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Rated: E · Essay · Cultural · #1373113
Four elegant pages on who are most happy, and why, .
Jim Liautaud, UIC Clinical Professor

Here's how this all began.

Dr Seligman, University of Pennsylvania, President of American Psychological Association (APA) wanted to explore the enabling conditions, and how might they be enhanced, that make healthy people flourish. How could they apply all that they learned from psycho therapy applied to unhappy, mentally and emotionally handicapped people--that might help healthy folks like you and me?

They called this new direction Positive Psychology, and the result was a new publication, with an odd name, ‘Character, Strengths and Virtues’ listing all the positive, contributive characteristics that could make healthy people healthier and happier.

Most contributive to my pursuit was Time Magazine’s research that pieced together various findings that identified characteristics that makes people happy, and included what others have found that can actually increase our happiness! Other researchers, independent of Time’s surveys, were also pursuing what makes people happy, and how to make them happier. Here are the most salient, biggest findings of all.

HAPPINESS LEVEL IS A BORN TRAIT--EACH HAS THEIR OWN SET POINT: From Lyken’s study (University of Minnesota) of 4,000 twins, from 1936 to 1955, he concluded that 50% of one’s natural satisfaction with life comes from genetic programming-our DNA. They deal with issues easier, and feel lower levels of depression/anxiety in dealing with life. Interestingly, income, marital status, religion and education only contributed 8%, and the rest was how they simply dealt with life, given what they had to work with. Dietner (University of Illinois) supports that theory by discovering what he calls a ‘set point’ of happiness—people are all born with some set point of relative happiness, and their day to day happiness fluctuates up and down from that point. Some points are higher than others.

PARENTAL BONDS IN THE FIRST THREE YEARS OF LIFE: Influences future success in happy living more than any other factor, according to Social Psychologist Reynolds from the University of Wisconsin

TEENAGERS AND YOUNG ADULTS ARE LESS HAPPY THAN OLDER ADULTS: The consensus of most experts in this area is that many at this age are conflicted in shaping their own identity, unsettled until finding their mate and their career. It’s a period of chaos for most.

SPOUSES RATE LOW AS A SOURCE OF HAPPINESS: In a Time conducted poll of 900 randomly selected parents, they found 35% reported their children/grandchildren brought them the greatest happiness, religion was 17%, and their spouses rated a low 9%. It’s not so much that spouses are bad, as much as that each are busy doing their “thing”, or perhaps assumed as a ‘given’. Or maybe this ties into the fact that 50% of the current marriages are already miserable, and will soon end in divorce.

HAPPIER COUPLES KNOW HOW TO ARGUE THEIR POINT: A Gallup pole showed hey may have as much to disagree, but they pursue their resolution differently. They learned to bypass eye rolling, blame, sarcasm, and interrupting and make a conscious attempt to stem the emotions, and seldom bypass driving to resolution the first time around. That was the one biggest discernible difference in surveying happy couples. A separate research study by Gallup found that women bear negativity much more acutely and remember it much longer!

MOST HAPPY PEOPLE HAVE STRONG TIES TO FAMILY AND FRIENDS:. Satisfying, long term relationships with family and friends are the single, biggest contribution to happiness, according to the Time Survey!

HAPPY PEOPLE ARE HEALTHIER: In a test conducted by Psychologists Seligman and Diener (University of Illinois), conducted a happiness study of thousands of students, using his Satisfaction with Life five question test, and found that the upper ten percent were seldom ill, free of depression states, and also had the strongest ties with family and friends.

FOOTBALL AND HAPPINESS: Mandelbaum’s book, “The Meaning of Sports”, stated the most attractive qualities of watching any sports are (1) Suspense (2) Authenticity (as opposed to watching a movie hero) and (3) Closure-the finality of the hour. Why is that? In the world of life, many are besought with a muddled, complex and often confusing world, beset with hype and spin. Football, and all sports, have defined seasons, the clarity of how the war is played and the scores are made, and the compelling attraction of unraveling a suspenseful story line, all ending in a clear finality, closure, the crowning of the winner. The enjoyment comes from this, the real happiness comes from their perceived superiority and competence that comes from psychologically attaching to the winning team! As a matter of fact, this association was made clear in the propensity for college students to dress in their school colors in direct proportion to the success of their sports team, from research conducted by Robert Cialdini from the University of Arizona.

