Friday, August 16, 2013

Manufacturing Happiness

A group of Anglo-American economists – together with the French economist Patrick Viveret – are urging that the success of our societies should be measured by the well-being of their citizens, rather than by their production of weapons or construction of prisons. In studying what really makes people happy, they have come up with precise recommendations – daily behaviors and activities that don’t consume material goods, and which are relatively recession-proof.

1. Connect with others – invest in human relationships. Look on them as the foundations of your life. They will enrich and support you more and more every day.

2. Be active – find a way to move your body that’s fun and feels good. When the body is active, it manufactures happiness.

3. Sharpen your awareness of the present moment – be curious. Observe what is beautiful or unusual. Savor the moment you’re living in right now.

4. Never stop learning – try something new. Take up singing lessons, tango, cooking, drawing. Set yourself a goal you’d like to meet. Then take the first step in getting there.

5. Give a bit by yourself – do something to help someone. Imagine that your personal happiness is inextricably linked to the happiness of your community. Activate the pleasure zones in your brain.

 Rumination is bad for you. As psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky explains in her book The How of Happiness:  "Overthinking ushers in a host of adverse consequences: It sustains or worsens sadness, fosters negatively biased thinking, impairs a person’s ability to solve problems, saps motivation, and interferes with concentration and initiative. Moreover, although people have a strong sense that they are gaining insight into themselves and their problems during their ruminations, this is rarely the case. What they do gain is a distorted, pessimistic perspective on their lives."

Instead, we can do as Christine Carter, PhD advises:
ACCEPT the negative feelings. The key to this is not to deny what we are feeling, but rather to lean into our feelings, even if they are painful. Take a moment to be mindful and narrate: I’m feeling anxious right now, or This situation is making me tense. Hang in there with unpleasant feelings at least long enough to acknowledge them.

PROBLEM SOLVE. What did you learn from that embarrassing situation? What can you do to improve a difficult situation tomorrow? Who else can help? Who do you need to forgive before you’ll feel better? Put a plan into place.

LET GO. MOVE ON. TRY TO FEEL BETTER. This means that we make a genuine effort to cultivate happiness, gratitude, hope, or any other positive emotion; researchers call this “deep acting.”
Faking a smile or other pleasantries to cover our negative emotions (what researchers call “surface acting”) without actually trying to change our underlying negative emotions will often make us feel worse rather than better. But when we genuinely try to feel more positive—when we do try to change our underlying feelings—we usually end up feeling fewer negative emotions and more positive emotions.

She goes on to suggest:

Have a DANCE party. Putting on some music you enjoy and dancing around is a research proven way to feel good.

Find a way to LAUGH.  Laughter lowers stress hormones (even the expectation of laughter can do this) and elevates feel-good beta-endorphins and the human growth hormone.

SLEEP it off. Sometimes, we have a hard time recovering because grief and other negative emotions can be so draining. Taking a nap—or just hitting the hay early for the night—can work wonders.

Take a WALK. When we’ve been really angry or had a “fight or flight” response, physical activity helps clear the adrenaline out of our system. And like happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky says: Exercise may just be the best short-term happiness booster we know of.

ENGAGE with FRIENDS. This is my go-to feel-better solution (maybe because my friends make me laugh). In this case, seek friends out not to tell them all the reasons why you’ve been feeling badly, but rather to have some fun. The idea is to goof around a little.

Practice GRATITUDE. Feeling and expressing gratitude makes most people feel happier and more satisfied with their lives; it also comes with the added benefit of bringing a larger perspective to the picture.

Give out some HUGS. Dacher Keltner’s studies show that touch is the primary language of compassion, love, and gratitude—all positive emotions. Read all about the way that hugs make us feel better in Keltner’s terrific book, Born to Be Good, and in this essay.

Find some INSPIRATION. Elevation, awe, and inspiration are some of my favorite positive emotions.

Notice that none of these things are the numbing behaviors. We are moving on rather than dulling and denying; we’ve already felt the bad feelings, and now we are letting them go.  We have a long list of ways to avoid feeling bad in the first place, of ways to dull the pain. We drink alcohol and take drugs; we overeat and gossip; we have affairs and go shopping for things we don’t need; we keep ourselves too busy to feel anything; we compulsively check our phones and email and Facebook. These are not happiness habits, and they are less necessary when we’ve already accepted our negative emotions and moved on.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”

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