Searching for Happiness in all the Wrong Places

Have you ever gone shopping, done a little retail therapy  to give yourself a ” happiness boost’?  When was the last time you ate a box of cookies or a pint of rocky road, or skipped a work project to watch Frankie and Grace marathon on television or look at Facebook in order to lift your spirits? Did that happiness last very long?

Chances are, you got a bit of instant gratification, which then gave way to malaise, and then possibly led to feelings of guilt and shame. “I can’t believe I did that, what is the matter with me?”

Don’t worry, you’re not alone. A 2016 Harris poll on happiness says less than 31% of Americans consider themselves truly happy, and most people look, every day, for instant gratification to fill the void.

Think of all the things you do during any given day to scratch that itch. You spend time looking at Instagram for a little dose of socially-driven dopamine, the happiness hormone. You play games on your phone, eat a sweet treat, or indulge in playing lotto online, but nothing seems to make a lasting difference…

 

You are searching for Happiness in all the wrong places.

 

Try to think about a time in your life that you felt really good. Accomplished. Empowered.

Perhaps it was you scored the winning touchdown. Maybe you published your first book. Had your art work accepted into a gallery or you won an award. Maybe it was a promotion at work, or a good grade on a difficult assignment, you made that sale that you have been after for weeks. It could be you volunteered at the local soup kitchen or  read to children at the library. This accomplishment gave you something to brag about. It brought you fond memories for weeks or years to come. It not only lifted your spirits…it elevated your entire life.

The momentary pleasures of ice cream and Facebook are fleeting, but that sense of accomplishment lasts forever.

Social psychologist Sonja Lyubormirsky, PhD, the author of The How of Happiness A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want 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.” And their findings are having a dramatic impact not just on the field of psychology, but also on the way many of us are cultivating happiness in our own lives.

At first glance, the notion of investigating happiness may not seem particularly revolutionary. But, in fact, the new interest in happiness represents a relatively contemporary shift in psychological focus. Historically, it seems that psychology has been more interested in fixing mental-health problems and illnesses than boosting actual happiness.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a professor of psychology at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, Calif., a prominent figure in the study of happiness, and the author of numerous books, including  Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience said “Most people, when they ruminate about the cause of their wretchedness, become more wretched,” he says. “For most people, that’s just compounding their misery.”

The Positive Psychology movement focuses their attention to advancing the knowledge of what makes us feel satisfied, energized, hopeful — and happy.

What they’ve discovered is that some people are just born happier and are wired to stay that way, but happiness is also something we can practice and cultivate. Happiness hinges on our choices, attitudes and thoughts — and when we know more about how these choices, attitudes and thoughts affect the quality of our lives, we have a recipe for a more joyful, meaningful life.

5 keys to a happier life:

Notice what you are noticing

Andrew Shatté, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and coauthor of The Resilience Factor gave students 12 seconds to solve some puzzles what he did not tell them was there was no solution. He asked them after a few seconds how are you feeling…frustrated, angry, and stupid? “The point is, every one of these thoughts was wildly inaccurate, given the truth that the puzzles were unsolvable. We make mistakes in our thinking and we pay a price for them.” Pay attention to your instinctive emotional responses and begin consciously challenging the negative thoughts and limiting belief systems that underlie them. So many of our responses or reactions are based on faulty thinking.

Make a difference in someone’s life

Tim Kasser, a psychologist at Knox College , and the author of  The High Price of Materialism  considers well-being to depend on the fulfillment of four psychological needs: safety and security, competence, connection to other people, and autonomy or freedom. “Our research shows that when people have strong materialistic values, they tend to feel low satisfaction of those needs,” he says. “Fundamentally, they’ve hinged their sense of worth on what others think of them, so their [happiness] is always fragile and contingent.”

Therefore refocus your energy and actions on the people and experiences that matter most. Ask yourself how can I make a meaningful difference? Practice random acts of kindness.  Be considerate, loving and generous. Express gratitude for kindnesses you receive. Get involved with a cause that inspires you to share not just your money, but your time and expertise.

Focus on relationships and community

Ed Diener, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has conducted countless studies on the variables that contribute to happiness. His lab has explored many different cultures, including Amish, African tribes, Calcutta slum-dwellers, as well as American college students. According to his research the happiest people are in positive social relationships. Happy people cultivate friendships, marriage and companionship. Make time every day to connect with the important people in your life. Establish at least a weekly routine to interact with others in meaningful ways. Find what makes you come alive through meet ups, painting classes, book clubs, exercise or sports, learning opportunities, mentoring or volunteering, dancing, chorale groups.

  1. Creative Expression makes your happier and healthier.

According to research on art in chronic illnesses, making art can help people with illnesses to express themselves and their feelings about their illness. Art helps you process your emotions, increase self-awareness and change the way we think about an experience or challenge we are facing.

In addition art makes us feel good.  Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has suggested that we can experience a state called flow when we’re working on an activity. We will lose our our sense of time, we may forget to even eat or that we are tired. Kurt Vonnegut once said that practicing any art ― no matter how badly ― makes the soul grow. “Make time for creative expression. It can be, journaling, coloring in a coloring book, scribbles and doodles, crafting or playing an instrument. But if you don’t consider yourself an “artist,” don’t worry, experimenting with a new dinner recipe to creating a new Pinterest board can give you that creative boost.

5. Gratitude

The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness. In some ways gratitude encompasses all of these meanings. Through appreciation, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. Gratitude helps people connect to something greater than themselves, to other people, nature, or Infinite Intelligence. It has been known to actually improve your health, deal with adversity and build stronger relationships. Begin and end your day with I am so grateful for…

I am going deeper into some of these topics on my upcoming free webinar The Art of Health and Happiness. Register here. https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-art-of-health-and-happiness-tickets-36608493991 

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