RELIGION AND HAPPINESS: Koenig’s research at Duke says church goers and believers are a bit less sad, and a bit more happy, and attaches that difference to the buffer faith provides to problems. They tend to be, overall, less depressed, less anxious, and less suicidal. Koenig theorized that this might also have the advantage of the ‘Shalt Nots’; no adultery, drugs, etc, that helps deter the results of anxiety and stress. Belief has the additional benefit of providing a more simplified code of behavior for many overwhelmed with everyday choices And they found that attending services has the combined effect of belonging to a cohesive group, sharing the same beliefs. ‘Religio’, the Latin word from which ‘religion’ was derived, means “to bind together” linking individuals to family, ancestors, friends and community. Group cohesiveness is a major source of happiness. Non-believers, possessing some framework of belief, are no less nor more happier than those that are believers. A Harvard study covering seven decades, found a good and even mix of those religious versus non-religious “lived lives of great joy and connection with loving and fulfilling relationships” So which is the best alternative for happiness on earth? Looks like a toss-up.

DOGS AND HAPPINESS: From Time’s survey, dogs give continual and unconditional support. Since this paper is all about raising our happiness level, what’s that tell us about grandparents that provide their adult children unconditional love?

MONEY AND HAPPINESS: (1) For those that have a comfortable life, their happiness is no less nor more than those who have fortunes. The Diener study of the Fortune 400 wealthiest were found to be only a tiny bit happier than the average American! (I asked a yacht captain that chartered to the rich and famous, what was the one, most surprising, characteristic he learned from observing the living habits his famous guests? “They all have the same life problems as my crew, no more nor less!”)
(2) Forgetting fortunes, even the regular American family is unaffected in their happiness by increasing wealth. In the extensive research completed by the National Opinion Research Center, from 1950-1990, documented in Gregg Easterbrook’s “The Progress Paradox”, he had this to say: “If you made a graph of American Life since the end of World War II, every line concerning money and the things you could buy would soar upward. True per capita income, fully inflation adjusted to the present day, has nearly tripled, and the size of the average home has more than doubled. We went from a one car dream, to a three car nation! We’ve gone from a transcontinental crossing costing the average American six weeks income to less than a week’s pay. Living standards, education levels, and all basic measures of the quality of life has more than doubled in all areas.
And from that study, if you charted the American public’s rise in happiness, that curve would be as flat as a table top” From those statistical polls, Americans happiness level in 1990 was exactly the same as those 40 years earlier! (Most said they were ‘very’ happy--about an 8 on a ten scale).

IF WE HAVE ALL THIS MONEY, WHY HASN’T OUR HAPPINESS INCREASED? At UIC, we concluded that unless you’re a Buddhist monk that trances to nirvana, there is a limit to happiness in all of us. Maybe an 8 is a reasonable limit. There is an anxiousness that drives human nature to continually improve its lot. Being fully complacent in all things, leaves one to have nothing left to achieve. That eliminates hope, and the elimination of hope is depressing,. So, by nature, we all move forward in some kind of pursuit. And therein lies the dilemma, and could be the cause for our inability to increase our ‘flat happiness’ discovered in that forty year study. The pursuit of continual achievement is always attached to the anxiety of failure, and the problems that any pursuit presents. If that’s true, is it that occasional anxiety that detracts from our hopefully utopian pursuit—that state of nirvana, that perfect ‘10’? Dawkins, the researcher on feelings, seems to support that.. Hope for the future drives anxiety until we reach the highs that come with achieving a worthwhile pursuit. For leaders who continue to work, when they could well retire, UIC’s informal CEO survey found the pursuit is not about money. Perhaps it’s the evolutionary drive in all of us to simply do better. The ultimate question is for what purpose? Is there a happier purpose to which a leader can apply this drive, our intellectual and physical resources, to purposes other than making money, or simply going to work? Switching purpose, at least from the findings of Time’s research, can raise our level of happiness. Time’s survey found this could be done quite readily, from those that made a positive change! (So what possibility exists, what pursuits might we employ, that would best encompass a more worthwhile, contributive) objective that would make retirees even happier that they are now?)

