Tag Well-being

A Most Delightful Response to Life’s Nagging Questions: “Just slap something on it when you see a blank canvas staring at you with a sort of imbecility”

A Most Delightful Response to Life's Nagging Questions: "Just slap something on it when you see a blank canvas staring at you with a sort of imbecility" | rethinked.org

Artist Unknown

This week, I found myself puzzling about life–puzzling more than usual that is. I lost myself in questions about passion, purpose, action, fear, choices, growing up, courage, art and pain. No need for alarm, this happens every year about a month before my birthday comes around. I find myself undergoing a tiny annual existential crisis, where I question everything, worry that the gap between my actual self (my behaviors, patterns and habits?) and my “ideal” self is widening rather than shrinking and neurotically overthink the connections between thinking, doing and becoming.

The good news about all this mental time travel I undergo each year is that recent studies have found self-projection to be correlated with a greater sense of meaning. What’s a little annual mental anguish over all of one’s life choices in exchange for a meaningful life?

Several lines of work seem to converge on the idea that self-projection is a valuable exercise. Mentally traveling in time, imagining other places, and stepping into other people’s minds can give people a sense of meaning in life. Researchers have found that engaging in nostalgia, the process of sentimentally reflecting on past events, produces reports of greater meaning in life. Projecting oneself forward into the future—whether through hopeful thinking or considering one’s legacy after death—has also been associated with elevated reports of meaning in life.

[ . . . ]

In five additional studies, we found that having people project themselves forward or backward in time or into other geographic locations—compared with having people think about the present—boosted their subsequent reports of meaning in life. The reason for this link turned out to be deceptively simple. When our research participants considered life beyond the present moment, they often conjured up events and places that were more profound, meaningful, and awe-inspiring than the current moment. – Step Outside Yourself: Meditation says to focus on the present. But life may be more meaningful if you don’t.

…*

When I start to become overwhelmed by questions, I generally turn to the artists for insight and guidance. I’ve written a lot about the creative process on rethinked …* and shared countless insights from various artists. That’s because an artist, by definition–at least by my definition–is someone who owns, cultivates and deploys his or her own distinctive voice. At the end of the day, I don’t believe someone without a particular point of view and the ability and desire to express said point of view can be considered an artist. So I was excited to see this short video featuring French high-wire artist and general creative “outlaw,” Philippe Petit on what it means to live as an artist:

“Anyone that embarks into the arts, and even if you’re not an artist or a performer, in the art of living as an extension, will have the most difficult life because it’s the opposite of lethargy and laziness and dragging your feet and dying as you live. So if you want your life to be exciting, if you find the motor necessary for a great life, which is passion, you will have a difficult life and at the same time your life will be very easy in a sense that you will not have to struggle to find ways, it is in you, it devours you, you have to do it–using your intuition and your passion. So, for example, well people sometimes ask me, “how can I be creative?” Or. “I am a young artist and I want to develop my art.” And right there, I build a big wall between two concepts that to me are very opposite: the concept of a career and the concept of life. So, if somebody says, “You know, I am starting a career as an actor, do you have any advice?” I say, “Yes, drop the word career from your vocabulary—LIVE as an actor, you know? Don’t try to do things in a strategic way, do things as your heart tells you. If you feel you are a comic character, do not accept any drama, go into the comic and start developing it. The work of art is a perpetual trampoline; it is ephemeral; it is fragile; it is mysterious. There is no rule to describe what an artistic way of life is. So if you want to go in an artistic way of life and you carry the luggage of money and time and strategy and politics, well you will never be an artist. You know? But it’s fine, many false artists are doing that. But the true artist, in my opinion, should not think of a career, you should think of your life.

 . . . *

When the questions become overwhelming, or when one cannot find an entry way into living one’s life as one wants, Van Gogh has the perfect remedy:

Just slap something on it when you see a blank canvas staring at you with a sort of imbecility.

