Happiness is not merely absence of sadness. Happiness is also not merely getting over our miseries.
And it is definitely not about smiles, laughter, and faces beaming with joy. Don’t we all seem to know someone who is good at hiding their sadness behind a big smile?
What’s The Science of Happiness?
The Science of Happiness is about studying the habits, attitudes, and behaviors that raise happiness and satisfaction in life. It is also about encouraging us to adopt healthy practices into our lives that increase optimism, hope, resilience, and others that enhance happiness. It does not ignore the presence of human suffering or psychological illnesses.
For centuries, the science of psychology has been focusing mostly on the negative aspects of human existence—investigating what was “wrong” with us—and trying to relieve us from our sufferings. And it has worked out quite well because we can now successfully treat illnesses like depression, post-traumatic stress, and addictions.
But we missed looking deeper into what made some of us happier than the rest.
However, over the last one and a half decades, we have seen a significant paradigm shift: Scientists have turned their attention to what makes us prosper and thrive. They are focusing on thoughts, actions, and behaviors that make us more likable at our workplaces, happier in our relationships, and feel more fulfilled when we go to bed at night.
This has opened our eyes to some fascinating findings!
For example, one research showed when we have a more altruistic and compassionate attitude, we feel happier. 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.
Experts from the field also tell us much of our well-being is well within our control, and happiness is a skill we can all learn. Did you get the difference?
Happiness, as we understand now, is something we can create ourselves. We do not need to wait for happy things to happen to us or people to bring us happiness. We can learn and hone our happiness skills, like any other skill as building a beautiful table from stray wooden scraps. As similar to physical exercises, happiness boosting activities done regularly can boost our happiness level, and keep it high.
What types of experiences pay the biggest happiness dividends?
Studies in the field of science of happiness reveal strong social connections (friends, family, children, parents, relatives, colleagues) play the biggest role in making and keeping us happier. In fact, our friends give us the most happiness among all our social relationships.
How much of your happiness is within your conscious control?
According to studies carried out by Sonja Lyubomirsky, Kennon Sheldon, and others, we control roughly about 40% of our happiness. To find out more about it, read this post: The Happiness Formula.
The science of happiness says we cannot find lasting happiness, that is happiness that lasts forever. Our happiness levels change from day to day, and even hour to hour, in our everyday life.
Why chasing goals does not make you happy?
You may find an answer to that if you take a note of these:
- When you say you’ll be happy in life once you marry, then you might mean to say that you can’t be satisfied as long as you’re single.
- When you announce your life will fill up with happiness once you meet your financial goal, then you might mean to say that you can’t be happy until you’re money-rich.
- When you tell others you’ll make yourself happy once you move into a big house, then you might mean to say that you can’t be happy while living in your small home.
Do you know, in a study, around 50% of the people said traveling gives them more positive feelings than what they had had on their most momentous day — their wedding day? In the same study, 50% also said they think holidays are more vital to their happiness than landing a dream job.
So, while they were saying holidays make them happier than their wedding day or their dream job, they were essentially also saying that they can’t be merry unless they go on a holiday.
What’s wrong there? It’s this: “I’ll be happy once I reach that goal. Till then, it’s okay for me to stay unhappy.” When you always think on those lines, it makes your current life unhappy.
When you pursue a critically positive change in your life — success, money, love, spouse, kids, accolades, position — you often fall back into thinking that once it happens, it will start an unending spell of happiness. With that line of thinking, what you wrongly tell yourself is this: Success will replace my unhappiness with happiness.
But can your success delete your sadness?
No—that’s the answer, and you already know it. Whatever it is you’re doing for your future happiness, it has become the cause of your present unhappiness. If you’re not happy to begin with, success won’t make you any happier.
Because you’ve tied your reasons to be happy in life to your successes, but goals and success are things outside yourself. You can’t fully control them. Therefore your plans to control your happiness also fall flat.
So, why do you want to postpone your happiness until success enters your life? Why do you choose to be unhappy now?
How is positive psychology related to the science of happiness?
Positive psychology is commonly known as the science of happiness. It is a relatively newer branch of psychology that studies wellbeing, happiness, strengths, resilience, positivity, and optimism. Because its experts study optimal human functioning, positive psychology is also known as the science of flourishing.
Positive psychology is the study of positive human characteristics as strength, resilience, wellbeing, and optimal functioning. The goal of positive psychology is to make people happier by understanding and building positive emotions, life satisfaction, and meaning.
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. In essence, the positive psychologists study and research every human aspect that makes life most worth living.
Learn some interesting facts about Positive Psychology (PERMA to PP 2.0) here.
1. Is psychology a positive science?
Traditionally, psychology has been the focus of the study of the dysfunctions and impaired conditions of the human mind. It mainly concerns itself with what is wrong with the mind and its processes, as behavior and thoughts.
To balance the field of psychology, Martin Seligman and his colleagues started the positive psychology movement in 1998.
The newer branch of psychology, called positive psychology, centers around feelings of authentic happiness as flow, and other positive emotions, that help people thrive. Positive psychology is about the good life, the positive experiences, the positive individual traits, and positive institutions that help people flourish.
So, psychology in the traditional sense has not been a positive science. On the other hand, the new science of positive psychology is, for the most part, a positive science.
Positive psychology is the science of happiness. More specifically, positive psychology is about focusing on … love, happiness, strength, and virtues.— Tal Ben-Shahar
Positive psychology is not ‘positivity’ — it is authentic science, based on experiments and research. And, this new science does not intend to replace the traditional psychology but rests soundly within the field of psychology.
2. How helpful is positive psychology?
Positive psychology is helpful and effective. Some of its key findings are:
- Happy people make good things happen. And happiness is a reason for good things in life and a precursor to success and good outcomes.
- Happiness, good relationships, and strengths of character shield against the harmful effects of failures and setbacks.
3.For a satisfying life, a life of meaning (eudaimonia) outdoes a life of pleasure
- Good days are marked by a feeling of autonomy, competency, and connection to others.
- The principles of a good life can be learned and taught.
Positive psychology is concerned with three issues: positive emotions, positive traits, and positive institutions.
At any point, however, this branch of psychology does not involve ignoring the problems people face.
Positive psychology does not ask people to flaunt fake smiles while imploring them to be just happy. It does not deny the existence of hardships. What positive psychology does tell us is when we encounter challenges, we do not need to be unprepared for the trial ahead.
It can train us, via positive psychology interventions, to be more resilient, courageous, and optimistic, so that we can meet adversity with courage and contemplation.
3. What’s Hedonia?
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’.
4. What’s Eudaimonia?
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 can we 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
- Happiness is both Eudaimonia (how satisfied we are with our lives) and Hedonia (how good do we feel on a day-to-day basis). – Psychologists.
Why Are We So Negative?
We are naturally inclined towards the negative side of human existence. Over millions of years, the human brain has evolved into a structure that is inclined towards taking in the bad more than focusing on the good. So, evolution-wise, we have gradually become a species more focused on the negative.
The brain of ours is constantly changing by slowly reshaping our neural structures. It is a something called neuroplasticity. So, what started as a behavior-change towards the negative, neuroplasticity made it into a permanent change in the organic structure of brain.
However, the good news is, it works both ways. As positive psychology shows, there are mental exercises we can regularly practice that can reshape our brains to have a more positive outlook. Positive psychology interventions (PPI) promote new neural pathways for happiness. We now have a method to overcome our negative bias and gain higher levels happiness.
“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 – a 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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