“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” ― Aristotle
Positive Psychology and the Science of Happiness
What does it take to be happy these days?
It isn’t a surprise that there has been a recent uprise in Google searching this question, as according to this article, Why Tens of Thousands of People are Signing Up For This Online Happiness Course in The Huffington Post, 75 million Google search results arise from the term “happiness,” and 40,000 happiness-related books available for purchase on Amazon. It seems like the hunger for investigating the science to happiness is louder than ever right now.
Studies Show Our Habits are Linked to Happiness
The science of happiness refers to an emerging tidal wave of social science research revolving around the subject of positive psychology. While traditional psychology basically fixes symptoms of what’s wrong with us, positive psychology functions on making ourselves better, giving us ways to change our habits, which are strongly linked to happiness.
The University of Berkeley teaches a positive psychology course called, “The Science of Happiness,” that reveals groundbreaking research suggesting that 40 percent of our happiness depends on our habits and activities. Its studies also linked happiness to the importance of having strong social connections in our lives, and serving a greater good. Additionally, Pursuit of Happiness is a website teamed with experts dedicated to the advancement of scientific knowledge on happiness and depression prevention. This site compiled a slew of recent scientific studies on the science of happiness as well, summarized into a basic list of habits found in the happiest of people.
Reviewing this list might lead you to incorporating positive psychology in your own life.
The 7 Habits of Happy People
A study on personal happiness was conducted at The University of Illinois in 2002. This study researched 10% of the highest score takers. The characteristics of the happiest score takers showed that they had strong ties and relations to friends and family, exhibiting deep, lasting commitments to spending time with them as well.
Modern psychological research showed that people who care for others on a consistent basis tend to have better psychological well-being, including fewer depressive symptoms and higher life-satisfaction. Caring behavior even has physiological benefits. Current research also showed that individuals who received social support were more protected from disease and even death, especially in older individuals. Caring habits include: acts of altruism, organized volunteering, monetary donations and engagement in communal relationships.
Cognitive scientists describe creativity as fluid thought. Drawing from findings on gesture and embodied cognition, we hypothesized that the physical experience of fluidity, relative to nonfluidity, would lead to more fluid, creative thought…. Alternative mechanisms such as enhanced mood and motivation were also examined. These results suggest that creativity can be influenced by certain types of physical movement.
– The Abstract in Fluid Movement and Creativity Published 2012
In Fluid Movement and Creativity results showed fluid movement influenced three domains of mental abilities: “cognitive flexibility, creative generation and the ability to make remote connections.”
The Cochrane Review, a reviewer internationally recognized for its research in health care reviews and policies, conducted landmark studies on exercise and depression. The review selected 23 out of over 100 studies concluding that exercise “has a large clinical impact,” associated with reducing incidences of depression and improving mental well-being. The majority of studies researched have shown a significant association between exercise and improved well-being.
However, studies also show that it is difficult to show that exercise directly causes mental well-being. Ultimately, people who are happier may simply be more inclined to exercise.
Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, one of the founders of positive psychology, studied artists and creative types, observing how individuals who “go with the flow” merge action and awareness as they focus on on the present.
He concluded that “go with the flow” activities were rewarding, noting the relations between flow and happiness. Contemporary psychology describes the “go with the flow” state as the loss of self-consciousness that happens when you are completely absorbed in an intellectual, professional, or physical activity. This state must be seen as voluntary, enjoyable, must require skills, be challenging, and set with clear goals for success.
5. Spiritual Engagement
A 2012 review of more than 326 peer-reviewed studies of mainly adult populations found that out of those 326 studies, 256 (79%) found only significant positive associations between religiosity/spirituality and well-being. The author of this review postulated that religion could play a coping role as well as a support system in people’s lives, thereby increasing happiness. Additionally, studies have shown spiritual exercises like meditation, experiencing “sacred” moments as well as even journal writing have reduced stress and helped people uncover a deeper sense of meaning in life.
Another interesting fact: results in this field suggested that believing in something greater than ourselves may help us stay positive in times of sadness, decrease the likelihood of stress and support positive thinking.
6. Strengths and Virtues
Mark Seligman, a positive psychologist, determined that the happiest people are the people who have found their unique strengths and virtues, and who also used those specific strengths and virtues to work towards a greater good. Additionally, current research indicates that you are most likely to value a job, relationship, hobby or institution that aligns with your core signature strengths and allows you to regularly utilize them.
Research indicates that one of the best ways to boost your long-term happiness is to use your strengths in new ways and situations, rather than focusing on your weaknesses.
For instance, a 2010 study of college students found that individuals who used their signature strengths made more progress in reaching their goals. In addition, a study in 2004 found that certain character strengths, including hope, zest, gratitude, love, and curiosity, show a stronger link to life satisfaction.
7. Positive Mindset
“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
– Winston Churchill
Optimism has been proven to improve the immune system, prevent chronic disease, and help people cope with unfortunate news. Today’s research has shown that optimism is linked to longevity in life whereas pessimism has been linked with depression, stress, and anxiety. Optimism has been shown to serve as a protective factor against depression, as well as a number of serious medical problems, including coronary heart disease.