You don’t know how paralyzing it is, that stare from a blank canvas that says to the painter you can’t do anything. The canvas has an idiotic stare, and mesmerizes some painters so that they turn into idiots themselves.

Many painters are afraid of the blank canvas, but the blank canvas IS AFRAID of the truly passionate painter who dares—and who has once broken the spell of ‘you can’t.’

Life itself likewise always turns towards one an infinitely meaningless, discouraging, dispiriting blank side on which there is nothing, any more than on a blank canvas.

But however meaningless and vain, however dead life appears, the man of faith, of energy, of warmth, and who knows something, doesn’t let himself be fobbed off like that. He steps in and does something, and hangs on to that, in short, breaks, ‘violates’—they say.

Let them talk, those cold theologians.

Advice from Van Gogh: Just Slap Something on It

. . . *  

Finally, I think I’ve shared this before, but when I am anxious or puzzled or just generally blue I go straight to the bookstore. Earlier this week, while browsing the children’s books–which I love as I truly believe most children understand very deeply and intuitively a lot of things we forget and unlearn and complicate terribly as we grow older–I discovered Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld (who also coauthored the sublime Duck Rabbit book). It’s the charming story of an exclamation mark who feels out of place amongst the other punctuation marks until he meets a question mark who, through her endless questions, helps him discover his voice!! Enjoy …* 

The Book of Life: “The Curation of the Best & Most Helpful Ideas In the Area of Emotional Life”

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From its ambitious mission, unusual format, and insightful ideas, The Book of Life proudly continues The School of Life‘s tradition of excellent content presented in an enchanting way on what it means to thrive as a human being (remember this video on the need to cultivate a growth mindset to address procrastination?)

There’s always been a longing to gather the important things in one place. Some of the appeal of a Bible or the collected works of a big name author is the sense that amidst all the chaos and disparate sources of knowledge, someone has taken the trouble to distill, to compress, to say what is essential. In a world overflowing with information, what we most need is curation. The Book of Life aims to be the curation of the best and most helpful ideas in the area of emotional life.

The Book of Life aims to rethink our conception of what a book is and what it can become:

The Book of Life redraws the sense of what a book is. Up to now, books have been the most ambitious way in which ideas are presented. But they have suffered from serious limitations: they’ve had only one author; they’ve usually been written over a relatively short period of time. And once they’ve been finished, they can’t be changed (even if the author gets a great new idea). They have also been largely restricted to words, images being too expensive and film impossible.

The Book of Life is being written by many people over a long time; it keeps changing and evolving. It is filled with images and films as well as texts. By floating online, it can grow a bit every day or so, as new things come along and it can be equally accessible all around the world, at any time, for free. 

The Book of Life, which concerns itself with the various dimensions of human experience, “is structured according to the situations of your own life” and is divided into six chapters: Capitalism; Work; Relationships; Self; Culture; and Curriculum. Go check them out …* 

Want to Boost Your Mood? Learn Something …*

Want to Boost Your Mood? Learn Something ...* | rethinked.org

Just the other day, a good friend was telling me about the delightful experience he just had of picking up a book on a subject he already knows much about and discovering new insights and ways of thinking about this particular topic. “Learning feels so good,” he said. I agree, and so does neuroscience.

Neurologically, learning is inherently rewarding. Acquiring new information increases our production of dopamine, which improves our mood and heightens our interest in related activities. It makes everything we do more interesting.

– Why Work Should Get a Little Harder Every Day via Harvard Business Review

Positive Psychology Activities & Cultivating A Growth Mindset Are An Important Part of Living A Meaningful Life …*

At the end of each year, the folks of the Greater Good Science Center round up their favorite insights from the year’s scientific research on happiness, altruism, mindfulness and gratitude, what they group together as the “science of a meaningful life.” Having spent a good portion of 2014 exploring the science and activities of Positive Psychology through my rethinked*annex side project and fangirling over Carol Dweck and her work on the benefits of a growth mindset, I was particularly excited to see the two insights that positive psychology activities do have an impact on enhancing happiness and that a growth mindset is a key in growing our empathy muscle.

