Help Yourself to Happiness [part II]

by Rick Forbus, Ph.D.

What does happiness mean to you?

Defining happiness

Defining HappinessDefining happiness can seem as elusive as achieving it. We want to be happy, and we can say whether we are or not, but can it really be defined, studied and measured? And can we use this learning to become happier? Psychologists say yes, and that there are good reasons for doing so. Positive psychology is “the scientific study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive.” These researchers’ work includes studying strengths, positive emotions, resilience, and happiness. Their argument is that only studying psychological disorders, gives us just part of the picture of mental health. We will learn more about well-being by studying our strengths and what makes us happy. The hope is that by better understanding human strengths, we can learn new ways to recover from or prevent disorders, and may even learn to become happier. So how do these researchers define happiness? Psychologist Ed Diener, author of Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, describes what psychologists call “subjective well-being” as a combination of life satisfaction and having more positive emotions than negative emotions.

Martin Seligman, one of the leading researchers in positive psychology and author of Authentic Happiness, describes happiness as having three parts: pleasure, engagement, and meaning. Pleasure is the “feel good” part of happiness. Engagement refers to living a “good life” of work, family, friends, and hobbies. Meaning refers to using our strengths to contribute to a larger purpose. Seligman says that all three are important, but that of the three, engagement and meaning make the most difference to living a happy life.

My favorite days are days I choose to be happy. As insincere as that may sound, the choice is the catalyst for a happy attitudinal shift. This does not mean that bad things can happen or a person can cut me off in traffic anyway. It just means that I have chosen to be happy in spite of the circumstances. This kind of happiness thinking is just as intentional as having a grateful heart and view of life. You could say to yourself each day: I am grateful for this day and I am grateful for all that I have and all those who love me today. And, your day would at least start with you possessing a gratefulness of attitude that would probably bring about a thankfulness view of the day. Right? I believe (again, very unscientifically) that declaring you are happy in your heart will bring about some happy thinking and happy feelings. At least while you are thinking and feeling happy your stress levels will be lower. Right? Oh, this kind of thinking does not magically change your mortgage payment or your health issue, but the feelings and cognitive imaging will paint a much different portrait of the realities.

Watching my grandchildren “be” happy is so enriching. As adults we should watch children “being” happy and learn from them; imitate them. Love yourself enough to extend your life by trying to “be” happy.

Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.     Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

Happiness can directly produce good effects on your health. Research has shown that happy people have a higher level of Immunoglobin A, an important immune system protein. Immunoglobin A helps your body protect itself from respiratory disease. Happiness also helps block harmful hormones from getting released in your body. For example, happiness tends to minimize stress, which limits the release of cortisol, a hormone related to heart disease. Chronic unhappiness, on the other hand, can trigger high releases of cortisol, increasing blood pressure and decreasing immunity. Perhaps most important to your overall health is that happy people tend to take more active steps to maintain and protect their wellbeing. Unhappy people, it has been found, tend not to take good care of themselves.

I have very unscientifically known this throughout my life. There seems to be something (now this above article tells us why) we feel better and less stressed when we are happy. Do you know people that seem to enjoy being unhappy and negative? Should you run from them? That will have to be your choice, but I do think unless you can help them become more conscious of their happiness they may bring you down. Set a good example to others with your happiness. You may be doing them a greater favor than they will ever imagine. Be a thermostat and change the environment by your happiness quotient.

Gather the crumbs of happiness and they will make you a loaf of contentment.     Unknown

Why not set some happy goals this week? Some happy goals could be:

  • List everything you are grateful for.
  • Write a happiness statement. “I am happy about…”
  • Start each day considering why happiness will be your intentional thinking process.
  • Who in your life can you help “be” happier through your happy actions? (List their names.)

If you found these tips from Rick Forbus, Ph.D. of value and are a PMP looking to earn PMI PDUs, you might be interested in his self-paced, downloadable courses at PDUs2Go.com.

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