I think a discussion of happiness is a good way to begin the new year. We all would like more happiness in our lives, and there is a group of people in Denmark who want to help us. They did an interesting experiment recently that had half the subjects stop using facebook for a week, while the other half continued using facebook as usual. They found that those who took the social media moratorium were happier at the end of the study than those who did not. According to the report, it seemed that they believed that those who logged off facebook were happier because of taking the break, but it turned out that those who logged off were also able to increase their social activity. I wonder whether the increase in social activity was what increased the happiness of the subjects rather than just staying off facebook for a week. The study isn’t clear.
A study done by a different group of researchers took a larger view of the issue. They found that younger people tended to be happier nowadays, and attributed this to youthful optimism, which inflates happiness artificially and temporarily. The excitement that the young derive from technology and its cultural correlates is transient and does not provide the stability or enduring happiness required for older adults (over 30). In addition, the American culture of very high expectations raises happiness in youth, only to let it crash sometime after the person reaches 30. Adulthood brings a sometimes severe dose of reality, lowering happiness for many. Childbearing also lowers happiness for many because of the realization of the work and worry involved. According to the researchers, American expectations now may be so high that they can no longer be met. The authors suggest adopting a perspective of gratitude, and increasing social activity to increase happiness.
“Lowering expectations increase the probability of positive outcomes (something routinely observed). However, lower expectations reduce well-being before an outcome arrives, limiting the beneficial scope of this manipulation.”
A different study found another way to increase happiness, although one that has a mixed benefit. Lowered expectations increase happiness, but only after the unexpected benefit arrives. Although this may sound like one needs to adopt a pessimistic attitude to achieve a modicum of happiness, what it actually suggests is that it may be helpful to return one’s attitude to that of previous generations, who likely entertained lower expectations than those of young people today.
Although these are helpful methods, they are insufficient to promote deep happiness. I suggest engaging in rewarding, meaningful activity. Acting on one’s values increases one’s sense of personal integrity and deepens life satisfaction, providing a lasting happiness. Socialization, although enjoyable, is often superficial and meaningless, whereas meaningful interaction with supportive friends and family is far more rewarding. These two approaches help to counter the void one faces when participating in popular American society, and deepen real happiness. Real happiness comes from the center, from a congruent life. Although well-being requires a certain amount of practical stability and met survival needs, living at the center can sometimes involve less prosaic well-being than one might think. Often living from the center is hard, as one goes against the prevailing social tide. Others likely will not reward you; the sense of rightness, however, provides deep inner satisfaction that lasts. With these thoughts, I wish you a truly happy new year.
Copyright © 2016 Teresa Chupp. All rights reserved.