January 02, 2023

When I pulled up my NY Times feed yesterday it was all about taking the happiness challenge.  For the last 80 years researchers at Harvard have studied what makes for a good life and have found the one proven predictor of happiness is developing warmer relationships.  This year a team at the Times set out to develop a seven-day challenge to help people increase their happiness.  The team worked with Robert Waldinger of Harvard to craft exercises to help people cultivate more happiness in their relationships.  One of the challenges suggested is the invitation to write a “eulogy for the living,” or to tell someone why you are grateful for them right now.   Another challenge encourages talking to strangers.  Asking questions can feel uncomfortable, and you risk rejection, but it can have a maximum reward for a minimal effort.  The road to happiness does not begin until you start.

When I looked online, I found happiness is an emotional state characterized by the feelings of joy, satisfaction, contentment, and fulfillment.  While happiness has many different definitions, it is often described as involving positive emotions and life satisfaction.  Since happiness is a broadly defined term, psychologists and other social scientists typically use the term “subjective well-being” when they talk about this emotional state, and subjective well-being tends to focus on someone’s overall personal feelings about their life in the present.  There are two key components of happiness.  The first is the balance of emotions.  Everyone experiences positive and negative emotions, but happiness is generally linked to experiencing more positive feelings than negative ones.  The second is your level of life satisfaction.  This relates to how satisfied you feel with different areas of your life including your relationships, work, achievements, and other things that you consider important.

The search for happiness is not new and has been spoken of in print since at least the ancient Greeks.  The philosopher Aristotle suggested happiness is the “one” human desire, and all other human desires exist to obtain happiness.  Aristotle hypothesized four levels of happiness: happiness from immediate gratification, from comparison and achievement, from making positive contributions, and from self-fulfillment.  It is important to remember that happiness is not a state of constant euphoria.  Happiness is an overall sense of experiencing more positive emotions than negative ones.  Happy people feel the whole range of human emotions (including sadness) from time to time.  When they are faced with the discomforts of life, they have an underlying sense of optimism that things will get better, that they can deal with what is happening, and that they will be able to feel happy again.

THOUGHTS:  Research shows that a lot of people take the attitude they will find happiness in the future “if” and “when”.  IF I get the job I want, I will be happy.  WHEN I get the money or WHEN I retire, I will have more time to do the things I like.  However, the idea of a time surplus is a fallacy. You can do something small and actionable today to create happiness right now.  I wish you all the happiness of the coming New Year.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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