reading on happiness
- various authors
Martin Seligman`s school has identified 24 character strengths that we can develop to guide us to happiness in our lives. Their study of over 5,000 men and women revealed four core traits that were most important. They called these "heart strengths”:
the ability to love and be loved.
Put simply: "Relationships with other people are what makes us the happiest."
Seligman said there are three roads to happiness and that most happy people travel all three paths.
I tell my clients: “You can take charge of being happy.” You, too, can learn and exercise your abilities to become a happy person.
: Forging Happiness
Happiness is the sum of the 12 most important qualities of happiness:
a sense of freedom,
proactivity (forging your own happiness, not waiting for it to happen to you),
These are the things you should make up your mind to achieve.
Achieving these qualities is tough. But that's the point. You wouldn't expect to become physically fit by just deciding, right? Happiness is hard work. Fortunately, most of the 12 major qualities of happiness are intrinsically pleasant, and most of the happiness tools that help generate these elements are innately satisfying.
For example, one of the simplest and most effective things you can do to lift your mood is to simply keep a pleasant expression on your face. This was proven in a study in which half the subjects were asked to hold pens in their teeth, which made their expressions approximate a smile, while the others held pens in their lips, which created pouts. Both groups were told a series of jokes. The group with the pens in their teeth rated the jokes as funnier. Now you know the key to happiness: Hold a pen in your teeth!
Better yet, use the happiness tools. Learn the happiness tools. They can change your life. They've worked for others. Now, it's your turn.
What Will Make You Happy?
Appreciation Appreciation is the purest, strongest form of love. It is the outward-bound kind of love that asks for nothing and gives everything. Research now shows that it is physiologically impossible to be in a state of fear at the same time. Thus, appreciation is the antidote to fear.
Choice Choice is the father of freedom and the voice of the heart. Having no choices or options feels like being in jail. It leads to depression, anxiety, and the condition called learned helplessness. Choice can even govern perception. Anyone can choose the course of their life, but only happy people do it.
Personal Power This is the almost indefinable proactive force, similar to character, that gives you power over your feelings and your fate. Personal power has two components: taking responsibility and taking action. It means realizing that your life belongs to you and you alone, then doing something about it.
Leading with Your Strengths When you give in to the automatic fear reaction, it makes you focus on your weaknesses, which only reinforces your fear. But when you take the path of the intellect and spirit, you naturally begin to focus on your strengths and start to solve your situation.
The Power of Language and Stories We don't describe the world we see; we see the world we describe. Language has the power to alter perception. We think in words. These words have the power to limit us or to set us free; they can frighten us or evoke our courage. Similarly, the stories we tell ourselves about our own life eventually become our life. We can tell healthy stories or horror stories. The choice is ours.
10 Keys To
by: Randi Glatzer
The Happiness Prescription
From: Reader's Digest
By Randi Glatzer
Randi Glatzer is a contributing editor who frequently writes about women's mental health issues. She lives in New York City.
What does it take to be happy?
It's a question that has been pondered for centuries by everyone from philosophers and theologians to psychologists and people who are just plain perplexed. But whether it was Aristotle or your aunt, those thinkers didn't have hard data to back their ideas. "People have mouthed off about happiness and the good life for years, "says Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of Learned Optimism.
Until now Dr. Seligman has become the force behind a new movement to study people's strengths, not just their weaknesses. And understanding what makes people joyful, resilient and content is important not only because being happy is a pleasant way to live your life, but because happiness is actually a health issue. It protects against stress -- the pervasive tension that's linked to such top killers as heart attacks and strokes -- and helps you live longer and better. Research from Harvard Medical School has found that women 100 years and older share a common trait: They're not plagued by negative feelings such as anger, guilt, fear, and sadness, says Margery Hutter Silver, Ed.D., a clinical instructor of psychology at Harvard and coauthor of Living to 100. "We have seen a lot of centenarians, and our observation has been that positive, optimistic people live longer," says Dr. Silver.
With that promise in mind, we sifted through new findings about happiness and talked to top experts to find out how you can capture this elusive emotion.
Know that Happiness Is an Inside Job
"Enduring happiness doesn't come from being rich and famous," says David Myers, Ph.D., author of The Pursuit of Happiness and a professor of psychology at Hope College in Holland, MI. In fact, his research has shown that happiness has almost no correlation to social status, income, gender or skin color. The National Opinion Research Center (NORC) in Chicago has been surveying people on their feelings of well-being since 1957. They found that 30% of people now describe themselves as "very happy," compared with 35% in 1957. The clincher: Americans now make twice as much money.
