“We should not be fixated on one emotion over another in pursuit of fulfillment,” says Dacher Keltner, the rock star researcher of Awe.
In her bestseller book, The How of Happiness, positive psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky defines happiness as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.”
We bring you a compilation of answers to the ten best FAQs on happiness. The answers here have firm roots in science. We hope these answers will enrich you, humor you, and get you to re-think your ideas on what ideally makes us happy.
10 Frequently Asked Questions On Happiness
Here are answers to the 10 most frequently asked questions about happiness. The answers are based on scientific theories.
1. Can You Write Your Way to Happiness?
Tara Parker-Pope explores the power of writing personal stories. She tells us this kind of writing has several benefits for our well-being.
It is based on the idea that while we all have a personal narrative that shapes our view of the world and ourselves, our inner voice is not always smooth.
By writing and then editing our own stories, we can change our perceptions of ourselves.
“These writing interventions can really nudge people from a self-defeating way of thinking into a more optimistic cycle that reinforces itself,” says Timothy D. Wilson, a University of Virginia psychology professor.
“When you get to that confrontation of truth with what matters to you, it creates the greatest opportunity for change,” says Dr. Jack Groppel, co-founder of the Human Performance Institute.
2. Can Your Money Buy Happiness?
Science writer David DiSalvo reviews a book about money and happiness, “Happy Money.” The book by two psychology researchers who try to uncover the answer to the perennial question: Does money bring happiness?
They conclude spending money on experiences indeed gave more happiness than money spent on things, and that the real magic in buying experiences lay in the pleasantness of anticipation.
Building more waiting time into buying experiences will let you squeeze as much anticipatory happiness as possible from the investment.
The book resulting from that symposium was Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton. Answering whether more money actually increases our happiness, Norton says: “Wealthy individuals – whether worth $1 million or $10 million – are not happier as their wealth increases.”
3. Does Happiness Have A Scent?
Rachel Gross talks about a strange finding that suggests we can sense happiness through the smell of sweat. Research published in Psychological Science found people release certain chemicals when they are happy.
The scientists call these chemosignals. And these are the chemicals that others can detect when they smell our sweat.
In the study, when women smelled the “happy sweat” of males, they displayed body markers that reflect a state of happiness.
These markers included a Duchenne smile—a genuine smile that extends all the way to the eyes, creating crowfeet, as opposed to a fake smile that occurs only at the level of lips and cheeks.
Gün Semin of Utrecht University in the Netherlands, a senior researcher on the study, says:
“This suggests that somebody who is happy will infuse others in their vicinity with happiness. In a way, happiness sweat is somewhat like smiling — it is infectious.”
4. Can Reading Make You Happier?
Ceridwen Dovey writes about bibliotherapy and happiness. Bibliotherapy is a broad term for the practice of reading for healing.
We usually date the first use of the term to a 1916 article in The Atlantic Monthly, “A Literary Clinic.” The practice came into its own when Sigmund Freud began using literature during his psychoanalysis sessions.
After the First World War, traumatized soldiers returning home from the front often received a prescribed course in reading. Today, bibliotherapy takes many forms.
There are literature courses for prison inmates. We have reading circles for old people who suffer from dementia.
For all avid readers who have been self-medicating with outstanding books their entire lives, it comes as no surprise. Reading books can be good for your mental health and your relationships with others.
But exactly why and how is now becoming clearer, thanks to new research on the effects of reading on the brain. It has something to do with mirror neurons in our brains.
Mirror neurons are nerve cells that fire in our brains both when we perform an action ourselves and when we see an action performed by someone else. Since the discovery of mirror neurons, the neuroscience of empathy has become more explainable.
Read what the eminent neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran predicted on mirror neurons.
While on empathy, here is a splendid book by Helen Riess and Liz Neporent, The Empathy Effect, which presents the E.M.P.A.T.H.Y.® method. It is a seven-step system developed by Dr. Reiss based on neuroscience for understanding and increasing empathy, that starts with Eye (E) contact and ends with our Response (R).
5. What Is More Important Than Happiness?
An emotional range is more important than happiness alone. We need to feel the entire range of emotions, as all modern emotions have roots in evolution, and have social and survival value.
Inside Out was a wonderfully made movie for both kids and adults. Most of the film happens inside the mind of a young girl named Riley, where five personified emotions—Happiness, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust—try to lead her through life as her parents move their house and she has to adjust to new surroundings.
Linda Mottram and Matthew Bevan write in ABC News about the psychology of happiness ‘inside’ the movie. They talk to the psychologist adviser to the movie, Professor Dacher Keltner from the University of California, to get this out—“We should not be fixated on one emotion over another in pursuit of fulfillment.”
Keltner was the main researcher advising the Pixar team. He guided them on which emotions should be in the film and what roles they should play in Riley’s life.
Professor Keltner’s research shows all emotions become equally important as a person matures.
He said, “We know scientifically that if you pressure people to be happy, they’re actually going to be less happy. Part of what happens is that a naïve over-valuation of happiness makes us under-appreciate other emotions like anger or fear.”
