There is an old saying that suggests that:
“If you want to be happy for a few hours, get drunk. If you want to be happy for a few years, get married. If you want to be happy forever, get a garden!”
The wisdom of this is in emphasising that the simplest of activities can often produce the most enduring happiness.
Much of the research on the topic of happiness produces results that are not surprising but listed are a few of the more interesting findings. For example, most of us want to win the Lotto and believe that we would be much happier and content if we did. Research shows that this does not actually happen. As some of the points below illustrate, most of us have a relatively set range or happiness level that does not change too much throughout life. Our mood fluctuates form situation to situation, and may be elevated or diminished for longer periods as a result of life circumstances, but most of us return to our own base level.
You will notice this with people you know - how their personalities are relatively stable and, despite life circumstances and events, they pretty much stay in character. Research shows that even the most dramatic changes often have little effects on these base levels. So, forget about pining for the Lotto, its effects would last about three months after which you would be back to your same-old self. What we can do however is to find out what we are like when we are at our best, what makes us feel good and content, and to do more of those things.
Learning to be happy means learning to understand your personality, your character strengths, and those activities that bring out the best in you. Then, the formula is very simple: Use your strengths and do more of what makes you feel good. It may be as simple as gardening, taking a walk, reading a book, having a regular holiday, or concentrating on a simple hobby. So, think of activities you do that represent you at your best, at your most content and happy, and at your most vibrant. Then decide to build these activities into your life with regularity!
Here are some other interesting research findings on happiness:
- Two people who feel exactly the same may give their feelings different names: Person A feels excited while person B is anxious; A says they are depressed while B says they are tired; A says they are afraid while B says they are irritated. You feel what you think you feel!
- As mentioned above, an American study of 22 people who won the lotto showed that they end up being no happier than everyone else.
- People in good moods handle problems in a different way to people in bad or neutral moods. People in a good mood attack a problem quickly, apply the simplest strategy, and accept the first solution they find. In a bad mood people tend to make things complex and thus act slowly, if at all.
- Research shows that people are better able to solve their problems after watching a comedy movie than if they do not!
- On sunny days people tip waitresses more!
- If people are met in a beautiful or comfortable room, they are liked more.
- The rate of contracting arthritis is reduced among people with good social support.
- Cynical people are more prone to heart disease.
- According to the research, to enhance happiness one should get married, stay married, have children, keep up with the relatives, have plenty of friends, and keep on good terms with the neighbours.
- A treatment for depressed patients consisting of getting people to read positive self-statements at a number of points during the day has been found to as effective than drug therapy and counselling therapy.
- Eccentric people live about 7 years longer than normal people.
- The sense of humour, creative imagination, and strong will of eccentric people help keep them healthy.
- In any given day you can measure your happiness by seeing if you experienced any of the following four things: Did I experience Joy? Did I learn something new about myself? Did I improve myself in some way? Did I over come an obstacle?
- Happy couples express agreement more often than disagreement during problem-solving arguments.
- Happy couples keep a better mental record of the positive things their partners do than the negative things. Unhappy couples remember the bad things.
- Based on school photographs alone psychologists can identify those children likely to grow up happy and unhappy.
- Optimistic people live 20% longer than neutral or pessimistic people.
- We are born with a fairly set level of happiness that is resilient to even the most devastating of events.
- Extraordinarily, happy people who become paraplegic through some tragic accident are 85% likely to return to their normal level of happiness within a year!
- Within 10 weeks, major events like being fired or promoted lose their effects on natural happiness levels.
- In one study, a good prediction of marital satisfaction was the frequency of intercourse minus the number of rows!
- It has recently been discovered that lonely people do not have sufficient intimate conversations with their friends and do not reveal enough about themselves.
- Only about 32% of people would carry on at their present job if it were financially unnecessary.
The moral of the research: Happiness can be taught! It should be a compulsory class in all schools – i.e. learning the science of well-being.