millions of people, happiness is rather elusive. They've tried to buy happiness.
They've tried to force it. They've sought it through pleasurable activities. But
nothing has seemed to work for them. Researchers now believe that our brains are
hard-wired in ways that, at least to some degree, determine just how happy we're
going to be. In short, it's in the genes. At the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience
at the University of Wisconsin, scientists have used advanced imaging technology
to pinpoint the area of the brain specifically, the left prefrontal cortex
that serves as the center for positive, optimistic, and happy feelings.
When people naturally have higher than normal activity in this brain region, they
are more likely to feel positive moods, and they'll tend to start each day ready
to take on the world.
powerful as these genetic predispositions may be, happiness is still partly within
your control, says David Myers, PhD, the John Dirk Werkman Professor of Psychology
at Hope College in Holland, Mich. "It's rather like our cholesterol level
genetically influenced, yet also influenced by our habits and attitudes."
bring more happiness into your own life, here are some strategies to try:
Nurture your relationships. Maintaining healthy love relationships and friendships
can be a challenge. But those challenges, and the emotional development that inevitably
come with them, can promote happiness.
the "movement" movement.
Studies show that aerobic exercise is an antidote for mild depression and anxiety.
"Happy minds reside in sound bodies," says Myers.
Act happy. A recent study at Wake Forest University showed that when people
simply acted extroverted, they felt happier than when they acted introverted.
Even introverts, said the researchers, can act extroverted and feel happier.
your spiritual side.
Faith not only provides valuable support, but it's a way to focus on something
other than yourself. "Study after study finds that actively religious people
are happier, and that they cope better with crises," says Myers.
to Ken Sheldon, PhD, associate professor in the department of psychological sciences
at the University of Missouri-Columbia, all of us are born with a particular "set
range" for happiness, which can be fine-tuned by various life circumstances.
Your goal, he explains, should be to reach and remain in the upper end of the
happiness range that is part of your genetic blueprint. "All of life is a
process of becoming," says Myers, author of Pursuit
of Happiness and Intuition: Its Powers and Perils, "From womb
to tomb, we're developing. So we can, at any time, reshape our future." Happy
individuals have certain personal traits that set them apart from people with
clouds hovering over their heads. Sheldon's research has shown that happiness
is associated with characteristics like autonomy, competence, close relationships,
and high self-esteem.
course, some people are true believers that the quickest path to happiness is
to buy it or to mold it by transforming their personal surroundings. They may
have convinced themselves that if they buy a new Lexus SUV or move to a beach
community in California, lasting happiness will follow. But Sheldon warns that
while these kinds of changes might work for a while, new possessions or fresh
living arrangements will eventually become part of your status quo and their power
to deliver happiness will fade. "The route to sustained happiness is not
to change the static circumstances of your life, but rather to change the activities
that you're involved in," says Sheldon. "This could mean committing
to a new vocational plan, pursuing a new set of goals, or joining a new organization."
Although concerns of the times can shake the foundations that support personal
happiness, these unsettling events have prompted some people to rethink their
lives and move in more positive directions. After natural and national disasters,
many people become much clearer about what is important to them, and what gives
them purpose in life. They also can become more adaptive, and more appreciative
of the little things. Even in difficult times, people can find happiness.
way to steer your life toward happiness is simply to count your blessings, and
perhaps even create and make regular entries in your own "gratitude journal."
Myers points to research showing that people who pause each day to reflect on
the positive aspects of their lives (for example, their health, friends, family,
education, freedom) are more likely to experience heightened well-being.
Janoff-Bulman, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Massachusetts, conducted
a study comparing the well-being of lottery winners versus people who had become
suddenly paralyzed. Following the initial euphoria of their newfound wealth, the
lottery winners were no happier than the accident victims. The paralyzed individuals
had to adjust to the shock of their new physical limitations, but after this early
distress had eased, they were much better able to appreciate the small pleasures
and victories of life than those who were overnight millionaires, and they felt
more optimistic about the future.
Richard Trubo, Health.MSN.com