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I’ve translated researcher LeBlanc’s research consolidation on ‘what happy people have in common’ into a universal formula for us all on how to be happy.
Throughout time, wise men like Socrates have offered advice on how to be happy. “Only now are scientists beginning to address this question with systematic, controlled research.” says writer and neuro-scientist Gabrielle LeBlanc, in ‘Five Things Happy People Do’. LeBlanc offers a selection of research on happiness. The research she is talking about at o rah.com confirms age-old wisdom: ‘do what you love’ and ‘be true to yourself’. It also provides some fresh insights.
Here is my ‘translation’:
5 HABITS OF HAPPY PEOPLE
1. FIND YOUR MOST ‘GOLDEN’ TRUE SELF.
Passive, pleasure-oriented (hedonic) contentment is a part of overall happiness, but the (eudaimonic) joy from active striving toward excellence, based on your own unique talents and potential, is the more important part in the equation.
Aristotle considered such pursuit as the noblest goal in life. In his time, the highest expression of a child’s true nature was considered the ‘golden’ self, which would be revealed by cracking his outer layer of clay through striving for personal growth. This means that when you continually tackle new challenges and fulfill your sense of purpose in life, you realize true happiness.
- Research findings to proof this:
- “Eudaimonic well-being is much more robust and satisfying than hedonic happiness, and it engages different parts of the brain,” says Richard J. Davidson, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “The positive emotion accompanying thoughts that are directed toward meaningful goals is one of the most enduring components of well-being.”
- Eudaimonia is also good for the body. Women who were purposefully engaged in life & who pursued self-development, weighed less, slept better, and had fewer stress hormones and markers for heart disease than others—including those reporting hedonic happiness— according to a study led by Carol Ryff, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
2 DESIGN YOUR LIFE TO BRING IN JOY
While obvious, “people don’t devote enough time to thinking seriously about how they spend their life and how much of it they actually enjoy,” says David Schkade, PhD, a psychologist and professor of management at the University of California San Diego.
In a recent study, he asked 900+ working women to write down what they’d done the day before. Respondents reviewed their diaries and evaluated how they felt at each point. Doing this kind of self-examination may require you to revisit long-held believes and habits. However, it will make you realize that happiness is something you can design and have control over.
A new and interesting finding of Schkade’s research is that ‘if you transfer even an hour of your day from an activity you hate (commuting, scrubbing the bathroom) to one you like (reading, spending time with friends), you should see a significant improvement in your overall happiness.’. ‘Taking action is key.’
Another study from the University of Missouri complements this. It shows that deliberate changes results in lasting happiness, whereas the fortunate events that just happen only creates a temporary happiness.
3. GIVE ‘IF ONLY’ FANTASIES OF HAPPINESS A PASS.
People are surprisingly bad at predicting what will make them happy, the latest research shows. Conditional thinking (‘If only …, then I’ll be happy’) does not produce lasting happiness. Unfortunately, through hedonic adaption, your brain naturally dims your conditional happiness once the condition has been met for a while. A year after you have reached your ‘if only’ condition, you may not ever remember this condition. In short, conditional happiness won’t give you lasting pleasure.
What to do instead? Renew yourself, learn and grow. Happy people are in a constant state of renewal. Learning new things can range from trying completely new things to simply adopting new approaches. That refreshing renewed individual could be you.
4. SPEND TIME WITH YOUR BEST FRIENDS
Simple companionship with best friends is also an important contributor to happiness. ‘You get more joy from spending longer periods of time with a close friend than with acquaintances’ concludes the research by Meliksah Demir, PhD, of the Northern Arizona University.
5. ALLOW YOURSELF TO BE HAPPY.
Whether sourced from culture or religion, many people feel guilty when happy and having fun. This is however misguided, as happiness and compassion seem to go hand in hand.
Happy people tend to be more helpful to others, research shows according to LeBlanc, and they make better partners and parents. By being happy yourself you are opening yourself up to help others less fortunate int he world, according to Howard Cutler, MD, coauthor with the Dalai Lama of The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World. “The Dalai Lama believes you should pursue both simultaneously”: your own and others’ happiness and well-being.
As research also indicates that happiness makes you live up to 10 years longer, no matter how you look at it, it’s worth it to adopt these 5 good habits of happy people. You will see more sunshine in your life, and the world will be a better place for it.
By Astrid Lee