{ Activities from positive psychology don’t just make happy people happier—they can also help alleviate suffering } 

Research on positive psychology activities—like keeping a gratitude journal or regular meditation—has offered compelling evidence that it’s possible to cultivate happiness over time. What’s more, during the past year, we saw many different papers suggest that positive activities aren’t just for positive people, and that negative conditions aren’t just alleviated by targeting negative influences. Instead, nurturing positive skills can help pull people out of depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts. – Source: The Top 10 Insights From 2015

{ People with a “growth mindset” are more likely to overcome barriers to empathy }

According to a recent paper published in the Journal of Social Psychology, our beliefs about empathy are critical to fostering it. People primed to see empathy as a skill—in other words, people given a “growth mindset” about empathy, seeing it as something one can build through practice—were more likely to “stretch themselves to overcome their limitations.” Across all of their studies, they found that people who believe empathy can be developed expended greater effort in challenging contexts than did people who believe empathy cannot be developed, suggesting that our beliefs about ourselves are key to expanding empathy on both individual and societal levels. – Source: The Top 10 Insights From 2015 

You can read the rest of the curated scientific insights from 2014 on living the meaningful life here.

{ Travel Lightly } Being Aware & Selective with What We Let In to Our Lives, Both Physically & Mentally …*

{ Travel Lightly } Being Aware & Selective with What We Let In to Our Lives, Both Physically & Mentally | rethinked.org

“All our worries are left here” – Rock found on the side of the road …*

A few weeks ago, I shared a list of the top five things that walking 500 miles helped me understand in a deeper or different way. Here is a bit more context around the first lesson- travel lightly.

It was not until the night before I was to set out for Santiago that I realized my sleeping bag would not fit in my pack. After spending a good hour trying various alternate packing arrangements and a panicked last minute phone call to my father, I decided to tie the sleeping bag on the exterior of my pack, which was already covered in extra stuff, “just in case.” I struggled a bit to get my pack on, stepped on the scale and discovered it was 14 kilos, well over the recommended five percent of one’s body weight. But caught up in a glowing feeling of victory after having managed to tie my sleeping bag (however precariously) to the outside of my pack, I felt quite sure the five percent recommendation did not apply to me.

Over the next two weeks, I hauled my absurdly heavy pack up and down mountains (some significantly larger and steeper than others). My collarbone bruised, my feet became swollen, and my back ached. I persevered until the fateful morning when I woke up to find that my feet had become so swollen that no amount of pushing and pulling would get them in my boots. Listening to the advice of new friends, I decided it was time to part with some of my stuff. I shipped ahead to my destination my sleeping bag (!) and some other things I hadn’t used. The moment I left the post office after having surrendered my gear, I immediately began to imagine worst case scenarios of myself shivering with cold while being devoured by the bed bugs which were rumored to be found all along the Camino. What happened for the rest of my trip truly surprised me—I was not cold and I did not get bitten by a single bed bug. Everywhere I stayed, the people running the Albergues (pilgrim hostels) lent me blankets. One night, the person sleeping on the bunk below mine caught bed bugs, but somehow, even without my permethrin treated sleeping bag, I emerged bug free.

{ CAN I AFFORD TO CARRY THIS EXTRA WEIGHT AROUND WITH ME? }

A few weeks after shipping my sleeping bag, I had dinner with a lovely man who was also walking to Santiago, an Australian sculptor in his seventies. We talked about various aspects of the experience we were sharing and he asked me how I dealt with the never ending snoring in the Albergues. He admitted that he sometimes would get aggravated by the snoring and shared with me a mental trick he used to deal with negative feelings as they crept up. He imagined each negative feeling as a weight, some weighed 400g, some 200g, some a kilo. Each time he felt annoyed about something, he asked himself if he could afford to carry this additional weight around with him. More often than not the answer was no.

