Experts reveal the secrets of happy people.
By Gabrielle LeBlanc
From O, The Oprah Magazine, March 2008
Many of the new studies reaffirm time-honored wisdom ('Do what you love,' 'To thine own self be true'), there are also a number of fresh twists and insights.
Leading experts were canvassed on what happy people have in common—and why it's worth trying to become one of them:
They find their most golden self. Eudaimonia VS Hedonia
Researchers now believe that eudaimonic well-being may be more important. Cobbled from the Greek eu ('good') and daimon ('spirit' or 'deity'), eudaimonia means striving toward excellence based on one's unique talents and potential.
The effort to know and realize one's most golden self—'personal growth,' is now the central concept of eudaimonia, which has also come to include continually taking on new challenges and fulfilling one's sense of purpose in life.
'Eudaimonic well-being is much more robust and satisfying than hedonic happiness, and it engages different parts of the brain,' says Richard J. Davidson, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 'The positive emotion accompanying thoughts that are directed toward meaningful goals is one of the most enduring components of well-being.'
They design their lives to bring in joy.
It may seem obvious, but 'people don't devote enough time to thinking seriously about how they spend their life and how much of it they actually enjoy,' says David Schkade, PhD, a psychologist and professor of management at the University of California, San Diego.
Analyzing one's life isn't necessarily easy and may require questioning long-held assumptions. A high-powered career might, in fact, turn out to be unfulfilling; a committed relationship once longed for could end up being irritating with all the compromising that comes with having a partner. Dreams can be hard to abandon, even when they've turned sour.Fortunately, changes don't have to be big ones to tip the joy in your favor.
Taking action is key.
They avoid 'if only' fantasies.
If only I get a better job…find a man…lose the weight…life will be perfect. Happy people don't buy into this kind of thinking.The latest research shows that we're surprisingly bad at predicting what will make us happy. People also tend to misjudge their contentment when zeroing in on a single aspect of their lives—it's called the focusing illusion.
The other argument against 'if only' fantasies has to do with 'hedonic adaptation'—the brain's natural dimming effect, which guarantees that a new house won't generate the same pleasure a year after its purchase.
Happy people are wise to this, which is why they keep their lives full of novelty, even if it's just trying a new activity.
They put best friends first.
It's no surprise that social engagement is one of the most important contributors to happiness. What's news is that the nature of the relationship counts. Compared with dashing around chatting with acquaintances, you get more joy from spending longer periods of time with a close friend, according to research by Meliksah Demir, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Northern Arizona University.
One of the most essential pleasures of close friendship, Demir found, is simple companionship, 'just hanging out'.
They allow themselves to be happy.
As much as we all think we want it, many of us are convinced, deep down, that it's wrong to be happy (or too happy). Whether the belief comes from religion, culture, or the family you were raised in, it usually leaves you feeling guilty if you're having fun.'Some people would say you shouldn't strive for personal happiness until you've taken care of everyone in the world who is starving or doesn't have adequate medical care,' says Howard Cutler, MD, who co-authored The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World with the Dalai Lama. 'The Dalai Lama believes you should pursue both simultaneously.
So, for any die-hard pessimist who still needs persuading, just think of how much more you can help the world if you allow a little happiness into your life.
Gabrielle LeBlanc is a writer and neuroscientist in Washington, D.C.
By Gabrielle LeBlanc from O, The Oprah Magazine, March 2008 ©