Positive Psychology: How To Construct a Happier Life – PART 3

The pursuit of happiness in many ways drives the courses of our lives. Which is why it is worth stepping back and deeply considering the issue of what truly increases our happiness. Increasing happiness is not a trivial endeavor.  It takes deliberate effort done on a continual basis. Happiness is an achievable goal. Happiness is not just a matter of luck. You can learn skills to increase your happiness and you can work to incorporate those skills into your life.  

So what is happiness and what determines happiness?

Sonja Lyubomirsky is a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside. She is also the author of The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want. [1] Check out these videos of a presentation she did. They start to answer these two critical questions:

Sonja Lyubomirsky: What is Happiness?

Sonja Lyubomirsky: What Determines Happiness?

Scientists have begun to seriously study this question of what behaviors can people adopt to increase their happiness. The Greater Good Science Center is based at the University of California, Berkley. Its mission is to study the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being, and teach skills that foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society.[2] Their science has uncovered that kindness and compassion promotes happiness and is also a key component of maintaining physical health:

Check out this video: Kindness Scientist

We do not live in a bubble. We live in a community filled with other living beings. We contribute to others well-being and others contribute to our well-being. We need each other. The following is a quote from the Art of Happiness[3]:

…the other day I spoke about the factors necessary to enjoy a happy and joyful life. Factors such as good health, material goods, friends, and so on. If you closely investigate, you’ll find all of these depend on other people. To maintain good health, you rely on medicines made by others and health care provided by others. If you examine all of the material facilities that you use for the enjoyment of life, you’ll find that there are hardly any of these material objects that have no connection with other people. If you think carefully, you’ll see that all of these goods come into being as a result of the efforts of many people, either directly or indirectly. Many people are involved in making those things possible. Needless to say, when we’re talking about good friends and companions as being another necessary factor for a happy life, we are talking about interaction with …other human beings.

We need each other. Our ability to create and maintain meaningful relationships is critical to our happiness. Lack of meaningful relationships causes us distress.

It was not until I went to college that I experienced a significant period of loneliness. My parent’s house was a loving household.  There were always people around to share life experiences with and I had many close relationships.  Moving out of my parent’s house to my first college dorm room proved to be a rude disruption to my support system. I gave too little thought to forming a new social network.

I thought I would meet people in the course of my days and make friendships. I was surprised when this did not happen. As the first days of college passed my loneliness became more and more intolerable. I went back to my parents almost every weekend and emailed my high school friends to fill the gap. Yet in my day to day college life I did not have one close friend…until I started my first romance. The romance provided the day to day intimacy that I had been missing, but it did not last. The romance ended after two years and outside of the romance I had very few friends. Thus, when it ended my loneliness returned in full force.  I wallowed in my heartbreak and loneliness longer than I care to admit.

Over time I made more of an effort to make friends, and slowly I grew a social network. However, my loneliness was not cured until a friend from high school moved into my apartment. This made all the difference. I no longer felt so alone.

Since then I have been more careful about making life choices that may impact my social network and I have become more reflective about loneliness. These periods of loneliness were unhappy days for me. My life was on track. There were many good things happening in my life, but without close relationships in my day to day life, I felt empty.

Turns out many people have had experiences like I have had. Virtually all people report that they have experienced loneliness. In one large survey, one fourth of U.S. adults report they had experienced extreme loneliness at least once within the previous two weeks. Although we often think of chronic loneliness as an affliction particularly widespread among elderly, isolated in empty apartments or in the back wards of nursing homes, research suggests that teenagers and young adults are just as likely to report they are lonely as the elderly.[4]

Intimate relationships are a critical piece of a happy lifestyle.  Virtually all researchers agree that intimate relationships are a hub from which people draw strength and enjoyment. Intimacy promotes both physical and psychological well-being. Separation from other human beings is at the very root of the human experience of fear, sadness, and sorrow.[5]

However, it can be difficult to connect with even one person. One of the challenges is overcoming fear or apprehension of being disliked or judged. A powerful antidote to these apprehensions is to developed appreciation for the value of compassion.

