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Archive for December 21st, 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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