So if money's not the key, what is? Personality, says Daniel K. Mroczek, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Fordham University in New York City. The devastating impact that events can have on you -- whether it's a divorce or the death of a loved one -- really depends on your ability to learn to observe your reactions and improve your perspective from the inside out. Keep reading to learn more.
Reach for Your Ceiling
Although there is no one "happiness gene," says Dr. Seligman, our genes do play some role in our level of contentedness. But it's up to us to reach our potential. David Lykken, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, has studied thousands of twins and the genetics of happiness. He has found that ""we all have our own 'genetic steersman', who guides us into the situations that are natural for us -- but still make us unhappy. The key is to not follow him," says Dr. Lykken, who recently published the book Happiness, which recants his previous statement that trying to be happier is counterproductive.
For instance, if your mother was afraid to take adventures, you may sense the same fearful tendencies in yourself. But instead of being a recluse, you can push yourself to face head-on the situations that frighten you, whether it means braving a party by yourself or spending a weekend rock climbing. Gradually, your fears will fade.
When asked what's important in their lives, most people say "good health." But it's not clear if people who are healthy are always happy. In studies conducted over the past two decades, researchers asked people how satisfied they were with their lives. Then they compared the answers with doctors' assessments. Researchers consistently found almost no connection between whether a person was actually healthy (according to her M.D.) and whether she considered herself happy and satisfied with life.
Surprisingly, there was a strong connection between a person's perception of health and whether she felt satisfied with her life. In fact, a 1991 study conducted at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands found that people who were severely ill yet content with their lives considered themselves only slightly less happy than people with no real health problems. What's even more interesting is that researchers have found that people who regularly experience a lot of negative emotions tend to recall their health as being worse than it actually was. In other words, if you're feeling rotten about life, you may be recalling stomachaches that never really happened.
One of the best ways to alter a grumpy mood is to exercise. But before you head out for that grueling jog, remember that relaxing is just as important as a hard-core workout, says Dr. Myers. Meditation, prayer, yoga and solitary walks can be just as beneficial to your mental health as vigorous exercise.
Feed Your Sense of Hope
You can train yourself to look on the bright side, says Dr. Seligman. It's just a matter of changing your expectations.
Dr. Seligman's thesis is that if you see everything that goes wrong as being permanent (things are going to be this bad forever); pervasive (this is going to wreck everything I do); and personal (it's all my fault); you're more likely to feel blue and worried. Instead, try to view your problems as temporary (this will pass); limited (this problem affects only one, specific part of my life); and impersonal (it wasn't my fault).
"One centenarian told me he'd learned early in life that worry didn't help," says Dr. Silver. "So he decided to be a fun guy.' I certainly have taken his lesson to heart. When I'm beginning to look at something in a gloomy way and worry about it, I try to turn it around in my own head and see the funny or less serious side of it." The centenarians' positive expectations about the future helped them cope with difficult personal losses, including the death of their spouses, children and closest friends, adds Dr. Silver. ""It's not that they don't grieve or feel sad. But they grieve or feel sad and they move on. They don't get stuck."
Nurture Your Spiritual Side
Studies have consistently shown that people with some kind of religious connection --especially those affiliated with a religious organization, such as a church, synagogue or mosque -- are happier than those who don't worship with a group. When you're part of a network of people who come together in one of the country's 350,000 local faith communities, you find support and get a more timeless perspective on life, says Dr. Myers.
A recent poll of 32,000 Americans by NORC found that 45% of those who attended religious services several times a week described themselves as being "very happy," while only 25% of those who attended less than once a month considered themselves to be "very happy."
It may be that prayers encourage people to develop a hopeful attitude. Or it may be that religious singing, chanting, meditation, and dance quiets a harassed mind and fosters joy.
How Satisfied Are You?
Stave Off Loneliness. If you're lonely, you're likely to be unhappy. Researchers in 1967 discovered that married people are happier than those who remain single --and the results have been verified time and again. ""Creating a strong friendship with your partner is the best insurance against divorce, "says John Gottman, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Washington in Seattle, and cofounder of the Gottman Institute. He has spent decades studying hundreds of couples (which he has chronicled in his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work) and found that for both men and women, 70% of the quality of sex, passion and romance is directly related to the quality of marital friendship.
It's okay to fight, says Dr. Gottman, but you then need to make an effort to repair the damage. ""In good marriages, each partner turns toward the other, and one partner makes a bid for connection. These moments are the building blocks of romance." One couple he studied could argue on and on. And then, suddenly, they stuck their tongues out at each others, turning a heated argument into a gigglefest, underscoring how much of a friendship they had despite their disagreements.
Many of Dr. Silver's centenarians had never married -- but neither were they alone. ""They had wonderful social networks," she says. ""Those who didn't have families created their own families out of friends."