I loved this little mental trick to let go of negative emotions, and I have practiced it often since learning about it. It has had two main effects; the first is that I simply let go of petty annoyances. The second benefit of this new method, is that if I find myself carrying the extra weight of anger or resentment and I cannot seem to just shed it on my own, I now feel much more inclined to speak up and resolve the issue rather than steam quietly. Either I drop it or I address it, but I’ve understood that I can’t afford (neither do I want to) carry superfluous weight on this journey.

{ TRAVELING LIGHTLY = LIVING DELIBERATELY } 

There’s a quote from Jonathan Harris that I love and which I’ve previously shared here on rethinked:

“We have these brief lives, and our only real choice is how we will fill them. Your attention is precious. Don’t squander it. Don’t throw it away. Don’t let companies and products steal it from you. Don’t let advertisers trick you into lusting after things you don’t need. Don’t let the media convince you to covet the lives of celebrities. Own your attention — it’s all you really have.” 

Walking 500 miles helped me understand these words in a new–or perhaps simply more immediate–sort of way. Our attention and our physical capacities are limited. It may sound a bit trite, cliché to the point of banality even, but it’s an unavoidable characteristic of our human condition. We can only carry so much, both on our backs and in our heads. The wonderful thing about being human however, is that once our basic needs are met, we have the freedom to choose what we will carry. Some of us may not realize that we have the agency to choose what we carry, and too often, even if we are aware of our power in owning our attention, we forget about it and get swept up in squandering it on things and emotions that do not help us thrive and flourish.

Travelling lightly then, to me at least, means living deliberately; it means being aware of and selective with what we let in to our lives, both physically and mentally.

{ rethinked*annex } Gratitude Night …* – Adopt or Rethink?

{ rethinked*annex } Gratitude Night ...* - Adopt or Rethink? | rethinked.org

{ THE EXERCISE }

Select one important person from your past who has made a major positive difference in your life and to whom you have never fully expressed your thanks. (Do not confound this selection with newfound romantic love, or with the possibility of future gain.) Write a testimonial just long enough to cover one laminated page. Take your time composing this; my students and I found ourselves taking several weeks, composing on buses and as we fell asleep at night. Invite that person to your home, or travel to that person’s home. It is important that you do this face to face, not just in writing or on the phone. Do not tell the person the purpose of the visit in advance; a simple “I just want to see you” will suffice. Wine and cheese do not matter, but bring a laminated version of your testimonial with you as a gift. When all settles down, read your testimonial aloud slowly, with expression and with eye contact. Then let the other person react unhurriedly. Reminisce together about the concrete events that make this person so important to you. (If you are so moved, please do send me a copy at Seligman@psych.upenn.edu) (74)

Learn to Cultivate Gratitude & Forgiveness to Enhance Satisfaction About the Past …*

{ WHAT I LIKED }

I thoroughly enjoyed Gratitude Night. It reminded me a bit of the Have A Beautiful Day exercise in that it provided multiple opportunities to bask in positive emotions. First there was the preparation, figuring out whom I would pick gave me an opportunity to think about all the wonderful people I am lucky to have in my life. Once I had selected the recipient of my first Gratitude Night, I loved the experience of recalling moments with that person and reliving them in my head before writing them down on paper. Then there was the experience of reading out loud to the recipient of my gratitude night what I had written for her, which was immensely fulfilling. Finally, there was witnessing her gratitude for the event and an opportunity for us to reminisce together about all the wonderful moments we have shared.

 { FRICTION POINTS }

None.