IF MONEY DOESN’T BUY HAPPINESS, WHAT DOES? The same in all life’s history: Safety, love, friendship, family, respect, a place in the community, the belief that your life has defined purpose. To the degree your identity is prioritized to these values, is the degree in which your happiness is secure, according to our U of I researcher Diener.

IF WE ARE HAPPY NOW, CAN WE RAISE OUR LEVEL OF HAPPINESS? Yes, says University of California Psychologist Lyubormoski, with these included in her list: (1) Invest more time and energy in friends and family; (2) Make kindness and empathy a habit; (3)Savor life’s joys; (4) Count your blessings; (5) Take care of your body.

Yes, says Harvard Researcher Dan Golemen, and partner to UIC’s EI* research. He confirmed there are only four characteristics that govern your ability to make the most out of your life, and all four are readily improvable, using friends and mentors to help make that happen: He calls this Emotional Intelligence: (1)Self-Awareness (more aware of your strength and weaknesses, your emotional buttons, and the reality of your connective-ness to the outside world; (2) Social-Awareness (empathy, kindness, listening skills) (3) Self-Management (the discipline and commitment to make positive changes in your life and (4) Relationship Management (understanding, and practicing, the characteristics that strengthen your own relationships, for longevity and depth). If you rate these on a 1 to 5 scale, you can pick your lowest rating and work on it, using your closest pals/family members to help you. (*UIC is conducting a two year study inducing positive EI behavior change in executives from various professions, scheduled for completion in 2007.)

Our observations continually reinforced that the key to any worthwhile pursuit is to find projects that employ the characteristic of our greatest strengths and attributes, so we can achieve the greatest amount of good in the shortest amount of time. That is another option for leaders naturally driven to pursuits, as opposed to doing more of the same that they have done in their past. (Certain skills and attributes increase over time, and subtle increases are hard to notice. Interest surveys may identify our newly evolved attributes, and therein lies the value of periodically reassessing priorities in interest and contribution)

HOPEFULLNES, OPTIMISM AND CONTENTMENT: Davidson, from the University of Wisconsin, published his study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and the results were close to astounding. For those of found to possess an abundance of hope, optimism, and contentment as a way of life, your chances of cardiovascular disease, pulmonary disease, diabetes, hypertension, colds and upper respiratory infections are minimal.

If you possess these attributes, as a continuum of habit, you will reduce your chance of dying from these diseases by 50%. And in the absence of these attributes, your chances of dying from these conditions are double.

KINDNESS, GRATITUDE AND YOUR CAPACITY FOR GIVING are more tied to happiness than even curiosity or learning, according to research performed by the University of Pennsylvania Psychologist, Dan Seligman.

AUTHENTIC HAPPINESS, from the book, cites three sources, and in this order of priority: (1) Engagement; the depth in which one is involved in their work, romance or family; hobbies or interests (2) Meaning; using personal strengths and attributes to contribute to others, serve a larger purpose and (3) Seeking Pleasure; looking for the fun things to do in your life. If you got all three going for you, you should rate a 30 or more on Dietner’s Happiness Scale!

HOW HAPPY ARE YOU? Dietner’s Scale of Happiness. Rate each on a scale of 1 to 7. 31 to 35 is the highest level—extremely happy; 26 to 30 very happy; and 21 to 25 is fairly happy; and 20 is average. So how happy are you?
1. In most ways, my life is close to my ideal.
2. The conditions of my life are excellent.
3. I am satisfied with my life.
4. So far, I have gotten the important things I want out of life.
5. If I could live my life over, I would change almost nothing.

Summary comment: Cicero defined this topic on two levels--happiness was the ambient variation of our days and weeks, the highs relative to the lows. Contentment, however, was the underlying source of long-term well being that comes from the continual achievement of a worthwhile goal. For those of us in Cicero’s oft referred Fourth Season of Life, we pretty much shared the same pursuit in our earlier years-- with the long term pursuit of a successful carreer and family, and lived our lives measured against the common values of our friends and community. And once our children are secure in their own lives, achieving their pursuits, then we are all the more content knowing that job was done the best we could. I like contentment more than happiness--it seems a bit more valuable.


Note: Jim is a long term researcher on “Why People do the things they do”, and what they can do about it, to make our lives just a wee bit better.
© Copyright 2008 jpliautaud (jpliautuad at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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