The Secret to Happiness

Have you heard? The Economic of Happiness reports Americans are half as happy now as they were in 1950. How can this be? A story on NPR about the history of electricity suggests a correlation between energy usage and the decline of personal satisfaction and happiness. Another news story told listeners that the average person has 1.5 close friends today compared to 3 just 30 years ago. Since the 1970s, the usage of anti-depressants has more than tripled.  Seriously? We use more prescriptions drugs and have less friends? What about my 462 Facebook friends? Do you wonder which of them I consider close? None. My father, husband, and daughter are my “closest” friends and they are not even on Facebook.

I recently learned the four requirements to living a long and healty life are:

1. Physical Activity
2. Mental Stimulation
3. Social Interaction
4. Civic Engagement

Many studies show isolation and loneliness contribute to an increase in depression, dementia, heart disease, and other illnesses. People who are isolated and lonely, are less likely to be physically active, mentally stimulated, or involved in their communities.

Happiness is important to achieving a higher quality of life. People who are not happy are missing something important and they know it deep down inside. They are missing that one thing. If they just had that one thing, they would be happy. But what is that one thing? More money? Healthier food? Warmer weather? Nicer children? A more loving husband?

For more info on discovering what’s missing in your life, read Dr. Harry R. Moody’s Five Stages of the Soul.

How to measure happiness? 

In the How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky defines happiness as “contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.” She uses a tool called the Subjective Happiness Scale.

The Oxford Happiness Inventory defines happiness as a stable and enduring trait, as opposed to a moment to moment sensation. In June, Chris Cook of Capiche presented on psychological capital at Southern Oregon University. She said happiness is 50% genetics and 10% in the moment “bursts” of elation. The other 40% is up to the individual. It is controllable. It is a choice.

The Happy Planet Index reports Costa Rica is the place to be. How is HPI calculated?

Happy Planet Index

Nic Marks, statistician, says the use of planet resources impacts well-being. Costa Rica uses less natural resources. They abolished the army and invest in social programs. Costa Ricans have the highest literacy rate and live longer than any other nationality. The other thing Costa Ricans have is a Latin culture that values community and togetherness. They live together, eat together, play together, and enjoy life together.

I remember being happier when my daughter lived at home, when I had friends who lived down the street, and when I had a job that enabled me to eat lunch with my co-workers. Just last week, I went to a live performance for the first time since the recession began. I felt elated sitting there with 10,000 other people watching Cirque du Soleil perform Dralion. It made me remember back to the days when I made it a priority to get out of the house and experience the world around me. But during the last few years I made up an excuse: I don’t have the money to frivolously spend on entertainment. I kept saying to myself, when I get a new job, when I make more money, I can reward myself with these pleasures. Ironically, when I look back, I never had the money before the recession to spend frivolously, but somehow I always managed to get out of the house.

Cirque du Soleil DralionSeveral studies prove there is very little correlation between income and happiness and wealth and happiness. American psychologist Barry Schwartz says the secret to happiness is lowering your expectations. I’ve tried this. It doesn’t work. People around you think you lack excitement. They think you lack motivation and aspiration. Even when you lower your expectations, something inside tells you what you really want and you work hard to suppress it, making yourself even more miserable.

Dan Gilbert, a Harvard psychologist, says to achieve happiness you must accrue wealth, power, and prestige then lose it, spend life in prison and get released, make someone else really rich, and never join a successful rock band. This humor leads him to the conclusion that the freedom to make choices increases our perception of achieved happiness.

We don’t need to condemn ourselves to an unhappy life, no matter how much hardship and struggle we have experienced. We just need to find like minded people and enjoy their company. It’s really a simple thing that takes so much courage and determination. It is not easy to fit in. It takes finding the right group of people who have the same goals as you.

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