and ability to heal or fight off illness; makes people feel calmer, easier to be nice or helpful to others, to be friendly, to take yourself less seriously, and you give off a different energy vibe. This, in turn, is more likely to draw happier people to you, and the cycle continues. Happiness generates more happiness.
Yet it sometimes may take more than just choosing to be happy to create happiness. Dispositions and attitudes, as with other individual traits, are a prod- uct of our inherited genetic makeup as our base line, which some say makes up about 50 percent how we view things, making some more naturally inclined to seek happiness to greater or lesser degrees. But environment also contributes to these traits, and that leaves about another 50 percent subject to individual influences: thought processes, choices, perspective, people, job, conflicts, hobbies, spiritual connections, the ability to feel they are the right things for you, feel good about them, feel happy and show it. External stimuli, such as being surrounded with either negative or positive people, places, events, sometimes sway a person one way or another. Being happy is a natural human tendency, but all too often, we let other stuff get in our way, and can feel defeated, at least temporarily, by what may be seen as obstacles.
Multiple studies on science of happiness have focused not merely on interviews of what people report as being happy or unhappy, but now includes researching how the brain works neurologically, and proving that different parts of the brain function differently when happy or not. There are a lot of ways to enhance one’s happiness, and while people achieve happiness differently and experience it differently, we can begin to learn, or be reminded again, by the encouraging and practical results of these studies of traits happiest people have in common.
Happy people are mindful of their personal responsibility to choose their attitude toward things, and are more op- timistic and look for the positive in situations: they find happiness right where they are. They do not fall for the popular myth that they’ll be happier one day “if” or “when” other things happen, nor do they merely convince themselves things are fine. Day to-day, they make choices, develop habits, and take actions that make them happy. They are at peace with things around them, and know “little things”, in the moment, are often more important than making “big” changes, such as where they live or money earned. They nurture relationships, make them a high priority, and have a strong support network of family and friends. At the same time, they know themselves and are comfortable being alone without being lonely. Problems are recognized and kept in perspective, viewed as specific, and often are solved creatively. They understand nothing is permanent, not even mistakes, troubles, or problems, and that life may not go according to plan: setbacks are viewed as temporary, a fact of life for everyone, and a learning experience. They keep moving forward, recognizing and acting on opportunities, confident about their ability to overcome obstacles and create a better personal future. They willingly help others when they can, and accept help from others as needed.
Next month we’ll explore more of the traits, choices and actions of the happiest people, but until then how can you boost your happiness quotient? How good, and consistent, are you willing to make it? What is your definition of happiness? How do you measure it and accomplish it? Are you as happy as you want to be? What makes you happy?