6 Things Your Grandmother Told You About Happiness – Does Science Agree?

Happiness Lies in Random Acts of Kindness

In a recent study, participants were divided into three groups. One carried out five ‘random acts of kindness’ in a single day, the second spread them out over a week and a third served as a control. After repeating this for six weeks, it was seen that the first group experienced the most significant increase in happiness. “Kindness can jump-start a whole cascade of positive social consequences,” they observed. “Helping others leads people to like you, to appreciate you [and] to offer gratitude.

Happiness is a Journey

Our mind’s ability to absorb and adjust to both positive and negative changes means that no emotion, however strong, lasts forever. We soon return to our original baseline of happiness, regardless of winning the lottery or meeting with a serious car accident.

Our inability to hang on to happiness puts us on what is known as a “hedonic treadmill”. We’re always seeking out short term mood boosts, which means that happiness is not a goal but a series of joyful moments that run through our lives.

Happiness Comes When You Least Expect it

Studies show that those who consciously make an effort to seek out happiness in their lives actually report lower levels of happiness and satisfaction. On a related note, those who are more optimistic in life do report greater levels of self esteem and lower levels of depression, loneliness and stress, but their optimism also drives them to take greater risks, which makes them less likely to quit smoking and more likely to have an unwanted pregnancy.

Sharing Happiness Creates More Happiness in the World

Alice Isen, PhD, of Cornell’s Art College, found that the smallest gestures – a free sample, loose change on the sidewalk or an unexpected gift – can cause people to experience a thrill that drives them to show more generosity and friendliness. This in turn makes them more flexible, creative and better able to solve problems. These small bursts of good feelings can over time result in making people smarter, more productive and more accurate. They even conducted a study on radiologists and found that after receiving a small present, they made more accurate diagnoses!

More Choices Don’t Always Mean More Happiness – Appreciate What You Already Have

Although it’s widely accepted that freedom of choice gives us the agency to express ourselves and create lives that will make us happy, this may just be another myth propagated by capitalism. A study conducted on the topic showed that greater the degree of choice, the more miserable the individual.

Too many choices actually cause us to be overwhelmed, leading to an inability to actually make a choice – in other words: not free at all. With every new option provided, we find our own choice less satisfactory. Once you’ve checked out all the options, you are likely to eventually question and even regret the choice you actually make.

Money Can’t Buy Happiness

While money definitely buys a lot, wealthy people are dealing with parental anxiety, fears of isolation and self-esteem crises just as much as any of us. Robert Kenny, a developmental psychologist and senior advisor at the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College, is delving into the aspiration, dilemmas and personal philosophies of people worth $25 million or more. The results show that with complete freedom to do whatever they want, they’re wracked by concerns on how best to spend their time. They can build anything they want, buy anything they want, eat anything they want – so which do they choose? It can take quite a lot of work to overcome this and make decisions.

What does this mean for us? It appears that the easiest and most effective ways to bring joy and happiness into our lives is by appreciating what we have and sharing that joy with others in whatever way we can. Instead of dedicating our lives to the pursuit of happiness, stop, take a breath, and realise that it’s already all around us.

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