Just about everyone wants to be happy. Just enter "happiness" or "how to be happy" into Google and see how many people are writing about it. But I'm not sure how many people are taking notice. And there are so many ideas out there, and some people selling them, that it is hard to know who to trust.
I have researched scores of sources, and I'm not selling anything, so maybe you'd be interested in this quick summary.
what is happiness?
Pleasure is not the same as happiness, and seeking pleasure will not always make you happy. Pleasure is a sensation that is generally short-lived. It is part of happiness, but happiness also includes the longer term states of contentment and wellbeing.
self esteem and motivation
Many people suggest the path to happiness involves self examination, positive thinking, self fulfilment and improving self esteem. Examples include Michael Anthony, eHow, Depression-helper and wikiHow. This approach can help people and can improve self esteem and achievement of goals. One of the better examples suggests the following 4 core components of happiness:
- knowing your purpose and place;
- good health via diet and exercise;
- managing your life and emotions to keep balance;
- spiritual fulfilment.
However expert psychologists say that looking inside oneself and building self esteem are not the ways to achieve long term happiness. It may be significant that many people giving this advice are not academically qualified to give it.
what makes people happy?
We can be more confident of the answers when they are based on research by qualified experts, and the results of this research indicate that if there is a single key to being happy, it is to look outside yourself. Here are some of the summaries I have found:
Economist Ross Gittins summarises the best expert advice
- concentrate on the human, not the material,
- make others happy rather than indulge yourself,
- look for the intrinsic benefits in activities more than the financial ones,
- balance work, family, pleasure, etc,
- be optimistic and content with what you have - count your blessings,
- get back to natural things.
An ABC Science show, quoted experts on the importance of spirituality and meditation, and quality relationships.
A Harvard University study of happiness that lasts into old age suggested the following were important
- health (exercise, not smoking, sensible alcohol use & right weight);
- education (more important than wealth and prestige);
- happy marriage;
- ingenuity and coping mechanisms;
Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at the University of Kent, says you only find happiness by seeking something else, namely the virtuous life.
Positive psychology, as presented by Dr Martin Seligman, emphasises:
- The Pleasant Life, with pleasure and positive emotion.
- The Engaged Life, absorbed in work, love, friendship & leisure.
- The Meaningful Life. Going beyond our own pleasures and using our strengths and virtues in the service of something we believe is more important than we are.
Summarising all this, research indicates that there are 5 keys to a happy life:
- Don’t be fooled by advertising or envy into thinking that wealth, health or popularity will bring lasting happiness. Their impact is likely to be small and fleeting. Take opportunities to improve your standard of living if you have real needs, but it is important to learn to be happy with what you have.
- Develop good relationships with a circle of friends. Join a group where you can share your interests, and your life. Maintain a loving marriage if you can.
- Get involved in interesting and challenging activities that enrich your life. Enjoy your paid work, and do some voluntary work.
- Don't focus on yourself. Go easy on others - forgive, offer support, show gratitude.
- Think about what you believe. Spiritual and ethical beliefs, hope and purpose, are very important for well-being. Investing your life in a cause greater than yourself is one of the keys to satisfaction in life.
The amazing thing is, the truth about happiness is quite clear, yet so many times we swallow the lie of advertising, and keep on looking to pleasure and possessions to give what is actually beyond them.
Disclaimer: These comments relate to people who don't have a medical condition that affects their mood. Those who need medical treatment should seek it.