Happy yet?

“A good exercise for the heart is to bend down and help another up.”
-Anonymous

Are you happy yet?

What makes you happy? How happy are you? Despite all of the things we have at our disposal these days, too many of us feel that happiness remains just out of our reach. I have found in my psychotherapy practice that many people describe themselves as ‘not happy’. They may have experienced some incident in their early years which has caused low self-esteem or simply feel disappointed that their life is full but not satisfying.

There has been a lot of research about the science of happiness over the past several years. There are books out there that can help you define happiness, how to measure it, and how to increase it. What makes a person happy? There is no one answer. For each one of us, the answer will vary depending on the day, time and place. We may think that a favorite treat will make us happy (or at least less unhappy) such as Godiva dark chocolate or a new pair of shoes. While the specific item may put a smile on our lips at the moment, that does not equal ‘happiness’.

Dr. Martin Seligman, a noted psychologist, has spent many years conducting research on happiness. His results indicate that happiness is an important component in our lives, especially with regard to our general health and possibly our lifespan. As you may expect, negative emotions like anger and hostility produce high levels of stress-related chemicals which are hard on our bodies. Feelings of happiness produce the opposite which is very good for us. His research shows us that we can build more happiness into our lives. However, it is not about simply getting more of what we think we want that makes a difference.

Comparisons were made between performing a kind act for someone else and doing something considered ‘fun’, such as playing golf, taking a bubble bath, or reading a book. Results showed that the ‘afterglow’ of a pleasurable activity paled in comparison to the good feelings associated with performing an act of kindness, such as taking someone a surprise meal or paying the toll for the car behind you. This positive effect was also increased when the acts were spontaneous. Also, one surprise result was that more money or more possessions did not add to one’s perception of happiness; the materialism factor reduced levels of happiness.

So, the best way to increase your own feeling of happiness is to do something to help someone else. Random acts of kindness can be big or small, and don’t have to take much time or money. The best part is, you get two (smiles) for the price of one.

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