The Truth About Happiness

What makes you happy? I mean, really happy? You may be surprised to learn that the happiest people are those that continuously seek risk rather than reward.

According to recent studies, activities that make us feel uncertain, uncomfortable, or even guilty are the most enjoyable experiences. In fact, engaging in activities that seem counterintuitive to happiness are activities that provide us with the most happiness. How can this be?

Psychological studies reveal the following five traits of happy people (source: Psychology Today, August 2013):

  1. Curiosity. While being uncomfortable and vulnerable is not easy, curiosity enables people to be stronger and wiser. Studies suggest that individuals who frequently feel curious on a given day also experience the most satisfaction with their life—engaging in the highest number of happiness-inducing activities such as expressing gratitude to a colleague or volunteering to help others.
  2. Imperfection. The devil is not in the details when it comes to happiness. Those that are less conscientious about their performance seem to be happier than those who focus on minutiae. It turns out that striving for perfection is a “loser’s bet” when it comes to happiness.
  3. Celebrating success. Listening to others’ stories of accomplishments strengthens our own feelings of positivity. We are more satisfied and committed to our relationships when we actively listen and encourage positive outcomes for others. The parallel here is that we feel much happier for longer when we spend money on gifts or charities rather than spending it on ourselves. Sharing in another’s joy without envy boosts our happiness.
  4. Psychological flexibility. Those who are able to express or conceal emotions when necessary are able to adapt more quickly to prevailing circumstances and enjoy greater psychological and physical health. For instance, confiding your greatest fear to a good friend who is supportive and non-judgmental, while concealing this fear from your family because you feel they wouldn’t understand bodes well for your overall happiness. This ability to switch mindsets depending on our audience and the situation allows us to build an increasing tolerance to our emotional discomfort.
  5. Purpose. The ability to sacrifice short-term pleasure for long-term reward allows us to tolerate negative feelings that arise during our path to fulfillment. Being honest with yourself about what does and does not energize you will help you define your own sense of purpose as you strive for its achievement.

And if the above whets your appetite for happiness, consider that happy people are more efficient and productive overall. According to University of California Riverside researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky, 40 percent of our capacity for happiness is within our power to change. But balance is paramount.

The good life is a matrix of ups and downs—learning how to balance this mix to help you be at your best most of the time will make the difference between living a happy or unhappy life. Choose happy.

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