“You can never get enough of what you don’t need to make you happy”. Accurately stated by philosopher Eric Hoffer and painfully true (much of the time).
The pursuit of happiness consumes us, yet few come close to achieving it. All too often, we don’t even realize we already have it. Until recently an individual’s level of happiness was thought to be a biological and unalterable ‘set point’. This seemed to explain the fact that lottery winners and paraplegics returned to similar levels of happiness after adjusting to their circumstances.
Dr. Martin Seligman, a psychologist, teacher, and writer, began his work testing happiness theories in the class work he assigned his clinical psychology students. The initial exercise itself was simple: each day list three good things that happened and analyze why they occurred.
The increased levels of happiness reported by students led to controlled testing confirming that humans are capable of adjusting their happiness levels by 10 to 15% simply by working at it. Although you won’t go from a crank to a cheerleader, with a little effort, you can live at the high end of your happiness set point.
In another experiment, British scientist, Richard Wiseman, conducted a project called The Science of Happiness, to see if happiness is contagious. 26,000 volunteers carried out exercises to boost their happiness in hopes it would spread to those around them.
Participants were randomly assigned to one of five groups. Each group watched a short video that described either gratitude, kindness, smiling, or recalling happy memories of the day before.
The fifth group was simply asked to think about what happened yesterday. This was the control group used to measure degrees of reported changes in happiness due to a placebo effect.
For the duration of the experiment participants practiced their assigned techniques and tracked their happiness.
All five groups reported increased happiness, with the most significant rise reported by the group instructed to recall a positive memory of the day before.
Two national surveys were conducted, one before and one after completion of the project. In each, about 2,000 people were randomly surveyed and asked how happy they felt. The survey taken after completion of the project showed a 7% increase in the overall happiness of those surveyed.
Thus far, these surveys have not led to definitive conclusions. But for now, it appears that just thinking about being happy goes a long way toward feeling it.