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Archive for December 2nd, 2007

You’d think we’d know by now what works.

After all, hundreds of self-help books have been written about how to pursue happiness. Five easy steps. Seven knock-out strategies. The ultimate happiness guide. Feng Shui your way to happiness.

Scientific research, however, is much less confident.

For example, in 2006 researchers Chris Tkach and Sonja Lyubomirsky reported in the Journal of Happiness Studies correlations between increased happiness levels and these strategies: direct attempts at improving happiness, social affiliation, religion, partying and active leisure. However, the researchers were quick to point out in their study that these strategies may not cause happiness; they just appear to be strongly connected in some way. Furthermore, the results of the study were based on self-reports of happiness, which may or many not reflect reality. And finally, the study was conducted on undergraduate students, which may or may not accurately reflect a large cross-section of people, thereby making any generalizations difficult.

In other words, what works is still a very inexact science.

And yet, the books keep coming. Secrets keep getting revealed.

Let the buyer beware.

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If you want to be successful, first be happy.

Most people think it’s the other way around — that to be happy a person must first be successful.

But researchers, after looking a large number of studies, concluded that a positive mindset often precedes a successful outcome.

Why? They say the success of happy people rests on two factors.

First, because happier people experience more positive moods, they have a greater likelihood of working actively towards new goals while experiencing those moods. No surprise — this results in greater productivity. Second, happier people have built up a greater number of personal, social and professional resources while they were in their positive mood. As a result, they are more likely to tap into those resources when needed. While having a rich supply of resources doesn’t guarantee success, it can be of enormous help when one is dedicated towards achieving his or her goals.

How can this information help us?

Perhaps this research gives us permission to focus on our well-being first. All too often we focus on the end result, ignoring our mood along the way. So what if we’re not as happy while we’re climbing the ladder? We tell ourselves — find success and happiness will follow.

Now we know differently.

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