For many people, happiness is something out of reach and never attained. In our world today, we have more, spend more with the freedom we have to pursue any of life’s pleasures, yet happiness still eludes many.
So much of the health industry with its drugs, injections and procedures to enhance us, is done in the belief that we’ll be happier. We search for partners that we believe will make us happy. Part of the problem is that we are searching for a one-sided state. Happiness and sadness are a part of life. Our modern preoccupation with narcissism causes us to keep pursuing the one-sided state of happiness.
Perhaps a better search is one for a state of fulfillment. When we have fulfillment, we are embracing both sides of the equation––the good with the bad. Acknowledging that there are benefits and drawbacks to any event, means we do not come from a happy or sad state but one of balance. Searching for “happiness” is bound to be disappointing because it is difficult always to be “happy.”
Some scientists have argued that happiness is determined by genetics, health and other factors mostly outside of our control. However, recent research suggests people actually can take charge of their happiness. “The billion-dollar question is, if it is possible to become happier?” said psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky of the University of California, Riverside. Despite the finding that happiness is partially genetically determined, and despite the finding that life situations have a smaller influence on our happiness than we think they do, we do have the power to change.
Here are five things that research has shown can improve happiness or better yet, fulfillment:
- Be grateful
Some study participants were asked to write letters of gratitude to people who had helped them in some way. The study found that these people reported a lasting increase in happiness – over weeks and even months – after implementing the habit. What’s even more surprising: Sending the letter is not necessary. If we have gratitude and appreciation for something that we felt was negative and made us unhappy, that can get us in a better and happier frame of mind.
- Be optimistic
Another practice that seems to help is optimistic thinking and visualizing. Study participants were asked to visualize an ideal future. For example, living with a loving and supportive partner, or finding a job that was fulfilling.
People who practice writing down three good things that have happened to them every week show significant boosts in happiness, studies have found. We tend to dwell on what we do not have in our lives than what we do have. Counting our blessings means we appreciate what we do have.
- Use your strengths
Another study asked people to identify their greatest strengths, and then to try to use these strengths in new ways. For example, someone who says they have a good sense of humor could try telling jokes to lighten up business meetings or cheer up sad friends. This habit, too, seems to heighten happiness.
- Commit acts of kindness
It turns out that helping others also helps ourselves. People who donate time or money or who assist people in need, often report improvements in their state of happiness.
We can be happiest and most fulfilled when we are not only rewarded but when we have the opportunity to contribute by giving to others.
Editor’s Note: Dr Adele Thomas, semi-retired medical doctor, and Dr Ely Lazar, retired chiropractor, are on a new mission as the Passionate Retirees. They are dedicated to inspiring the over 50s to live fulfilling and adventurous lives, so that “the twilight years will be the highlight years”. Their book, “Travel Secrets For Seniors” was released in early 2014. With more than 80 years combined of professional experience, their articles, books and workshops cover a range of topics from travel, health, relationships, sexuality and finances for seniors.
“Adele and Ely have always impressed me with their exceptional knowledge, professionalism and positive attitude. Mention their name and the one word that always comes up is respect.” – John Ross, Master Networker