Wednesday, November 29, 2006

I Can't Get No Satisfaction (Happiness – bought or taught?)

Happiness – bought or taught?

An article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution today, written by Malcolm Ritter, points out that there has, historically, been little scientific research to tell us what makes people happy. There are frequent seminars, studies, advice columns, and articles with theories about what actions people can take in order to become happier. A group from the University of Pennsylvania collected more than 100 specific recommendations for becoming happier. Many books have been written on the topic as well, although many researchers believe that this search is futile, that people are stuck with a particular happiness setting. It has generally been believed that good and bad circumstances of life create temporary states of happiness or unhappiness but that time eventually moderates the feeling back to a person’s inherent happiness “setting.” Many believe that trying to be happier is like trying to be taller or shorter.

But several researchers are now conducting studies to determine scientifically, what makes a person happy. (Researchers from the University of California Riverside, the University of Illinois, and Harvard are referred to in the article. Another study that has followed a group of Germans for 17 years is also mentioned.) Here are some of the actions that are being tested for the possibility that they can reset the “happiness thermostat” for some people.

Consciously list 3 good things that have happened each day.
Emphasize your personal strengths by choosing your five most prominent ones. Then every day for a week apply one or more of those strengths in a new way.
Work on savoring the pleasing things in your life.
Write down what you want to be remembered for.
Practice random acts of kindness.
Think about the happiest day in your life over and over again without analyzing it.

Write about how you’ll be 10 years from now assuming everything goes just right.

So what do you think? Is happiness the process or the place? Is it the goal or the striving? Is happiness the result of getting everything in place – goals met, possessions attained, circumstances aligned as desired? Does the happiness brought about by one circumstance (say the birth or children) cause happiness to decline in other areas (say the marital relationship)?

If you can’t buy happiness, can you learn it?

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