 

{ NEXT STEPS }

I believe the important people in my life know that I love them–I’m not stingy with my I love yous. I’m also prompt in writing thank you notes and I like to think that I do not take for granted the kindness and generosity people show me. But when I think about it, I don’t generally express my gratitude on a grander magnitude to the important people in my life. Other than Mother & Father’s Day, I rarely tell those I love just how grateful I am for their presence in my life, how grateful I am for their lives, for them being who they are. I think we collectively lack a socially acceptable forum and language around which to share our gratitude for one another. A funny but telling anecdote reveals this lack: a couple of years ago, I had read about gratitude letters and had sent about seven of them to some of the people I love and am grateful for. My cousin, who was in her teens at the time, was very worried when she received hers and called her mom to ask if she thought I was suicidal. We all had a good laugh about her worry, but in a way it is rather sad when you think about it: someone sends you a letter to express how much you mean to them and how grateful they are for your presence in their life and the act is such an anomaly in your experience that you immediately deduce something must be wrong. I don’t think this is particular to my cousin, I can completely understand where she was coming from.

I will keep up gratitude night going forward. Perhaps my ‘recipients’ will be inspired to declare their gratitude for people in their own lives and slowly, together, we might make expressing gratitude the norm rather than an anomaly.

How Do You Cultivate Happiness & Well-Being In Your Life?

How Do You Cultivate Happiness & Well-Being In Your Life?  | rethinked.org

I haven’t yet had a chance to do the gratitude night exercise suggested by Martin Seligman in Authentic Happiness, so I have no Positive Psychology interventions to report on today. I thought I’d ask YOU about how you go about cultivating happiness and well-being in your daily life. What habits, actions, tools or mindsets have you tried and adopted to nurture and increase your well-being? How do you make yourself happy?

Let me know * 

{ rethinked*annex } Gratitude Journaling – Adopt or Rethink?

{ rethinked*annex } Gratitude Journaling - Adopt or Rethink? | rethinked.org

On a recent trip to Canada, our hostel had a gratitude board, you all were on my mind …*

{ THE EXERCISE }

Set aside five free minutes each night for the next two weeks, preferably right before brushing your teeth for bed. Then think back over the previous twenty-four hours and write down, on separate lines, up to five things in your life you are grateful or thankful for. – Martin Seligman, Authentic Happiness 

{ WHAT I LIKED }

I found the most valuable aspect of nightly gratitude journaling was the way it shifted my focus and helped me zoom in on the positive in my life while teaching me to be more aware of the present moment. When I first began my gratitude journaling practice, I would sit with my journal at night, mentally going through the day, figuring out what I would include in my list. As time went on, I found myself thinking ahead during the day and noting the positive moments as they occurred. It helped me be more present and more aware of the small, often under-appreciated and fleeting good moments that occur throughout the day. It also helped me practice savoring, which enhances the experience of the pleasures in one’s life. Not only was I appreciative of all the good things going on, but each night I now had the opportunity to revisit them and bask in the feeling they produced.

One unexpected consequence of the gratitude journaling was that it made me feel more secure. I think I’ve mentioned several times here on the blog that I am a highly anxious person and at different times in my life I have found it extremely difficult to manage my anxiety. I’m in a good place right now but my baseline anxiety level is still much higher than most people I know. I found myself much more relaxed the longer I’d been journaling. There is something reassuring and calming about collecting all the things that went right, that made me feel good and connected each day.

{ FRICTION POINTS }

I’ve been playing around with lots of different tools, systems and interventions in the course of my rethinked*annex project and I have come to learn that the single most important aspect of taking a proactive approach to tweaking one’s daily life is creating as seamless as possible a framework to implement the interventions and to follow through. The nightly practice of gratitude journaling was a bit hard to instill. Seligman suggests doing it right before you brush your teeth. The issue is that most days I live my life as an eight-year-old playing a video game. You know that weird little side dance they do when they really have to pee but can’t peel themselves away from their game long enough to go to the bathroom? That’s pretty much me every day. Most evenings I’m writing, reading or spending time with friends until it’s way past my goal bed time and when I finally notice the time, I’m running around trying to quickly get myself to bed. Seligman suggests setting aside just five minutes to do the exercise but I didn’t want to be rushed which would make the exercise feel like trying to quickly finish math homework at the beginning of class. I’m still trying to figure out how to make this work and ensure that I am consistent with the gratitude journaling. I do find that as time goes on and I become more aware of the intrinsic benefits of the practice, it does become easier for me to allocate some of my precious and scant getting ready for bed time.

