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Strategies for "Growing" Happiness

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In the past, little research has been conducted to discover what makes people happier. That's because this has long been considered an impossible quest. For many years, the prevailing theory was that individuals have a genetically determined happiness set point. In other words, scientists believed that each person could temporarily experience more happiness (depending on circumstances, relationships, and life events), but would then slide back to his or her "pre-programmed" level of happiness. In fact, just two decades ago, one researcher was quoted as saying, "It may be that trying to be happier is as futile as trying to be taller."

In contrast, more recent research in the field of Positive Psychology indicates that people can become happier and that the change can be long-term. For example, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D. (University of California) wrote: "My colleagues and I believe that sustainable increases in happiness are possible through the execution of intentional cognitive, motivational, and behavioral activities that are feasible to deploy, but require daily and concerted effort and commitment."

Lyubomirsky received a grant from the National Institute of Health to identify specific ways individuals can sustain higher levels of happiness, and found these four strategies to be highly effective:

  1. Expressing gratitude (i.e., keeping a journal in which one "counts one's blessings")
  2. Practicing optimism (i.e., visualizing the best possible future for oneself)
  3. Engaging in positive thinking about oneself (i.e., reflecting, writing, and talking about one's happiest life events)
  4. Practicing altruism and kindness (i.e., routinely committing acts of kindness)

Another approach is being explored by Martin Seligman, Ph.D. and his group of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania. Study participants discover their personal strengths through a specialized questionnaire. Then they are instructed to apply one or more of their top five strengths in a new way every day. Those who followed this regimen reported an increase in happiness and a decrease in symptoms of depression.

Therefore, the crux of the matter is this: "growing" happiness requires intention and diligence. The real question boils down to, "Is happiness worth the effort?" Is there more to happiness than just feeling good

The answer is a resounding, "YES!" A review of recent research indicates that happiness is correlated to these five positive attributes:

  1. Greater productivity and higher quality of work
  2. More satisfying and longer marriages
  3. More friends and richer social interactions
  4. More energy and better physical health
  5. Longer lives

The findings of happiness research also suggest that happy individuals are more creative, helpful, charitable, and self-confident.

In light of the many benefits of happiness, we cannot overlook our role and responsibility in creating the level of happiness we desire. In an interview, Ed Diener, Ph.D., psychologist and happiness researcher, provided this sage advice:

Happiness is the process, not the place. So many of us think that when we get everything just right, and obtain certain goals and circumstances, everything will be in place and we will be happy…. But once we get everything in place, we still need new goals and activities.

Reprinted by permission of Money Quotient, Inc.