Happiness Leads to success by Prof Christopher Abraham
Prof. Christopher Abraham explores the science of happiness, and how it relates to professional and personal success.Psychological studies have primarily concentrated on human failing and pathology. In fact, the idea of psychotherapy, a concept realised by Sigmund Freud, is based on the fact that human beings are distressed and need to be calm.
The practitioners that followed Freud developed a model that seemed to portray humans as mechanical and passive, being shaped by situations surrounding them.
However, this view was soon altered when eminent psychologist Martin Seligman, in 1998, urged psychology professionals to set about the healing process with understanding and building strong qualities. Seligman is credited with sowing the seeds of happiness studies and positive psychology. He went on to be the world’s leading scholar on optimism.
Seligman’s idea quickly caught on, with the Gallup organisation founding the Gallup Positive Psychology Institute to fund research on the subject. This provided the foundation of the Gallup Positive Psychology Summit, which was globally recognised within two years of it being held.
So what really makes us happy? How can we become happier? And is happiness sustainable? Current cutting edge research on studying happiness indicates that our individual level of happiness springs from three primary sources:
Our genetic set point
Fifty per cent of our happiness derives from a genetically determined set point, contend leading researchers such as Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky from the University of California.
The set point for happiness is similar to the set point for weight. Some people are blessed with skinny dispositions: even when they’re not trying, they easily maintain their weight. By contrast, others have to work hard to keep their weight at optimum levels, and the moment they relax their dietary and exercise regime, they gain back all the weight.
So those of us with low happiness set points will have to work harder to achieve and maintain happiness, while those of us with high set points will find it easier to be happy under similar conditions.
Our life circumstances
“Life circumstances” determine a scant 10 per cent of our happiness, Prof. Lyubomirsky continues: “Only about 10 per cent of the variance in our happiness levels is explained by differences in life circumstances or situations–that is, whether we are rich or poor, healthy or unhealthy, beautiful or plain, married or divorced, etc. If, with a magic wand, we could put a group of people into the same set of circumstances (same house, same spouse, same place of birth, same face, and same aches and pains), the differences in their happiness levels would be reducedby a measly 10 per cent.”
Prof. Lyubomirsky notes in her book The How of Happiness that this finding runs contrary to many of our efforts to obtain happiness: “One of the great ironies of our quest to become happier is that so many of us focus on changing the circumstances of our lives in the misguided hope that those changes will deliver happiness… An impressive body of research now shows that trying to be happy by changing our life situations ultimately will not work. Although we may achieve temporary boosts in well-being by moving to new parts of the country or the world, securing raises, or changing our appearances, such boosts are unlikely to be long-lasting.”
Most experts agree that human beings immediately adapt to positive circumstantial changes in the hope of bringing about happiness in their lives. Although the circumstances change, it may not be a source of long-term happiness, as they will eventually be taken for granted.
The remaining 40 per cent of our happiness is determined by our behaviour—intentional activities referred to as “happiness strategies.”
This is the core of the research of leading professionals in this field which advocates increasing and sustaining happiness through intentional activities.
Genuinely happy people make things happen, and don’t just sit around being content. They learn more, achieve more and control their thoughts and feelings. If an unhappy person wants to experience interest, enthusiasm, contentment, peace and joy, he or she can make it happen by learning the habits of a happy person.
Scientific research supports the use of strategies such as expressing gratitude, acts of kindness, nurturing relationships, committing to goals, among others. Researchers describe precisely what these somewhat generic terms mean in this context and provide a rationale for why they work and explore what they might look like in practice. They do not say that these are the only meaningful happiness strategies, but separately they meet standards for being “evidenced-based,” and together they constitute a list sufficiently broad “so that every individual could find a set right for him or her.”
The science of happiness is here to stay with the single focus of making the world a better place.