{ NEXT STEPS }

I will continue with this practice, it requires nothing more than a pen and piece of paper, takes very little time and effort and so far has had some big payoffs–I feel happier, more grateful and I think it is coming through in my relationships and letting the people I love and value sense what our relationships mean to me. Overall, I would definitely recommend this.

practice gratitude & rethink …*

{ Enhance Your Well-Being, Health & Relationships …* } Free Online Compassion Course Starting Tomorrow (06.25)

I’m taking a short break from writing about the Positive Psychology cycle of my rethinked*annex project today to highlight an exciting free learning opportunity: The Compassion Course Online brought to you by Thom Bond. The Compassion Course is “for anyone who is inspired to have more compassion, understanding and harmony in their lives and in our world.” Sign me up!

Now in its fourth year, the Compassion Course will impart and demonstrate ways of thinking, speaking and acting that will help you enhance and nurture your capacity for compassion and nonviolent communication:

The Course starts with foundational concepts and practices that help us understand what engenders compassion and what blocks it. As the year progresses, we work with more advanced practices and processes that help us bring more compassion into our everyday lives.

Throughout the course we work on progressively deepening levels with self-empathy, empathy, emotional triggers, anger, beliefs, dialogue, appreciation, requests and more. By the end of the year, the course covers over 50 concepts and differentiations.

Once you sign up for the course, you will receive a weekly message via email, which will include:

  1. A concept to learn
  2. A story to illustrate the concept
  3. Practices to integrate the concept into your life
  4. Links to reference materials and important updates

You will also have access to a growing global online community:

All Compassion Course participants can be part of our Private Online Community Resource Site. It includes course updates, links to audio resources, documents, exercises as well as multiple message boards, to connect our community 24/7. This year we will be adding video content as well.

The first weekly message will go out tomorrow, so make sure you sign up today. In the meantime, you may want to head over to Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and check out all of their wonderful resources on what compassion is, how to cultivate it and how it can enhance your health, well-being and relationships.

*

Find Out Which Of Your Life’s External Circumstances Have A Strong Effect on Your Happiness & Life Satisfaction …*

Find Out Which Of Your Life's External Circumstances Have A Strong Effect on Your Happiness & Life Satisfaction ...* | rethinked.org

On Tuesday, I shared the happiness equation that Seligman puts forth in Authentic Happiness:

H = S + C + V

Where H is your enduring level of happiness, S is your set range, C is the circumstances of your life, and V represents factors under your voluntary control. (45)

We looked at the (largely genetic) factors that affect your set range, now let’s take a look at the C variable—the external circumstances of your life that affect happiness.

MONEYMoney Has Little or no Effect Once You Are Comfortable Enough & More Materialistic People Are Less Happy

Would more money make you happier? The data says yes, at both an individual and collective level, but only up to a certain point:

Overall national purchasing power and average life satisfaction go strongly in the same direction. Once the gross national product exceed $8,000 per person, however, the correlation disappears, and added wealth brings no further life satisfaction. (53) 

In very poor nations, where poverty threatens life itself, being rich does predict greater well-being. In wealthier nations, however, where almost everyone has a basic safety net, increases in wealth have negligible effects on personal happiness. In the United States, the very poor are lower in happiness, but once a person is just barely comfortable, added money adds little or no happiness. Even the fabulously rich—the Forbes 100, with an average net worth of over 125 million dollars—are only slightly happier than the average American. (53)

In the same way that how you think about stress is more important than how much stress you experience in influencing your health, Seligman notes that, “how important money is to you, more than money itself, influences your happiness.” (55)

Materialism seems to be counterproductive: at all levels of real income, people who value money more than other goals are less satisfied with their income and with their lives as a whole, although precisely why is a mystery. (55)

MARRIAGE – A Robust Effect on Happiness & Life Satisfaction, But Perhaps Not Causal

Unlike money, which has at most a small effect, marriage is robustly related to happiness. (55) Happily married people report much greater levels of happiness than non-married people. However, people in unhappy marriages report lower levels of happiness than non-married people. The relationship between marriage and happiness remains unclear—is it that happy people are more likely to get married than depressed people who tend to be more withdrawn or the other way around, the verdict is still out.

