Happiness Psychology
March 2010

Every instant we make choices, some of these are about survival, some are driven by external rules, others come out of habit arising from training and past experience, and many are to protect our ego, our fragile image of ourselves. If we evaluated our choices solely on what would make us happy, many of our choices would be quite different. For example, if you are tempted to talk negatively about Mary for her choices (in clothes, partner, behaviour), this may result in temporary ego happiness for you (I am better than her). But ultimately the outcome is going to be unhappiness. If you are honest with yourself, you will regret what you have done, but also inevitably Mary will find out about it or sense your disapproval, then you may feel bad about yourself, end up either disliking Mary, she disliking you, she retaliating in some way, having to avoid her, or having to make amends which is not always successful (would you trust someone who talks about you behind your back?). The obvious happier choice is to support Mary in her life choices, gently tell her if you think she is damaging herself in some way (be sure that you are correct in your assessment), and resist engaging in idle talk about other people. This will assist you in growing your self esteem, without having to boost your ego by put others' down. International research (www.wellbeing.com) has found that the degree to which your life aligns with your values, predicts happiness

 

Cynicism/scepticism becomes a habit. It can arise from our wounded egos, e.g. I have felt rejected by women, so I will not expose myself to that risk again, I will reject them or I will not respect them, so that I can retain my powerful self image. Committing to a relationship will expose you to the risk of happiness. If you are subsequently rejected you can choose to take this as a blow to your ego, proof that you are no good or the opposite sex is not to be trusted (preserving your ego), or an opportunity to find happiness elsewhere, to make better choices. The Chinese symbol for crisis is represented by the symbol meaning change and the symbol meaning opportunity.

 

Cynicism in the work place again can arise from experience but unless the workplace is dysfunctional for some reason, it really serves to protect your ego. Perhaps you are led to dislike and criticise your boss because s/he has asked you to improve your work habits. This can be damaging to your output, your enjoyment of your work, your work prospects, but most of all damaging to your happiness. To commit to a role, and do it well, no matter what others do or say, will make you happy if the workplace is functioning well. Effective and open communication is key. The international research mentioned above has found that people tend to be happy if they use their time effectively and are happy with how they are using it.

 

Making others happy usually contributes to your own happiness, unless you amuse others to mask your own unhappiness. I once read that the most successful relationships are the ones where both partners put the other's needs first. Our egos often get in the way of this becoming reality, leading us to expect that our partners will make us happy. Many relationships end because one partner or both put their own needs first. It is a truth that a gift (time, judgement-free listening, acceptance, compliments, money, things) benefits the giver as much as the receiver. Finding time to give to the community in an area that has meaning to you, will give you satisfaction, which leads to happiness.

 

Both men and women highly value partners who make them laugh. Someone said to me recently that the short version of the famous Alcohol Anonymous Serenity Prayer is "lighten up". The recent dramatic spread of laughter yoga all over the globe is a testament to the power of laughter to release feel-good neurotransmitters, endorphins and serotonin, reduce the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, and improve your mood and your health. You do not need to be laughing for a reason to get this benefit. An American study of 678 nuns for more than 30 years showed that very cheerful nuns lived on average seven years longer than very unhappy ones. Another study of 90 people over 100 years old in America found that it was attitude rather than healthy lifestyles that these people have in common. The attitudes are optimism, the ability to cope with loss, and having something in life to be committed to, often faith. Cynicism was not part of the world view of this group. They chose happiness as a way of life.

 

California professor Sonja Lyubrobomirsky says happiness is found in "Expressing gratitude, focusing on what you have as opposed to what you want, not comparing yourself to others, not ruminating on things, focusing on relationships because they have such a high impact on our well being, and having goals; you won't find a happy person who doesn't have goals. Be more absorbed in what you do, try to be more forgiving, more optimistic and kind to those around you. It might sound clichéd, but happiness really is on the inside"