Noyes News and Events

July 31, 2017

Everyday Happiness

Last week, I wrote about the connection between happiness and our physical health.  Plenty of studies show the connection between positive emotions like happiness, joy, gratitude, and peace and our biological systems.  Upbeat folks, in general, are healthier.  They have less cardiovascular disease, better immune systems, fewer aches and pains, and live longer.  At the end of the day, everybody just wants to be happy.   Self-help books and articles abound about how to pursue happiness and somehow reach a Zen-like state on a regular basis.  Some of these notions are not realistic and may even be counteractive.  New research (and a bit of common sense) points toward a more genuine approach to everyday living and achieving a happiness balance that benefits the body, mind, and soul.

Authentic Happiness, The Happiness Solution, The Art of Happiness, and Happiness Now! are just a few of the books out there promising formulas and techniques for lasting fulfillment, everyday happiness, and joy.  Happiness is now becoming an industry with motivational speakers, books, blogs, research, and therapists.  While intentions are good, the message of everyday happiness may not be as beneficial as some initially thought.  Wanting to be happy can make you less happy reports researcher Iris Mauss, an assistant professor in psychology at the University of California at Berkeley.  Focusing on happiness appears to have a self-defeating quality.  When people are really working at being happy, they set unrealistic, unattainable higher standards.  Mauss’s research shows that this ultimately leads to greater discontent, which in turn lowers levels of happiness and well-being.  In some cases, the overemphasis on happiness leads to more depressive symptoms.

Researcher Lahnna Catalino notes that the pursuit of happiness appears to be a delicate art.  She and her colleagues likewise conclude that people who obsess about happiness are more likely to see their happiness quotient plummet. Catalino’s research, however, suggests that people who regularly seek out positivity as they arrange their everyday lives are happier.  That is, people who figure out how to fit in bits of pleasantry in their normal, everyday lives and enjoy those moments are more content. 

Understanding and defining happiness is also important.  Many folks misunderstand happiness and assume it is great joy, being in fantastic mood and lovin’ life all the time.  Experts, however, say that this is not realistic.  Humans have a wide range of emotions that are crucial for motivation, safety, creativity, and more.  For example, being displeased with your performance at work or school can be a motivator to work harder or try something new.  Being anxious in an unsafe situation may prompt you to get a move on and skedaddle.  It does not make sense to try to be happy in all situations.  In fact, people who exhibit inappropriate happiness are more likely to be neurotic.   So if happiness is not mountain top experiences every day or trying to make every minute a joyous one, what is it then?  Happiness can be anything that is pleasant.  For some, this is a quiet cup of coffee in the morning before the kids get up.  For others, it is a social gathering with friends once a week.  Yet others may define it as playing soccer, painting, cooking, or gardening.  For years, one of my everyday happy moments was lunch with my coworkers.  It was a 20-minute break from the grind, a time to kick back, laugh a bit, and enjoy friends.   Moreover, anybody who knows me can testify that I consider my pot of tea every morning to be pure joy!
How can you incorporate more happiness?

Happiness researchers offer these suggestions:

  • Let go of extreme ideas of happiness.  It is not realistic to feel joy, contentment, gratitude, and peace every second of the day.  Some days really are stressful.  Some days are truly incredible.  Some days (many days) are vanilla – you know nothing bad but nothing-super fantastic. 
  • Figure out what sparks joy. Reflect on activities, moments, and situations that give you joy, contentment, or simply put a smile on your face.  Research shows that most people gain the most enjoyment by connecting with loved ones or doing something physical.
  • Schedule enjoyment into your day, week, and month.  Once you know what sparks joy, put it on the calendar.  If you like running or walking with a friend, call or text and make a date.  If you love reading, carve out 20 minutes to escape with that novel.  If you would much rather drink your first cup of joe alone in the morning, wake up 10 minutes before the rest of the household.
  • Finally, pursue happiness for the right reasons.  Yes, it is good for your health but it is also good for your relationships with family, friends, and coworkers.  June Gruber of UC Berkeley writes, “True happiness, it seems, comes from fostering kindness toward others – and yourself.” 

Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator for UR Medicine Noyes Health in Dansville.  If you have questions or article suggestions, contact her at 585-335-4327 or lwichtowski@noyeshealth.org.