Why everything you thought you knew about happiness is wrong!

Dr Adam Fraser examines some commonly held beliefs about happiness and well-being and lists some easy changes you can make for a happier and and healthier life.

We all want it but it appears that most of us don't have nearly enough of it. What am I talking about? Happiness!

Happiness research is now big business. Where once the secret of happiness was left to the philosophers to ponder, the world of science has since joined the party. Scientists want to know what makes us happy, psychologists want to know why, and marketers want to know how to make money out of our desperate need to be happy.

Why has research is this area exploded? Despite rises in the standard of living and greater and fancier possessions, depression rates have risen to 1 in 4 people. While our external world is getting more luxurious, our internal world is struggling.

Why isn't our happiness scale climbing in parallel with our quality of life? I set about answering this question. Having spent the last three months analysing the research, I've found that everything we thought we knew about happiness is wrong.
It's time to debunk some common myths about happiness.

1. Don't the big things make us happy?

Major positive events such a promotion, a new relationship or house or even winning the lottery may provide a boost of happiness but they do not always promote long-term happiness – we eventually return to our previous level of happiness. Research shows that few positive experiences affect our happiness for more than three months.
The frequency of our positive experiences rather than the intensity of our positive experiences is a better indicator of happiness. A person who experiences a number of good things in one day is likely to be happier than another who has one great thing happen. It really is the little things in life that matter.

2. Aren't I happiest when things are easy and I am cruising along?

We mistakenly tend to think that relaxing and not working hard or cruising in life with no pressure will make us happy but the truth is boredom equals discontent. Communities with high youth crime rates often cite the root cause of crime as boredom in kids who then look for trouble to overcome the boredom.

Matthew Killingsworth from Harvard university has created an iPhone web app called Track Your Happiness, tracking more than 15,000 people in 83 countries. The app queries users at random intervals on their mood and what they are doing at the time, as well as their level of productivity and their social interactions.

His findings show that for 50 percent of our day our mind wanders away from what we are doing during which time we are incredibly unproductive. When our mind wanders and we are no longer 'present' we experience our greatest level of unhappiness. Why? Because our mind tends to wander to unpleasant thoughts or personal concerns.
Most importantly he showed that when our attention is completely absorbed in a task we experience our greatest level of happiness.

So how does this relate in the business world?

We are happiest when we are challenged and engaged – working to achieve difficult goals, yet those within our reach. Most employees do not want to be bored at work. Bored employers are neither content or productive.

If you are a manager and want more engagement from your team give them challenging work, keep track of their progress and debrief it with them.

3. Surely you can't be happy at work?

In terms of overall wellbeing, career wellbeing has been shown to be more important than physical, financial, social or community wellbeing. In other words, whether we are happy at work or not is more important than the other aspects of our lives. Why? Because work makes up so much of our time and we often relate work to your self image and identity. Also, it is vital for employers to ensure their staff are happy as the research linking happy employees to greater productivity and performance is so strong that it is no longer up for debate.

4. Don't I have to focus on myself to be happy?

A study was conducted where people were given a sum of money and asked to either go buy something for themselves or for someone else. Afterwards, the group that bought a gift for someone else had much higher levels of happiness than the group that bought something for themselves. When we do things for others we get a much bigger happiness bump than doing something for ourself. Same goes for the workplace, when we help others improve and develop their skills, our happiness is far greater than if we just focus on getting ahead.

5. That's just me I am not a happy person!

Researchers have since discovered that happiness is not solely linked to genetics. While genes and heritage determine about 50 percent, the rest depends on lifestyle decisions and daily habits. While there is no magic pill for happiness and wellbeing, we can make daily habitual changes to make a difference.

6. When I have nice things then I will be happy!

While we certainly get a bump in pleasure after we buy something beautiful for ourselves, the effect is short lived. What gives us a bigger and longer lasting impact on happiness is when we spend money on great experiences. A holiday, a concert, hot air ballooning. If you want to use money to get you happiness, spend it on experiences rather than possessions.

7. Don't I have to be a tortured soul to be creative and successful!

Is happiness really desirable since it is often thought that to write a best selling book or song you need to have pain or heartache? There is no solid evidence to support this theory. These people are the exception, not the rule. It's like saying my grandfather smoked every day until he died at 99 years of age, therefore cigarettes must make you live longer. Happier people are generally more creative and successful than tortured souls.

Hints for greater happiness

  • Regular exercise
  • Practicing meditation
  • Daily reflection on what you are grateful for
  • Striving to experience happiness in each moment
  • Do things for others
  • Get absorbed in each task you do
  • Invest in your personal relationships
  • Focus on experiences not possessions

Looking at that list it is a list that would make the people around you happy too and the world a better place. Looks like personal happiness is a win for everyone.

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