Everyone's Idea of Happiness is Different

 Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

What makes you happy? The recent surveys on happiness have produced unexpected answers. One might be surprised to find that success, money, youth, and good looks are not on the top of the list of things that make people happy. Also, health and education are way down in the list as well. 

Are you ready for this? People identify "close relationships" as the number one source of happiness. The runner up is a "happy marriage. " Number three is "religious faith, " no matter what religion or what denomination, as long as it is religious faith. The least happy people are those who are in unhappy marriages. Happiest are those who feel that their partners are not just their partners but their "best friend, " as well

Researchers tell us that people normally entertain "predominantly positive emotions" for about seventy-five percent of the time and "predominately unpleasant emotions" for about twenty-five percent of the time. If the time spent between the pleasant and unpleasant emotions is in a ratio of three to one, for example, three hours of pleasant emotions to one hour of unpleasantness, a  person is likely to maintain an overall feeling of happiness. 

Since we have sixteen waking hours in a day, we should be spending about twelve hours a day with positive thoughts and feelings and not more than four hours with negative thoughts and feelings. I am working on it. I am not there, yet. Incidentally, the quality of your sleep is also determined by the quality of your thoughts and feelings during the waking hours. Are they predominantly positive or negative? 

Our thoughts also influence our mood. In one study, researchers asked people to "think about their troubles" for 15 minutes, and then evaluated them to see if that had any effect on their mood. Later, the researchers asked the same people to "talk about their troubles" for IS minutes, and then evaluated them to see if talking had any effect on their mood. Results of the study suggest that talking about troubles has a positive effect on mood. Thinking about troubles has a negative effect on mood. What it boils down to is this: Talking about bad things is not as bad as is thinking about bad things.

Let's really watch our thinking because a lot of times, we are not aware when we are thinking and what we are thinking. We are just thinking. 

Happiness is a little bit external and a lot more internal. How much happiness one will have in one's life depends, to a large extent, on one's temperament and attitude. Some are born happy, smiley, and easy to please. Some are born unhappy, whiny, and difficult to please. 

Compared to the children with "difficult temperament, " happy-to-be children smile more, are easily comforted, and when they get upset, their crying, kicking, and fussing does not last as long. They tend to be more content. Temperament plays a role in determining whether you spend more time of your life being happy or unhappy.

Our attitudes also contributes to the making of our happiness Abraham Lincoln once said that people can be as happy or unhappy as they make up their mind to be. Take the example of a positive mental attitude. 

When you are upset, positive mental attitude helps you to recover faster and negative emotions do not reach the extremes. When you anticipate positive outcomes which create hope and optimism. As moments of unhappiness decrease, moments of happiness increase. Why is happiness so elusive? It is so because we believe that "THINGS " rather than "THOUGHTS " make us happy. So we run after or wait for things to make us happy. 

For example, "When I get a bigger house, or that sports car, or that million dollar, I'll be happy." We remain unhappy while we wait for these things to happen. You know they don't happen soon enough. When we finally get the desired thing, we soon get used to it and it doesn't offer us the same happiness which it once did. 

Research on lottery winners suggest that in the first year of winning a lottery, happiness shoots up like the mercury in the thermometer at the touch of high fever. However, a year later, a lottery winner is only marginally happier than he was before he hit the jackpot. 

Windfalls lose their impact over time because we get used to them. If happiness is what you are after, then why not make up your mind to be happy. Make a deliberate effort to be happy. Don't wait for things to happen in order to make you happy. On the other hand, things may happen when you do whatever you do, happily!


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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 



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