Thu 22 Feb 2007
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
When I first read these words, I was both inspired and a bit confused. Does the government actual guarantees my happiness, how could they do that?
I only come to understand the meaning of the phrase “pursuit of happiness” recently. If you think about it, it actually implies that happiness can be obtained through effort. By the end of the speech, you will learn ways to become a happier person.
There is a new branch of psychology called “positive psychology”. Traditionally, psychology focused on correcting negative emotions and behaviors. Positive psychology instead focuses on how to build human strengths and happiness. It started in 1998 after Martin Seligman’s became the president of American Psychological Association, and it’s the fastest growing field in psychology today.
Let’s go over some findings from positive psychology and see how we can leverage them to make ourselves happier.
At genetic level, we humans are born with a happiness range, and our goal is to keep ourselves at the upper limit of the range as much as possible.
At the biological level, the brain chemicals related to the feeling of happiness are serotonin and dopamine. They are produced by the brain, are similar to ecstasy and opium in effect, and generate a sense of euphoria and peacefulness respectively.
Three recent findings in positive psychology are of interest. One is that the biggest factor affecting happiness is the quality of your relationship with your friends and family members. Another is that we can only have one feeling at a time. The third is that our body affects feelings.
First, biggest factor affecting happiness is the quality of your relationship with your friends and family members.
- So invest time and energy in friends and family – Right after my daughter’s birth, I was so busy taking care of her, I got really stressed out. I found that talking to my friends on the phone even briefly really helps me to take my minds away, and I felt much better after every conversation. If what you are doing is affecting you negatively, then stop doing it, and start engaging in meaningful social activities with others.
Second, that we can only maintain one feeling at a time. That means we need to maximize the time we spent experiencing positive feelings to leave no place for negative feelings in our minds. Positive feelings include gratitude, kindness, joy, sympathy and many others.
- So count your blessings and be grateful. I have recently started a journal where my wife and I keep track of things we are grateful for, and thank God for all the blessings every night. It really helped us to see how lucky we are. Also thank people who helped you along the way. Make sure to be specific and thank them face to face if at all possible. It helps you to gain a deeper connection those special people in your life.
- Practice act of kindness. These can either be random or systematic. Being kind triggers many mechanisms, it makes you feel generous and capable, give a great sense connection with others, and wins you smiles, approval and recipricol kindness in return.
- Savor life’s joys – life offers many joyous moments such as your graduation, the birth of your children. Mentally capture them and relish in them during less happy times. Einstein says “A happy man is too satisfied with the present to dwell too much on the future”.
- Learn to forgive – let go of anger and resentment by writing a letter to a person who has hurt or wronged you. Again, the mind can not be happy when revenge and hurt occupies it all the time.
The last finding which is quite contrary to common sense is that our bodies affect our felings.
- So develop strategy for coping with stress and hardships – I found praying lift my burdens and I’m left with a sense of inner peace. A simply thing you can do during times of stress or when experiencing negative emotions is do force yourself to smile by putting your facial muscle to use. Keep your smiling face for more than 30 seconds, and I guarantee you’ll feel better.
- Take care of your body – I use to have a really sedentary lifestyle, weighing 180 pounds, and not taking care of my body. I later found jogging really helps me to release stress. It puts my mind and body at east to prepare for the next set of stress. Getting enough sleep is also important.
Happiness is not shallow, when we are happy, we positively affect others around us. Not only should we strive to be happy, but also encourage other to be happy as well.
To summarize, happiness is achievable through your own actions. Strive to live a life of meaning and purpose, fill your heart with gratefulness and joy, practice acts of kindness, spent time to connect to others, and practice your smiles. Take the steps to heart, make them into habits, and you’ll live a happier life.
Now let me see that wonderful smile on your faces.