Happiness Can Be Learned: 3 Tips from the Research

BlackboardDr. Sonja Lyubomirsky has been researching happiness for over 20 years and has pinned down how we can be happier. A professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, Dr. Lyubormirsky discovered that happy people have certain skills that anyone can learn. With these skills, we can all intentionally increase our happiness levels. Why should you care? Based on her research and findings, she has also teamed up with other researchers to explain how success in all areas of life is both a cause and consequence of being happy.

On ABC News 20/20, Dr. Lyubomirsky explains how we aren’t just subject to our life circumstances; happiness also depends on what we do:

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Based on Dr. Lyubormirsky’s research from her own laboratory, here are three ways you can increase happiness and success in your life:

  1. Diversify Random Acts of Kindness
  2. My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” – Dalai Lama

    Kindness is what the Dalai Lama believes in and what he places his faith in because he has seen how it increases happiness. Science now shows that the giver may benefit from giving kindness just as much as the receiver. Practicing random acts of kindness makes you happier, but what you may not have known is that the research also shows that variety matters. Performing the same acts of kindness over and over again can actually decrease your happiness as it becomes a chore. A long-term increase in happiness depends on seeing different recipients’ reactions to the surprise.

    Apart from enjoying the results of your generosity and strengthening the bonds of your relationship with another, showing kindness also benefits your self-perception. When you perform an act of kindness, you learn to see yourself with positive traits as someone kindhearted and caring. When your act of kindness involves volunteering, you may also learn more about yourself, your strengths and your skills.

  3. See Yourself in an Ideal Future and Write It Down
  4. Happiness is tied to optimism and a targeted, effective way to put optimism into action is by writing down how you envision your “best possible self” in the future. For this exercise to be effective, these need to be dreams that are attainable and feasible. Imagine and write down in detail what you will be doing when you’ve reached your potential and have worked hard to achieve all of your goals in life.

    In assuming that you can achieve all that you dream for yourself and that your goals can be realized, you solidify your sense of purpose, develop confidence to help you face obstacles and generate motivation that begets decisions to keep you on track. The exercise in writing also helps you structure and clarify your dreams, placing them within reach.

  5. Savor Life Through Gratitude Exercises
  6. Oprah has been a huge proponent of the power of gratitude and once said: “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” Science now provides the evidence for her wisdom. In some of the earliest studies on gratitude, researchers showed that people who take the time to list five things they were thankful for, once a week, were more optimistic and satisfied with life. These participants were also physically healthier, showing less negative physical symptoms, such as headaches or coughing, and dedicating more time to exercise. Since the high of positive experiences fades, gratitude helps you savor these experiences more fully.

    Other scientifically proven ways of showing gratitude to foster happiness include writing letters of appreciation, whether or not you send them, and actually telling people how much you appreciate them and how meaningful they are to you. Harnessing this feeling of gratefulness can help you value your relationships more and expressing your gratitude can strengthen your bonds with others.

Have you already been applying these tactics in your life? How do you boost your own level of happiness?

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10 Comments

  1. Posted July 13, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    Good Morning, Sam! I’m sure it’s not surprise to you that I love this post and I agree completely that happiness can be learned.

    Being happy is a choice, it is not the result of what’s going on outside, rather it’s about what’s going on inside- our attitudes and beliefs about ourselves and our life.

    The good news is that means any one of us can be happy if we make the choice to be happy! It did take a lot of practice for me to transition from someone who was taught to suffer to someone who was happy, but it worked for me.

    You may also like, “Work Happy: How to be Happier at Work”: http://livelovework.wordpress.com/2011/05/27/work-happy-how-to-be-happier-at-work/

    • Posted July 13, 2011 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

      That’s exactly it, Chrysta! I was so excited to chance upon Dr. Lyubomirsky’s research because it empowered me to take charge of the happiness in my life with easy-to-follow steps that were based on studies! It was definitely a piece of good news that made my week! =)

      I really appreciate you sharing that it does take practice and that a transition does need to take place. I imagine that feeling like a victim of the circumstances is a learned process and we need to intentionally take another path.

      Thanks so much for the comment and sharing your link, Chrysta! I’ll head on over and check it out! Always love your work! =)

  2. Abe
    Posted July 24, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    I crave applying all three of these points for happiness. It has become who I am. People in general crave gratitude so why is it so hard for so many people to show gratitude. It’s simple and rewarding for both the giver and the reciever. Samantha, I love waking in the morning and starting my day reading your blogs.

    • Posted July 26, 2011 at 5:46 am | Permalink

      Wow! No wonder you’ve got it all figured out, Abe! =) You’re a natural happiness attractor! =)

      You bring up a really good observation — knowing that we feel so good to be thanked should naturally motivate us to show gratitude to others!

      Aww, Abe, I so appreciate you taking the time to read my posts and share your thoughts! =) It’s such a pleasure to learn from you!

  3. Posted July 24, 2011 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    Happiness is a state of mind that we choose. That means it can be learned. The tips are excellent and the truth is in this blog. Thanks for sharing Sam. Infinite love and gratitude is why I feel happy as long as I keep those in the front of my mind

    • Posted July 26, 2011 at 5:47 am | Permalink

      Wow! I had never linked those two ideas, Roberta! Happiness is a state of mind and *therefore,* we can learn strategies to increase it.

      Thanks so much for the kind feedback, friend! You set such a great example already! =)

  4. Posted July 25, 2011 at 2:43 am | Permalink

    These are all fantastic tips, Samantha! I do believe that happiness can be learned but old ways of thinking die hard.
    I think an attitude of gratitude is the best way to find true happiness. We take so much for granted. If we take time to be thankful for our blessings, we will realize that it is a wonderful life indeed!

    • Posted July 26, 2011 at 5:48 am | Permalink

      That’s such a good point, Janette! Making new habits is already tough in and of itself, and it’s even tougher knowing that we have to undo some not-so-productive ways of thinking!

      I certainly take a lot for granted in my life too. Thanks for emphasizing the importance of gratitude!! =)

  5. sangeng wong
    Posted September 3, 2011 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    I remember having read a book (published many years ago)”How to be happy though human” which essentially says that happiness is a result/product of what you are doing ( on matters of your interest), like planting rows of dahlias in your garden, looking for dinosaur eggs in the desert….(sounds like happiness is not something you can look for, but a state of feeling which just arises from the activities that you are undertaking and which you willingly undertake )

    • Posted September 3, 2011 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

      Haha! =) I loved your examples of potential happiness-producing activities. I hope that I can one day try dinosaur-egg searching too. =)

      And great point about activities. That’s exactly where the intentional part of happiness comes into play, when we control what we day, which affects how we think and feel! =)

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