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The Doctor Of Happiness Existed
Scientists are studying well-being and it can help all of us.
This past Friday I found out that my step-sister died and it shook me a bit more than I would have expected to. I hadn’t seen her in a terribly long time and she lived a very different life than mine on the other side of our large country.
I realized that the reason her death affected me so much was because she and the rest of my step-family represent something to me. When he was 56, step-dad died in front of me (I was 11) at a family gathering at his sister’s house. It’s one of those moments in my life imprinted in my brain. I loved him a lot. And I loved his giant family full of happiness and laughter and food and hugs. As I grew up, my own family who are all much older than I am became less and less of a family, but they were never like my stepfamily even when I was young. With my stepfamily there was only joy for me as a kid. There was no judgement. Differences were just accepted and often celebrated.
With my stepsister’s death, I realized that I’d always been holding out hope for a family like that again.
I’m a happy person by almost all standards and definitions (you can even check it out if you are too on one of the links below), but when I’m not happy, I’m pretty open about it. Things don’t fester inside of me. In both real life and social media, I tell my truths. But I’m incredibly lucky because when I get sad or when I get down, it usually doesn’t last long.
The weird thing is that I sometimes feel guilty about admitting that I’m happy.
The weird thing is that I sometimes feel guilty about admitting that I had a hard day, too.
Happiness isn’t unchanging
Emotions aren’t constant things. And our emotions? They come and they go. They aren’t all we are. They are just a part of who we are and what we feel in that moment.
Even the happiest people are not constantly happy, Dr. Ed Diener discovered, telling the New York Times after studying the happiest of college undergraduates in a 2002 study.
His obituary in the New York Times states,
“Dr. Diener said that even the happiest students had bad days and could be moody, which showed that their emotional systems were working properly.
“Virtually none of them are at a 10, and nobody stays at a 10,” he told The New York Times after the study was published. “So many people say, ‘I want to be happier than I am now.’ There is this expectation of being super happy.”
Psychologist Ed Diener’s life’s work was studying happiness and well-being, approximately 250 papers on well-being. He found that these five factors are really important to happiness:
society and culture,
and positive thinking styles.
Societal relationships is about support. Temperament has a genetic aspect to it and it deals with mood.
Ann Conkle writes in a piece for the Association for Psychological Science,
“Diener discussed the set point theory of temperament, which states that people have ups and downs in reaction to life events, but that they adapt and return to a set point. There is evidence for this, but studies have shown that people who have experienced a major loss, like being fired or losing a spouse, often don’t fully adapt or take years to do so. In Diener’s words, it’s more like “a moving baseline” than one set point over a lifetime.”
While many psychologists, researchers and scientists focus on suffering Dr. Diener was about measuring happiness.
His obituary in the New York Times touches on his research into subjective well-being, writing,
“He found that money can bring happiness, but only up to a certain income level; that genetics play a role in one’s satisfaction with one’s life; that having a few strong, intimate social relationships is critical to happiness; and that cultural norms influence what people believe happiness is and how to pursue it.”
For me, it’s the uncertainty about money that usually lowers my happiness level.
“Whoever said money can’t buy happiness needs to look at the research. According to Diener, wealth actually is correlated with happiness, particularly in poorer societies. But there are caveats. Money has declining marginal utility. Those first few dollars that move someone out of poverty contribute much more to a person’s happiness than a billionaire earning her next million. In fact, money can be toxic to happiness. When participants in one study were asked if money was more important than love, those who answered “yes” were less likely to be happy and seemed destined never to catch up to happiness no matter how much money they make.”
And there is, of course, the influence of your society and how your culture and country is doing. In the United States right now people aren’t feeling that hot and the perception is that we’re a country in trouble that impacts people’s happiness.
Finally there is the cognitive pattern that happens inside our brains. When a change or transition happens, do we see it as a threat or as an opportunity? When we first meet someone do we think of them as a potential threat or a potential friend?
“Diener identifies three facets of this positive cognition: attention (seeing the positive and beauty in things), interpretation (not putting a negative spin on things), and memory (savoring past experiences rather than ruminating on negative experiences).”
Eleanor Roosevelt said (despite what the country’s founding documents say about the ‘pursuit of happiness’), “Happiness is not a goal; it is a byproduct.”
Aristotle said it depends upon ourselves.
We can all take the steps to become happier together, I think. Thank you for being here with me on the journey.
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