The Science of Happiness

The Science of Happiness

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Are you living a productive and meaningful life? Do you work on a cause that is important to you? Are you really passionate about something and are you bringing your personal strengths to bear on it? Do you know why you are here? Do you feel you are going somewhere wholeheartedly?

According to the psychologist Martin Seligman, author of Authentic Happiness, if you answer these questions in the affirmative, chances are that you are already a happy person.

Recent studies have shown that subjective well-being depends little on such "good things" of life as health, wealth, good looks or social status. Happiness seems to relate more directly to how you live your life with what you have.

Remember the "set point" theory about personal weight? The theory claimed that loss of weight is a temporary phenomenon. For example, people diet and lose weight for a while but in given time, they tend to come back to their usual weight.

The set-point theory seems to apply to happiness as well. We tend to gravitate around our usual level of happiness. So there you are. You already knew you had a thermostat in your car and your house and now you know you have a "happiness thermostat" in your mind to adjust the "ups and downs" caused by life events.

Let me give two examples to illustrate this point: 1.) Able-bodied people who suddenly become paraplegic; 2.) Lottery winners who become wealthy overnight. People, in both examples, in spite of their changed circumstances, one on a wheel chair and the other with millions in the bank, return to their previous level of happiness (or unhappiness) within a year. Isn't that fascinating? Human beings are not slaves to their circumstances, after all!

However, current research also shows that mood and temperament are partially determined by genetics. From this we can conclude that genes have a hand in determining the level of our happiness, but circumstances don't, barring a few exceptions, of course. For example, extreme poverty for an indefinitely long period can affect the level of happiness.

If you feel discouraged because you were not born with an abundance of happy genes, take heart. Remember, genes play a partial role in the degree of happiness you are capable of experiencing, but genes don't determine all of it. Genes simply offer you a range to work with. It's up to you whether you operate at the top end or the bottom end of the range of your happiness.

To use another analogy, say you live in a house you inherit from your parents. It's up to you which part of the house you live in. You may live in the basement where it's dark and dingy or, the top floor of the house, which is light and bright and has a great view of the ocean.

Desire can help us or hurt us. It is help when desire moves us to achieve positive and worthy goals. But, desire can become infinite and unappeasable. Unrestrained desire can become a constant source of unhappiness. Therefore, at some point of materialistic gains and self-fulfillment, contentment and gratification are necessary to maintain a level of happiness.

Gratification is derived from rising to the challenges posed by your family, work and other responsibilities or duties. But, in order to be gratified, you have to be in a receptive mental mode.

Likewise, contentment does not result from a perfect job, perfect family or a perfect society. But, contentment is a result of your feeling that you are trying your best to make something perfect; when you feel that you are living a productive life.

What does it mean to live a productive life? When you know what your strengths are and you are putting them to good use.

Make your job as your "calling" and your family as your "mission." Regard service to others as part of your self-fulfillment. Engage in the tasks that are consistent with your values and help you to take your skills and abilities to the next higher level.

The more challenges you master and utilize your personal strengths, the more the good feelings will permeate your life.

The happiest people in the world are not those who have perfect lives, but the people who have learned to enjoy things that are less than perfect.

Return to Self Help 

Copyright 2002, Mind Publications 
Posted October 2002


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