Happiness is not just absence of sadness.
For centuries, the science of psychology has been focusing mostly on the negative aspects of human existence — investigating what were the things that were “wrong” with us — and trying to relieve us from our sufferings, as depression, trauma, and addictions.
And all that happened despite the fact that happiness is not merely getting over our sadness.
What’s Happiness Science?
What is meant by by the science of happiness?
However, over the last one and a half decade, we’ve seen a significant shift of this paradigm: Scientists are now turning their attention to what makes people prosper and thrive — a branch called positive psychology. They are focusing on thoughts, actions, and behaviors that make us more productive at our workplaces, more happy in our relationships, and more fulfilled when we go to bed at night. This has opened our eyes to fascinating findings.
For example, one recent research showed when we have a more altruistic and compassionate attitude, our wellbeing is better. Kind gestures towards others diffuse our own stress. “The take-home message is that when we are stressed and we help others, we can also end up helping ourselves,” study author Emily Ansell, assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine, told CBS News in Dec 2015.
We know happiness is not merely the absence of sadness or misery. But we also have to remember happiness is not all smiles and laughter. Happiness Science doesn’t ask us to ignore suffering or psychological illness, however, it does encourage us to adopt healthy practices into our lives that can boost optimism, increase resilience, and enhance happiness.
What’s Positive Psychology?
Breakthroughs over the last 15+ years in the field of positive psychology reveal happiness is a skill we all can learn and hone. It asserts our wellbeing is well within our control. As similar to physical exercises, happiness boosting activities done on a regular basis can increase our happiness level, and keep it high.
Positive psychology is the scientific study of optimal functioning and well-being, also known as the science of flourishing, happiness, strengths, resilience, positivity and optimism. The field was established around 1998 as a reaction to the prevailing direction that psychology had taken with its focus on studying the negative aspects of our minds, behavior and lives.
A positive psychologist works in the health model with a goal of moving beyond neutral and into the plus scale of well-being. They believe happiness is achievable, and sustainable.
Learn how you can apply these 10 Quick Tips to Happiness to your life.
Hedonia is short-term pleasure with in-the-moment peaks of positive emotion and gratification. This form of happiness comes with a built-in limitation: hedonic adaptation, where we get used to the source of our happiness and consequently need to up the dose or add variety to get the same hit. Hedonism focuses on ‘me’.
Eudemonia or eudaimonia is the good life. It’s the more sustainable form of happiness. This is the deeper, enduring happiness which comes from living a meaningful life, while realizing one’s potential. These are ways to sustain our inner happiness. Eudaimonism focuses on ‘we’. Read more here.
How To Define Happiness?
- Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence. — Aristotle
- In the human brain, the neurotransmitter dopamine is reported to activate the brain’s pleasure centers. — Neurobiologists
- A prolonged or lasting emotional or affective state that feels good or pleasing. — Wikipedia
- The left prefrontal cortex area of the brain is more activated when we are happy and is also associated with greater ability to recover from negative emotions as well as enhanced ability to suppress negative emotions. We can train themselves to increase activation in this area of our brains. — Richard Davidson
- Happiness is a noun, so we think it’s something we can own. But happiness is a place to visit, not a place to live. It’s like the child’s idea that if you drive far and fast enough you can get to the horizon—no, the horizon’s not a place you get to. — Daniel Gilbert
- 1. What makes people happy? 2. Is happiness a good thing? 3. How can we make people happier? — Sonja Lyubomirsky
- Happiness is more than a smile. — Happiness India Project
Why Are We So Negative?
We are naturally inclined towards the negative side of human existence. It can be explained this way: The brain of ours is constantly changing by slowly reshaping our neural structures – a phenomenon called neuroplasticity.
Over millions of years this has evolved into a structure that is inclined towards taking in the bad more than focusing on the good. So, evolution-wise, we’ve gradually become a human species of less happy beings.
However, as positive psychology has shown, there are mental exercises we can practice to promote neural pathways for happiness and peace of mind. We now have a method to overcome our negative bias and gain higher levels happiness.
Evolution-wise, we've gradually become a human species of less happy beings. Click To Tweet
“You have the ability to control how you feel—and with consistent practice, you can form life-long habits for a more satisfying and fulfilling life.” – Acacia Parks, Ph.D.
So, prioritize your happiness today—and the happiness of those around you. Happiness is a skill, and any skill can be learned. Remember, you can always bring more meaning to your life!
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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy – medical doctor, psychology writer, happiness researcher. Founder of Happiness India Project, and chief editor of its blog. He writes popular-science articles on positive psychology and related medical topics.
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