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Archive for December, 2007

Want a simple way to add more happiness to your life? Become more curious.

Studies have clearly demonstrated the value of gratitude and acts of kindness as they relate to one’s well-being. Could a conscious effort to improve one’s curiosity also improve happiness levels as well?

Researchers asked about 100 study participants to keep a journal and record their levels of curiosity over time. They also measured a person’s tendency towards curiosity before their recordings began.

The results?

According to the researchers, people with greater baseline curiosity engaged in more frequent growth-oriented behaviors and experienced a greater presence of life satisfaction than those with less curiosity. Their satisfaction levels were also not just positive over time, but from day-to-day as well.

And while the study had the usual limitations (including a limited number of participants), the results make sense. As the researchers put it: “…People with greater curiosity challenge their views of self, others, and the world with an inevitable stretching of information, knowledge, and skills.”

Source: Curiosity and Pathways to Well-Being and Meaning in Life: Traits, States, and Everyday Behaviors by Todd B. Kashdan and Michael F. Steger

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So he leaves the lights on around the house. She barely picks up after herself.

So what?

Studies show positive, idealized illusions about our spouse or partner often generate greater satisfaction and less conflict than thinking in terms of “reality.”

According to researchers, people apparently seem to project their image of an idealized partner on the partner they possess. They also report being happier in their relationship when they see their partner more generously than their partner see themselves, and they are happier in their relationships when their partner puts the best possible spin on them and returns the favor.

Researchers say all of these positive illusions become self-fulfilling. People seem to create the partner they desire by idealizing them. They also come to see the same virtues in themselves that their partner initially perceived in them.

Source: Reflections on the Self-Fulfilling Effects of Positive Illusions by Sandra L. Murray, John G. Holmes and Dale W. Griffin

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Goals typically produce feelings of contentment and well-being. Without them, life often seems without purpose or meaning.

But is there a flip side? Can goals be harmful as well?

Researchers have studied this important question, especially since so much satisfaction and happiness seems tied to goal-setting and accomplishment.

What is the trade-off?

Anxiety and worry. Researchers say that when people are highly committed to their goals, they may fear failure or worry that they won’t achieve them. This stress or anxiety can often counteract the potential positive effects of goal-setting. For example, not accomplishing one’s goals may threaten a person’s self-worth, even when that person holds positive perceptions of accomplishment.

In other words, goals are good. We must, however, always understand and appreciate the trade-offs associated with them.

Source: The Psychological Trade-Offs of Goal Investment by Eva M. Pomerantz, Jill L. Saxon, and Shigehiro Oishi

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Optimal Happiness

If only we could find our optimal level of happiness.

Studies suggest it has a lot to do with specific circumstances and activities.

For example, an optimal level of happiness seems to work best for relationships. That is, being at a high level of satisfaction in a relationship helps you in that kind of environment. You want joy from others, especially since relationships constitute some of the best sources of happiness in our lives. And if you’re not happy, then the relationship may experience problems or risk falling apart.

At the same time, being very happy may not work in other circumstances.

Take work. Optimal happiness may lead to complacency, whereas being moderately happy may propel you to improve, change, grow or seek a different environment and that is generally beneficial. In the domain of achievement, being at the peak of your happiness level may actually be counterproductive. The same may be said for people in college. Very happy people have been shown NOT to have the best grades (although those same people do score high with respect to social environments and relationships).

An optimal level of happiness may sound like a worthwhile goal, especially in relationships. But it may also be unnecessary in achievement-oriented environments.

Stop trying to reach the pinnacle of happiness in your job. Being moderately happy, the studies suggest, works just fine.

Source: The Optimal Level of Well-Being: Can People Be Too Happy? by Shigehiro Oishi, Ed Diener, and Richard E. Lucas

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Don’t count on a professional degree to guarantee happiness.

According to recent reports, about 20 percent of all male lawyers report being depressed, which is nearly three times higher than the national average for men. Female lawyers fare a little better, but not by much.

What gives?

Some experts blame it on stress, long hours, and a pessimistic personality. Others attribute it to a profession that interacts with people in typically emotional or high-stakes settings, which can tax even the most psychologically stable individuals

Lawyers, of course, don’t have a lock on professional unhappiness.

Physicians often grapple with the same issues, and as a result many are searching for less demanding environments, such as administration, teaching or consulting.

As a society, we value professional achievement. It drives much of our behavior. But it doesn’t necessarily lead to a happy or satisfying life. Just ask any unhappy lawyer or physician.

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Can you have low self-esteem and still be happy?

Research suggests you probably can.

Clearly, people who report being happy tend to also have high self-esteem. High self-esteem helps those people find more resources that can, in turn, help generate even more pleasurable and enjoyable experiences.

But researchers also suggest self-esteem and happiness, while often connected, are two different constructs.

For example, happiness appears to be uniquely connected to mood, temperamental traits, overall life satisfaction appraisals and social contacts. Meanwhile, self-esteem appears to be uniquely connected to feelings of optimism, sense of mastery, satisfaction with one’s education, and satisfaction associated with various needs — such as achievement, purpose, meaning and understanding.

Thus, you could assess yourself as being low in those areas and yet still feel you’re relatively happy. High self-esteem does not appear to be a necessary, fundamental requirement for happiness — but it helps.

Source: Happiness and Self-Esteem by Sonja Lyubomirsky, Chris Tkach and M. Robin Dimatteo

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People can change their happiness levels through intervention. That is, unhappiness need not be preordained and forever.

But what works?

Besides expressing gratitude and helping others, some research points towards thinking and replaying happier times as a key intervention technique.

One study, for example, compared feelings associated with writing about happy life experiences, talking into a tape recorder or privately thinking about them.

The findings indicated that those who thought about their happiest events had the higher life satisfaction reportings.

Similarly, in another study participants wrote or thought about their happiest day by either analyzing it or repetitively replaying it in their minds. The same result — writing and analysis was more detrimental than thinking and replaying the incident.

In other words, one technique to improving happiness might be to replay or relive positive life events “as though rewinding a videotape.”

Source: The Promise of Sustainable Happiness by Julia K. Boehm and Sonja Lyubomirsky

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