Picking a topic was easy for me this week. The most important concept in anybody's life is happiness, whether it be theirs or the happiness of those around them. I'm not only obviously in want of happiness, but I am also very curious as to how it works. It seems like some people are always happier than others, even if it is surprising given what they have in life.
So, what is happiness good for? The most notable effect is one that is hard to explain, but we all know what it means; it makes us feel good. Webster defines happiness as " a state of well being and contentment". I believe this doesn't do it justice, because it's hard to put emotions into words. Happiness, or a state of contentment, is good for just that - feeling good.
Besides its obvious effects, what else is it good for? Surprisingly, a lot more than one would think. According to Barbara Fredrickson's broaden and build theory , happiness predisposes us to "see the big picture". this can mean finding novel solutions to problems, or seeking out more opportunities, such as romantic partners we wouldn't normally consider.
It seems that people who are happier even live longer. A study of 180 nuns with diaries found that the nuns who used words with positive meanings lived on average 10 years longer . Another study of people over age 50 found that those with positive attitudes about aging lived, on average, 7.5 years longer. Most studies conducted point to the conclusion that, in general, being happier makes you live longer. This seems like an exponentially positive finding, because the happier you are, the longer you live, and therefore the more happiness you experience.
There are a few misconceptions about happiness. The first is that 'the prime determinant of happiness is what happens to us'. This is possibly the most accepted myth in all of psychology. In reality, what happens to us specifically has almost no correlation on our happiness. The second is that 'money makes us happy'. There are some limits to this, such as a severe lack of money, but generally money cannot buy long-term happiness. The third is that 'happiness declines in old age'. Remarkably, happiness has been shown to increase in old age; elderly people are happier on average than younger people. The final misconception about happiness is that 'people on the west coast are happiest'. Californians are just as happy as everyone else.
I was surprised by some of the things I read this week. I was especially interested in the misconceptions about happiness, and the alternate effects of it. An interesting thing I didn't mention is a list of what does make us happy. A few things on the list are marriage, friendships, college, religion, exercise, gratitude, giving, and flow (being completely immersed in what we're doing). I think learning about happiness is very important because being happy is a goal we all have in life
I still wonder, why are some people so much happier than others? And why do the things that make us happy make us happy?
A short 2-minute video with some interesting statistics on happiness and longevity!