If you are able to look at every human being from a positive angle you can more easily approach each person with a feeling of openness. With that attitude, you can create the possibility of having a meaningful conversation. In many cases people tend to expect others to respond to them in a positive way first, rather than taking the initiative themselves to create that possibility. This can act as a barrier that just serves to promote a feeling of isolation from others. Approaching others with the thought of compassion in your mind can help you overcome apprehensions.[6]

By pursuing activities that will increase our sense of compassion you can work towards a more happy life. One way of increasing our sense of compassion is through deliberate acts of kindness. Check out the following video:

Sonja Lyubomirsky: Happiness for a Lifetime

Another avenue to cultivate compassion is through expanding our concept of intimacy to include all the other forms that surround us on a daily basis. By broadening our definition of intimacy, we open ourselves to discovering many new and equally satisfying ways of connecting with others.[7]

In 1994, Larry King wrote a book called How to Talk to Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere: The Secrets of Good Communication. Larry King is a American television and radio host that is recognized in the United States as one of the premier broadcast interviewers. He has interviewed a broad range of guests from controversial figures of UFO conspiracy theories and alleged psychics, to prominent politicians and leading figures in the entertainment industry, often doing their first or only interview on breaking news stories on his show.[8] The following is a quote from this book[9]:

To me, talk is one of the great pleasures of life, something I’ve always loved to do…But as much as I enjoy talking, I know why people can be uncomfortable with it. There’s the fear of saying the wrong things, or saying the right thing in the wrong way…When you’re talking to a stranger, or a lot of people at once, the fear is magnified…One thing I’ve learned is that there’s no one you can’t talk to, if you have the right attitude.

Be honest. You can never go wrong…Let your listeners and views share your experience and how you feel. [That way] we’re going through this together. They know I’ve been honest with them, and that I’m going to give them my best effort…I am making them a part of my experience…Whether the setting is social or professional, one of the first things to accomplish in talking to people is to put them at ease. Most of us are naturally shy…all of us tend to be nervous or at least on edge when we’re talking to someone we haven’t met before. The best way I’ve found to overcome shyness is to remind yourself…we are all human being, so just because you’re talking to a college professor with four degrees or an astronaut who has flown in space at 18,000 miles an hour or someone who has been elected governor of your state doesn’t mean you should come unglued.

Always remember this: People you’re talking to will enjoy the conversation more if they see you are presenting yourself as someone who’s enjoying it, too, whether you consider yourself their equal or not.

Keep in mind that almost all of us started out the same way. Very few of us are born to wealth and power, unless you’re a Kennedy or a Rockefeller or a member of one of a few select families. Most of us started our as children of middle- or lower-income families…And chances are the people we’re talking to did too. Maybe we’re not as rich and famous as they are or as successful in our field, but we can relate as brothers and sisters. You don’t have to stand there feeling inferior or intimidated. You belong in that room just as much as the person you’re talking to.

It also helps you to overcome your shyness if you remember that the person you’re talking to is probably just as shy as you are. Most of us are. Reminding yourself of this will do wonders for your ability to shed your own shyness

By being willing to open ourselves to many others, to family, friends, and even strangers, allow us to forming genuine and deep bonds based on our common humanity.

Check out the following video:

RSA Animate – The Empathic Civilization

Cultivating compassion allows you to both increase your own happiness and increase the happiness of others in the process. We need each other. A happy deviant recognizes this and works hard to support others in their battle for a happy life.

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~ by happydeviant on June 5, 2011.

2 Responses to “Positive Psychology: How To Construct a Happier Life – PART 3”

  1. What you write is fine. If you’re lonely, then make an effort to be with people. However, I’d like to hear more about one’s attitude towards loneliness.

    “Separation from other human beings is at the very root of the human experience of fear, sadness, and sorrow.”

    This is a Buddhist perspective. That is, a sense of separation is a cause of suffering. If someone always addresses the sense of loneliness by acting on it, then that person will continue to act from a belief that loneliness is a problem. When they try to reach out, they may be rejected because people can sense when someone is acting from a needy place. This could exacerbate the problem.

    For example, I know a woman who decided that when she was lonely that she would resist the temptation to pick up the phone and call someone so that she could learn to be with the feelings of loneliness.

    Thanks again for the good article.

    • In my view loneliness is a problem and one is best off working towards resolution. There are many way to work towards creating meaningful relationships, but happiness is not going to be found through working towards enjoying a life that is absent of meaningful relationships.

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