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:
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.
Dr. Colm O'Connor is a Cork Psychologist. You can find more articles by Dr. O'Connor in the Evening Echo every Wednesday.