The happiest people are those who are able to avoid constant arguments, let go of resentments and therefore build close relationships. ""But being agreeable doesn't mean that you just lie down and have the word welcome written across your forehead. It does mean making an effort to get along with others and understanding their point of view," says Kristina DeNeve, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University in Waco, TX, who did an analysis of 148 studies that examined personality traits and happiness. (She published her findings last year.)
If you already consider yourself agreeable but still have a hard time getting close to others, you need to examine your trust level -- the other trait that Dr. DeNeve found to be closely linked with happiness. ""We may have a good reason not to trust people," she says, speaking clearly to any of us who've ever been through a divorce, a friend's betrayal, a rotten breakup or an imperfect childhood. ""But people who can trust others anyway seem to be happier." According to a 1992 study that linked trust to well-being, you can grow more trusting by changing your approach to people: Try to attribute good motives to people and assume that they're being nice to you because they're caring, not because they're duplicitous and manipulative. This small change can make an enormous difference.
Put Yourself in the Driver's Seat
Having a feeling of control plays a big role in being happy, says Dr. DeNeve. In one classic study, nursing home residents who were given their own plants to tend and nurture were happier than those whose plants were watered and pruned by someone else. Similarly, another study found that people who were able to flick a switch to turn off a loud noise were more content than people without access to a switch. Interestingly, the first group generally never bothered to turn it off, simply knowing that they could do so made them feel okay.
Don't know how to gain a sense of power? Therapy can help patients harness a sense of control, says Dr. DeNeve. Good therapists help you see what part you play in what happens to you and how you can take responsibility for your life. Even more important, therapists can teach you that there are many ways to solve a problem, they help you see your choices. ""You may not be able to stop your husband from doing something that drives you nuts, but you can learn to control your reaction to it," says Dr.DeNeve.
Focus. Focus. Focus.
Losing yourself in an activity, whether it's ice-skating, painting or preparing for a presentation at work, promotes a contented state called 'flow,' says Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Ph.D., author of Flow and a professor of psychology at Claremont (CA) Graduate University. "We ought to pay more attention to what makes us feel involved, what gives us joy," says Dr. Csikszentmihalyi, "instead of wasting so much time doing things we don't really like to do."
To experience flow, concentrate on the project itself and not the outcome. The joy comes more from working toward goals, Dr. Csikszentmihalyi says, rather than meeting them. He cites an old Chinese curse: "May you reach all your goals." Having something to strive for is a blessing.
Women in particular think their time is already stretched to the limit, but Dr. Csikszentmihalyi believes you can stretch it even more: Cut down your TV hours or let the dishes go unwashed for an extra hour. When women ask him, "Don't you feel guilty when you get so involved in something that you forget everything else?" he answers, "The kids need you. Your husband needs you. The house needs cleaning. I understand that, but you can go overboard. You are responsible to yourself to live to the fullest of your potential. Don't limit yourself to being a robot."
Still feeling guilty about putting your needs --and your happiness -- first? Giving your goals personal meaning may help. A study published last year in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that the kinds of goals you set and meet need to be close to your heart in order for them to have some sort of real payback. Researcher, Ian McGregor, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Psychology at York University in Toronto, says he set out to test the age-old notion that integrity is a means toward satisfaction in life. While surveying university students about their personal projects and goals (losing weight, succeeding in a course, visiting their families), he found that students whose goals reflected some strong personal values felt a greater sense of achievement and happiness.
The stereotypes may be that older people are grumpy and crotchety and spend all their time thinking about the past. But research shows that people aren't less happy as they get older and that, in fact, they may become happier as they age. In a recent study, researchers from Fordham University in New York analyzed surveys of 2,727 people between the ages of 25 and 74 and found that the people over 57 were slightly more likely to report feeling happy.
Similarly, Laura Carstensen, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Stanford University, has found that older people are actually more likely to live in the present than younger people. They focus on the here and now, and put their energy into activities that will nourish them emotionally --spending more time with family, close friends and intimate companions -- and less time trying to expand their social network. They're interested in the quality of relationships, not the quantity.
Dr. Mroczek thinks that in our younger years we can try to emulate the calm and measured style of older men and women. We can feel a sense of optimism about aging, which ought to help us feel happier while we're young. Says Dr. Mroczek, "We can look to the future, and know that it will get better.
By Robin Lloyd, Special to LiveScience
posted: 27 February 2006 08:55 am ET
"It requires some effort to achieve a happy outlook on life, and most people don't make it."
—Author and researcher Gregg Easterbrook
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.
University of Pennsylvania’s Martin Seligman offers questionnaires for assessing your happiness, beating depression and developing insights into how to be happier on his web site.
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.
Sonja 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 House, 2004).
"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 real bonus."
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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