Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Science of Happiness

Positive psychology research is exploring the idea that through certain practices, such as gratitude, forgiveness, and self-reflection, we can enhance our well-being. The field has made groundbreaking discoveries. Read on for some recent and helpful facts from the science of happiness.

Mindfulness is Powerful Link to PDF, Link to PDF

Personal income has more than doubled in the past 50 years in the United States, yet happiness levels have remained the same. While this might be surprising, recent research has shown that only 10% of our happiness is due to our external circumstances. A full 90% is based on our inner environment. 50% of our happiness level comes from our genes and 40% comes from intentional activities like self-reflection, mindfulness, and gratitude.

The power of mindfulness is explained by recent research in neuroplasticity. We now know that the adult brain grows 5,000 new brain cells every day. So we can rewire our brains to be happy, compassionate, and kind. All that it takes is practice.

Forgiveness is Physical Link to PDF

Practicing forgiveness doesn’t only benefit the person we forgive, recent research shows that it has tangible physical and emotional benefits for ourselves as well. Forgiveness reduces tension, depression, anger, and stress. It is directly correlated with physical health. The next time you’re holding a grudge, try letting it go for your own benefit.

Generosity Increases Happiness Link to PDF

For our happiness, how we spend our money is as important, if not more important, than the amount of money that we make. Giving to others releases endorphins, activating the parts of our brains that are associated trust, pleasure, and social connection. Being altruistic and spending money on others leads to higher levels of happiness. Happiness, in turn, increases the chance that we’ll be altruistic in the future, creating a positive feedback loop of generosity and happiness.

Gratitude Promotes Well-being Link to PDF

Positive psychology has concluded that counting our blessings has a measurably positive effect on our well-being. It is as simple as writing down three things you are grateful for every day for three weeks. Practicing gratitude not only increases our general contentment, it improves the amount and quality of our sleep.

Positivity Pays Off (Shawn Achor, The Happiness Book)

Many people tell themselves, “If I work hard, I’ll be successful. If I’m successful, I’ll be happy.” This thinking pushes happiness out of reach because as soon an we reach a goal, the goal changes, making happiness fleeting. The equation is backwards, instead we must realize that happiness may be a crucial ingredient for success.

If we can become more positive in the present, we can get our brains to work more successfully and tap into the happiness advantage. Science has shown that we are significantly more productive when positive. When we feel positive our intelligence, creativity, and energy levels rise. How? Dopamine, which floods the brain when we are positive, not only makes us happier, but also activates all of the learning centers of our brains. In order to have success and happiness in our lives, we must stop thinking that happiness is dependent on success, and realize the success is aided by happiness.

Happiness is Contagious Link to PDF

Happiness is collective. Our happiness depends on the happiness of those we are connected to. Relatedly, science shows that through practicing happiness, we make those we come into contact with happier. This extends to the 3rd degree of contact (a friend of a friend of a friend). Finding happiness is not a selfish pursuit, it is actually doing a favor to those around us.