What is Happiness?

I thought it was astounding when someone commented on a class I was teaching on happiness, by asking why? Is happiness so hard to come by? What a lucky person she must be to even ask that question!
But it’s true that for many of us, Happiness is something we seek and it is hard to come by. If it was so easy to find, most of the major philosophers over history wouldn’t have spent so much time discussing what comprises it. Most of us have to make some effort to find and keep a happy outlook and quality to our lives.
The University of California Berkeley offers a free Happiness Class available on the site EdX. The moderators Drs Emiliana Simon-Thomas and Dacher Keltner discuss studies on Happiness and what comprises it, as well as habits we can cultivate to increase the amount of happiness in our lives. A ratio of three positive thoughts to one negative thought creates a mental state of happiness. Most of us manage two positive thoughts for every one negative thought we think. People who are depressed are closer to a one to one ratio. So one of the things that we can do to become happier is to monitor our thinking and if we find ourselves thinking negatively, we can counter that by thinking positive thoughts. Activities such as making gratitude lists and taking the time to think of all the things that are wonderful in our lives is a way to start focusing ourselves on the more positives that we have.
Some other studies reviewed in the course focus on the wandering mind. For some reason, when we just let our minds wander, we end up thinking 67% negative thoughts, and that’s the ration that causes depression. So we’re always better off focusing on something, even when we’re doing something we don’t like doing, we’re going to be healthier if we pay attention to what we’re doing in the moment rather than letting our thoughts drift off. Practicing mindfulness is the way to correct that. Mindfulness is a modified form of meditative thought. Instead of trying to clear one’s mind completely of all thoughts as is done in traditional meditation, Mindfulness practice encourages deep focus on one single thing for a period of time. Mindfulness practice was introduced by Jon Kabat-Zinn and is used in medical care at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Patients who elect to participate in the training have higher levels of recovery from potentially fatal illnesses. Mindfulness training is available online and many free programs are available for free viewing and practice on youtube. Mindfulness practice is a way to calm and reprogram your brain to feel calmer and healthier. MRI studies have even demonstrated that those who practice Mindfulness have increased gray matter in their brains, which suggests that there are a multitude of ways this practice will improve your mental state as well as your physical health.
In our current world we’re bombarded with technology and multiple sources of stimulation. We forget how to talk to one another, and the more disconnected we become, the more misery and depressed we become. It’s important to participate in activities that involve us spending time with others, and being useful to others. A sense of purpose in life is important to feeling happy, as well as a feeling of connectedness in one’s community. We have to make an effort to participate in activities that foster connections to others.
So Happiness, while elusive, is not as far out of our realms as we might think. About 40% of it is a result of conscious activities and choices we make in our day to day living. Make a choice to improve your quality of life and mental health.

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What is Happiness?

3 thoughts on “What is Happiness?

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