We all want to be happy. Unless, well, you’re most comfortable with being unhappy. But let’s assume for the most part that underneath all our different actions and resolutions is an underlying longing: That of happiness.
But what is happiness really? And how do we open ourselves up to it?
I have asked Emma Seppälä, who is an leading expert on the subject: Author of the best selling book The Happiness Track and Ph.D, Science Director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. She is also Co-Director of the Yale College Emotional Intelligence Project at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and a Lecturer at Yale College where she teaches The Psychology of Happiness.
According to your research what is happiness?
“Many of us may not feel happiness because we are looking for it in all the wrong places. Neither in school nor at home have most of us learned where to find it! Research helps shed some light on this important question - in particular, the data shows that there are two kinds of happiness:
• hedonic happiness: think, all the pleasures of the senses from chocolate to sex, from an unexpected check in the mail to a massage
• eudaimonic happiness: think connection with loved ones, purpose, meaning, community service, and spirituality
Can you guess where lasting happiness lies? Let’s just say it’s not just at the bottom of your nutella glass. Both certainly have an impact and boost our well-being. But while hedonic happiness brings us short and intense bursts of pleasure, those spikes come and go all to rapidly and leave us always craving more. It is eudaimonic happiness that helps ensure a stable, long-term lasting feelings of happiness and well-being. Compassion, in particular, is a great place to start and appears to be one of the secrets of lasting happiness.”
We all want to be happier. What ways can we boost our mood in 2017?
“New research shows that taking walks boosts our mood. Being outside and in nature also gives people a big happiness boost. And of course, exercise is fabulous for well-being. If you make it a point to go take a walk outside every day - 10 minutes on your lunch break or right after work, you can fit all three of those things in: Taking a walk, being outside and exercising.”
With so much negativity happening in the world, it's hard to be positive and optimistic - what can we do about that?
“Research shows that, in actual fact, 3 times more positive things happen to us than negative. Our brain is hardwired to look for the negative, which is why we forget the positive. The way you can counter this tendency is to remember all the things that are going right. Research shows that even making a short list of 3 things that you are thankful for that day can significantly boost your happiness.”
Stress is often preventing us from relaxing into happy states. What does science say about that?
“So much research now shows that things like yoga, breathing exercises and meditation can decrease your stress and boost your mood. This doesn't have to be time-consuming - do a couple of stretches in the morning, some breathing exercises on your lunch break and a few minutes of meditation before bed. There are lot of apps and Youtube channels for that.”
Okay, if we should do or be just ONE thing to become substantially happier and more fulfilled, what would you suggest?
“We spend a lot of our time focused on ourselves - our work, our health, our finances, our families. If you take some time, even 5 minutes a day, to do something for others - your colleagues, your friends, a charity, research shows you will significantly boost your happiness but also your health and longevity.”