Trying to make sense of life and to learn living it happily.

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Friday, February 22, 2013

The Greater Good: Why Happiness Is Good For You And Others

art by ~coolkidelise

So why being happy (and I do not mean momentary pleasures, but lasting feeling of peacefulness and contentment) is so good, we might want to make it our highest priority in life? The obvious answer is because it feels nice, great even! But does feeling great make it good enough to put happiness above other goals?

Let's examine the benefits of happiness a little more closely.

In recent years, more research has become available on benefits of happiness. Turns out, happiness affects many facets of our lives.

art by ~bayb-kiedis
The clear links are that happy people (both children and adults) deal better with life’s never-ending challenges. They are less prone to depressions and anxieties (1). They are more likely to exhibit greater self-control and have better coping skills (2,3,4). They are more sociable and have more friends (5,6). They are optimistic and generally are in better mood.

There are less obvious connections. For example,

According to several studies, happy people are more likely to live longer (7,8,9).

Happiness may help us live not only longer lives, but healthier ones, too. Martin Seligman, a renowned positive psychologist found that optimistic people are much less likely to die of heart attacks than pessimists, controlling for all known physical risk factors (10). The connection of the psyche and health is studied by the psychosomatic medicine. Turns out that our levels of anxiety, stress, negative emotions or conversely, levels of relaxation, comfort, and happiness are major factors in medical outcomes. For example, high blood pressure and irritable bowel syndrome appear to be related to everyday stresses. Stress diverts energy away from the immune system, thereby promoting infections and other illnesses in the body (11). It is believed that almost all physical illness have mental factors that determine their onset, presentation, maintenance, susceptibility to treatment, and resolution (12).

Personal life is greatly affected as well. Happy people have fewer divorces and more marital satisfaction (5,6). I believe a lot of it has to do with the ability to be self reliant in making oneself happy instead of depending on a spouse to do it, and eventually getting gravely disappointed.

Happy people have more energy and are more active, even later in life (13,14). Which comes in handy with the tendency to live longer lives.

Research demonstrates that happier people display greater creativity at work and produce higher income (15). According to one study, happy teenagers go on to earn very substantially more income 15 years later than less happy teenagers, equating for income, grades, and other obvious factors (10).

Another rather important point is that happiness may be the meaning of life. A long time ago Aristotle concluded, "Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and the end of human existence". Similarly, Ayn Rand believed that "achievement of your happiness is the only moral purpose of your life..."

So being happy is conductive to leading a longer, healthier and meaningful life, enjoying deeper personal and social relationships, and even achieving financial stability.

Even so, focusing on our own happiness may somehow seem a self-indulgence, a selfish act. But it is not! By being happy, we can actually help those around us and the society in general!

art by CainPascoe
People in the vicinity of happy individuals get affected positively, even if they do not always notice. Happy people of all ages are more cooperative and less antagonistic, which results in less bullying at school and less negativity at workplace. Happier individuals form closer friendships, providing stronger social and emotional support to their friends.  Due to the better family dynamics, happier adults benefit their spouses and raise happier, better adjusted children. Moreover, happiness is 'contagious'. When people are in company of happy people, they tend to get into better mood themselves.

The influences of individual good mood can be felt by the society at large. For example, national economics is positively affected, as scientists prove that happier children deliver better performance at school, and happier adults perform better at work (16). Besides, happier people who evidently are healthier, use fewer sick days and are more productive. 
Due to the benefits to their health, happy people also contribute to driving the cost of healthcare down.

Besides helping the world indirectly, happier people get involved with charity work, volunteering their time and donating money (17,18).

Finally, happiness is a perpetuum mobile, a perpetual cycle, in which being happy induces positive outcomes that in turn beget more happiness, and so on…

So, happiness touches most aspects of daily life, making it more enjoyable and gratifying every single day, through good times and bad. It feels great and benefits the happy individual, as well as his/her families, friends, and even the world at large. And it generates even more happiness!

The only thing left for us to do is practice our happiness skills consistently and enjoy the outcomes!

(1)   Diener, E., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2002). Very happy people.  Psychological Science, 13, 81-84.
(2)    Carver, C. S., Pozo, C., D., et al. (1993). How coping mediates the effect of optimism on distress: A study of women with early stage breast cancer. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65, 375-390.
(3)    Fredrickson, B. L., & Joiner, T. (2002). Positive emotions trigger upward spirals toward emotional well-being. Psychological Science 13, 172-175.
(4)    Keltner, D., & Bonanno, G. A. (1997). A study of laughter and dissociation: Distinct correlates of laughter and smiling during bereavement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 687-702.
(5)    Berry, D. S., & Hansen, J. S. (1996). Positive affect, negative affect, and social interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 796-809.
(6)    Harker, L., & Keltner, D. (2001). Expressions of positive emotions in women’s college yearbook pictures and their relationship to personality and life outcomes across adulthood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80,112-124.
(7)    Danner, D. D., Snowdon, D. A., & Friesen, W. V. (2001). Positive emotions in early life and longevity: Findings from the nun study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 804-813.
(8)    Maruta, T., Colligan, R. C., Malinchoc, M., & Offord, K. P. (2000). Optimists vs. pessimists: Survival rate among medical patients over a 30-year period. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 75, 140-143.
(9)    Ostir, G. V., Markides, K. S., Black, S. A., & Goodwin, J. S. (2000). Emotional well-being predicts subsequent functional independence and survival. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 48, 473-478
(10) http://www.minnisjournals.com.au/educationtoday/article.php?article=Positive-education-and-the-new-prosperity-546
(11)Dillon, K. M., Minchoff, B., & Baker, K. H. (1985). Positive emotional states and enhancement of the immune system. International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, 15, 13-18.
(13)Csikszentmihalyi, M., & Wong, M. M. (1991). The situational and personal correlates of happiness: A cross-national comparison. In F. Strack, M. Argyle, & N. Schwarz (Eds.), Subjective well-being: An interdisciplinary perspective(pp. 193-212). Elmsford, NY: Pergamon Press. 
(14)Watson, D., Clark, L. A., McIntyre, C. W., & Hamaker, S. (1992). Affect, personality, and social activity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63, 1011-1025.
(15)Estrada, C., Isen, A. M., & Young, M. J. (1994). Positive affect influences creative problem solving and reported source of practice satisfaction in physicians. Motivation and Emotion18, 285-299.
(16)Staw, B. M., Sutton, R. I., & Pelled, L. H. (1995). Employee positive emotion and favorable outcomes at the workplace. Organization Science5, 51-71.
(17)Cunningham, M. R., Shaffer, D. R., Barbee, A. P., Wolff, P. L., & Kelley, D. J. (1990). Separate processes in the relation of elation and depression to helping: Social versus personal concerns. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 26, 13-33.
(18)Williams, S., & Shiaw, W. T. (1999). Mood and organizational citizenship behavior: The effects of positive affect on employee organizational citizenship behavior intentions. Journal of Psychology, 133, 656-668.

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