Published by Paula Davis-Laack, J.D., M.A.P.P. in Pressure Proof
Happiness is having a large, caring, close-knit family in another city. George Burns
How happy are you and why? This is a question I spend a fair amount of time thinking about, not only as it applies to my own levels of happiness, but also as it applies to my family, friends, and the people who I work with. Since graduating with my master’s degree in positive psychology, I’ve worked with and observed thousands of people in a wide variety of settings, and happy people just flow with the groove of life in a unique way. Here is what they do differently:
1) They build a strong social fabric. Happy people stay connected to their families, neighbors, places of worship, and communities. These strong connections act as a buffer to depression and create strong, meaningful connections. The rate of depression has increased dramatically in the last 50-75 years. The World Health Organization predicts that by 2020, depression will be the second leading cause of mortality in the world, impacting nearly one-third of all adults (Murray & Lopez, 1996). While several forces are likely behind this increase, one of the most important factors may be the disconnection from people and their families and communities.
2) They engage in activities that fit their strengths, values and lifestyle. One size does not fit all when it comes to happiness strategies. You tailor your workout to your specific fitness goals – happy people do the same thing with their emotional goals. Some strategies that are known to promote happiness are just too corny for me, but the ones that work best allow me to practice acts of kindness, express gratitude, and become fully engaged. Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky offers a wonderful Person-Activity Fit Diagnostic in her book, The How of Happiness (Lyubomirsky, 2007).
3) They practice gratitude. Gratitude does the body good. It helps you cope with trauma and stress, increases self-worth and self-esteem when you realize how much you’ve accomplished, and often helps dissolve negative emotions. Research also suggests that the character strength of gratitude is a fairly strong correlate with life satisfaction (Park, et.al., 2004).
4) They have an optimistic thinking style. Happy people reign in their pessimistic thinking in three ways. First, they focus their time and energy on where they have control. They know when to move on if certain strategies aren’t working or if they don’t have control in a specific area. Second, they know that “this too shall pass.” Happy people “embrace the suck” and understand that while the ride might be bumpy at times, it won’t last forever. Finally, happy people are good at compartmentalizing. They don’t let an adversity in one area of their life seep over into other areas of their life.
5) They know it’s good to do good. Happy people help others by volunteering their time. Research shows a strong association between helping behavior and well-being, health, and longevity. Acts of kindness help you feel good about yourself and others, and the resulting positive emotions enhance your psychological and physical resilience (Post, 2005). One study followed five women who had multiple sclerosis over a three-year period of time. These women volunteered as peer supporters for sixty-seven other MS patients. The results showed that the five peer support volunteers experienced positive changes that were larger than the benefits shown by the patients they supported (Lyubomirsky, 2007).