The National Opinion Research Center surveyed 35,000 Americans over the last thirty years; 40 percent of married people said they were “very happy,” while only 24 percent of unmarried, divorced and widowed people said this. Living with a significant other (but not being married) is associated with more happiness in individualistic cultures like ours, but with less happiness in collectivist cultures like Japan and China. The happiness advantage for the married holds controlling for age and income, and it is equally true for both men and women. (55)

SOCIAL LIFE –  A Robust Effect, But Perhaps Not Causal

Very happy people differ markedly from both average and unhappy people in that they all lead a rich and fulfilling social life. The very happy people spend the least time alone and the most time socializing, and they are rated highest on good relationships by themselves and also by their friends. (56) 

NEGATIVE EMOTION – Only a Moderate Effect on Happiness & Life Satisfaction

Contrary to popular belief, having more than your share of misery does not mean you cannot have a lot of joy as well. (56)

AGE

Life satisfaction goes up slightly with age, pleasant affect declines slightly, and negative affect does not change. What does change as we age is the intensity of our emotions. Both “feeling on top of the world” and being “in the depths of despair” become less common with age and experience. (58)

HEALTH – Subjective Health, Not Objective Health Matters

Objective good health is barely related to happiness; what matters is our subjective perception of how healthy we are, and it is a tribute to our ability to adapt to adversity that we are able to find ways to appraise our health positively even when we are quite sick. (58)

Moderate ill health does not bring unhappiness in its wake, but severe illness does: When disabling illness is severe and long-lasting, happiness and life satisfaction do decline, although not nearly as much as you might expect. Individuals admitted to a hospital with only one chronic health problem (such as heart disease) show marked increases in happiness over the next year, but the happiness of individuals with five of more health problems deteriorates over time. (58)

EDUCATION, CLIMATE, RACE & GENDER – No Effect on Happiness & Life Satisfaction

Turns out that none of these variables have much of an effect on happiness and life satisfaction.

Education – Even though education is a means to higher income, it is not a means to higher happiness, except only slightly and only among those people with low income. Nor does intelligence influence happiness in either direction. (59)

Climate – While sunny climes do combat seasonal affective disorder (winter depression), happiness levels do not vary with climate. People suffering through a Nebraska winter believe people in California are happier, but they are wrong; we adapt to good weather completely and very quickly. (59)

Race – At least in the United States, is not related to happiness in any consistent way. In spite of worse economic numbers, African-Americans and Hispanics have markedly lower rates of depression than Caucasians, but their level of reported happiness is no higher than Caucasians (except perhaps among older men). (59)

Gender – Gender has a fascinating relation to mood. In average emotional tone, women and men don’t differ, but this strangely is because women are both happier and sadder than men. (59)

RELIGION – A Moderate Effect on Happiness & Life Satisfaction

Survey data consistently show religious people as being somewhat happier and more satisfied with life than nonreligious people. (59)

Religious Americans are clearly less likely to abuse drugs, commit crimes, divorce, and kill themselves. They are also physically healthier and live longer. Religious mothers of children with disabilities fight depression better, and religious people are less thrown by divorce, unemployment, illness, and death. (59)

 …*

Are you surprised by any of these results? Which areas of your life bring you the most happiness?

This concludes our review of the external factors that influence happiness and life satisfaction, next week we turn to the good stuff—the internal variables of happiness, over which you have a much greater degree of control.

Source: Seligman, Martin. Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology To Realize Your Potential For Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press, 2002. Print.

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