Does Happiness Come Naturally?
Have you ever noticed how some people effortlessly radiate positive energy all the time? Their exuberant aura charms everyone around them. Their smiles are contagious and somehow they know just the right words to say to put a big grin on your face. And these cheerful rays of sunshine are quite resilient, too!
You might be wondering…are they just born that way? How can anyone be that happy even in the face of adversity?
The reality is that it is not possible for someone to feel a certain kind of emotion all of the time. Although evidence suggests that genes do play a role in how happy some may feel, sustaining an overall good mood actually takes a bit of work.
It’s a strategy
One of the reasons why some people ooze positivity is that they intentionally implement certain strategies to prolong a sunny attitude.
Studies by world renowned researcher Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky from the University of California, Riverside and colleagues demonstrate what kinds of strategies make a difference in people’s subjective experiences of happiness. These include practices such as expressing gratitude, doing random acts of kindness for others and investing in quality social connections.
Past studies that have been done by psychologist Michael Argyle, Dr. Ed Diener and colleagues also show that those happy friends among us remain optimistic about the future. They also practice a skill called savoring which invites them to the present moment as opposed to dwelling on the past or projecting far into the future. In her article, “Why Are Some People Happier Than Others?” Dr. Lyubomirsky writes that spending too much time thinking about the negative events that happened in the past may reinforce unhappiness by depleting cognitive resources. In contrast, happy individuals might be less likely to dwell on negative outcomes.
Is it because of success?
Research has shown that happy people flourish in many domains of life. If you think it is success which brings forth happiness, think again.
According to Dr. Lyubomirsky and colleagues, success does increase happiness – to a degree; however, positive emotions also create a pathway to more fruitful outcomes. Researchers like Dr. Barbara Fredrickson suggest that we tend to focus more on desirable goals when we feel good. Good mood fuels people to “broaden and build.”
Broaden-and-build is a theory that was developed by Dr. Fredrickson which proposes that positive emotions expand people’s momentary thought-action repertoires. Negative emotions, on the other hand, bring forth a sense of urgency to fight or flee. According to Dr. Fredrikcson, life-threatening situations trigger emotions that narrow people’s thought-action repertoires and this is actually crucial for survival. Positive emotions like joy, however, present us with a variety of choices when it comes to how we think and act. Dr. Fredrickson notes that joy sparks “the urge to play, push the limits and be creative.” In essence, positive emotional experiences like happiness, contentment and love turn on the curious switch within. In turn, we can explore new avenues when it comes to our goals and creative pursuits.
Happiness is within our control
Despite the genetic and social influences, Dr. Lyubomirsky argues that we have control over up to 40% of how happy we feel.
Most of us believe that we will be happier once we get that job, get into a relationship with that person or earn a certain amount of income. However, evidence shows that once we find ourselves in a relatively comfortable state of being, achieving more [insert a goal] does not do much in terms of happiness. What does seem to make a difference is what we do regularly to cultivate more positive emotions in our life.
If you would like to give some happiness strategies a try, go ahead! Just make sure to do something that is personally meaningful and interesting!
- 1. Argyle, M. (1999). Causes and Correlates of Happiness. In D. Kahneman, E. Diener, & N. Schwarz (Eds.), Well-Being: The Foundations of Hedonic Psychology (pp. 353-373). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
- 2. Diener, E., Suh, E. M., Lucas, R. E., & Smith, H. L. (1999). Subjective well-being: Three decades of progress. Psychological Bulletin, 125(2), 276–302. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.125.2.276
- 3. Fredrickson, B. L. (2004). The Broaden-and-Build Theory of Positive Emotions. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences, 359(1449), 1367–1378. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2004.1512
- 4. Lyubomirsky, S., King, L., & Diener, E. (2005). The Benefits of Frequent Positive Affect: Does Happiness Lead to Success?. Psychological Bulletin, 131(6), 803–855. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.131.6.803
- 5. http://sonjalyubomirsky.com/wp-content/themes/sonjalyubomirsky/papers/L2001.pdf