6. Why Do You Need This For Happiness?
Sherrie Campbell, psychologist, and author of Loving Yourself: The Mastery of Being Your Own Person, points out that counting on yourself reduces your frustration and increases personal freedom for yourself and others. She says it is the only way to develop in us the seven personality strengths necessary for success.
Self-awareness is crucial for your happiness, especially eudaimonia. When you are not self-aware, you tend to overreact in anger or fear. It is as if you stepped on your triggers. And when others do not read your mind or meet your expectations, or correctly expect your emotions, they feel as if they are walking on eggshells when it comes to you and them.
But people cannot completely know how you feel unless you speak up. You got to communicate with others regularly and effectively.
Living to please others is not self-loving; it is self-diminishing. In life, your ability gets measured by how you overcome adversities and insecurities, not avoid them.
When you are aware of yourself, you see yourself as a work in progress.
7. What Did Google’s Tan Do For Happiness?
A few years ago, Chade-Meng Tan, one of Google’s first engineering employees at the Mountain View office, noticed many of his colleagues were stressed out. They wanted to work at Google, but were unhappy there.
So he decided to do something about it.
He asked his bosses to let him create a course to teach mindfulness skills to the employees. It would enhance their emotional intelligence, promote their well-being, and make them happier at work.
They agreed to his proposal, and Tan transitioned to the HR department to run it. In a nod to his employer company Google, he called it Search Inside Yourself, an admittedly corny name that is also the title of his book about the course’s techniques.
Tan promised to teach us the “scientifically proven” secret of happiness in three easy steps:
- Calm your mind.
- Log your moments of joy.
- Wish other people to be happy.
Meng is not the only one to suggest that meditation and mindfulness are good for our mental health.
For example, the monk Matthieu Ricard, who the press has dubbed “the world’s happiest man” has written a book on the subject: A Guide To Developing Life’s Most Important Skill—Happiness.
But does it work? There is some evidence that mindfulness can help stave off negative thoughts. A review of 209 studies found that the practice can help treat depression, anxiety, and stress.
Some researchers say the stress reduction promised by meditation could even help slow down the effects of aging.
If you’re interested in learning mindfulness, get this easy-to-follow manual: 7 Steps to Mindfulness for free.
8. Is It True Happiness Spreads But Depression Doesn’t?
A direct release from the University of Warwick on EurekAlert!—The Global Source Of Science News talks about the spread of depression vs. happiness.
Professor Frances Griffiths, head of social science and systems in health at Warwick Medical School, said:
“Depression is a major public health concern worldwide. But the good news is we’ve found that a healthy mood amongst friends is linked with a significantly reduced risk of developing and increased chance of recovering from depression.
“Our results offer implications for improving adolescent mood. In particular, they suggest the hypothesis that encouraging friendship networks between adolescents could reduce both the incidence and prevalence of depression among teenagers.”
The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society, titled “Spreading of healthy mood in adolescent social networks,” concluded:
Having sufficient friends with a healthy mood can halve the probability of developing, or double the probability of recovering from, depression over a 6–12-month period on an adolescent social network.
9. Is There A Seat of Happiness In Our Brains?
Christopher Bergland is a Guinness World Record holder for running 153.76 miles in 24 hours on a treadmill. He is also a three-time champion of the Triple Ironman which includes a 7.2-mile swim, a 336-mile biking, and a 78.6-mile run, done consecutively.
He writes about research by a team at Kyoto University led by Wataru Sato. Their findings suggest there is a specific part of the brain that could be the seat of our happiness.
According to the study, our overall happiness is a combination of happy emotions and life satisfaction coming together in the precuneus. It is a region in the medial parietal lobe of the brain that becomes active when experiencing consciousness.
Sato and his team scanned the brains of research participants with MRI. The participants then took a survey that asked how happy they are in general, how intensely they feel their emotions, and how satisfied they are with their lives.
They wrote in the paper: “We found a positive relationship between the subjective happiness score and gray matter volume in the right precuneus.”
Their analysis revealed that those who scored higher on the happiness surveys had more grey matter mass in the precuneus. In other words, people who feel happiness more intensely, feel sadness less intensely, and are more able to find meaning in life have a larger precuneus.
“Over history, many eminent scholars like Aristotle have contemplated what happiness is,” Wataru Sato said. “I’m very happy that we now know more about what it means to be happy.”
10. Does Economics Understand Happiness?
Just as you are ready to seal your wish for a winning lottery ticket, imagine Professor Richard Thaler yells, “Wait a minute! Neoclassical economics is all wrong!”
Terry Burnham asks right at the beginning of this article, “What would make you happier…?”
Behavioral economics argues neoclassical economics is wrong. Real humans, in the language of behavioral economists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, exhibit biases and heuristics.
More colloquially, humans are crazy. Daniel Kahneman is a Nobel Prize winner and the author of the international bestseller Thinking, Fast and Slow.
For the sake of your lottery-winning wishes, behavioral economics makes three related claims:
• First, people do not know what makes them happy.
• Second, fewer options are sometimes better than more options.
• Third, more money may not make you happier.
In short, we love to eat and sleep because eating and sleeping were good for our ancestors.
Watch Professor Laurie Santos answer some questions on happiness on “The Science of Well-Being” course:
We need happiness in our lives. Find out the 7 Reasons Why Happiness Is Important.
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