The pursuit of happiness is one of the three things that are listed in the United States’ Declaration of Independence among the “unalienable rights” or sovereign rights of human beings. Happiness is no doubt, an extremely valued state of being for all people and it is the wish of many to experience it as often as possible. It can be a helper in the transcendence of the levels of consciousness well into the domain of positive feelings and emotional states of mind.
There is plenty of research in existence today that demonstrates all the beneficial aspects of happiness and can help us better understand this real-life fantasia of be-ing so that we can learn to stream more of it into our day-to-day lives. Using simple yet effective methods of experiencing more happiness within our lives, we can become permanent residents in the domain of Happiness.
Happiness has been thought to be largely determined by genetics in times past but new research from the German Socio-Economic Panel Survey has revealed to us that happiness comes more from our personal choices than it does from our genetic make-up. The research had found that altruistic goals were more important than money, and that focusing on family, social activities, exercise, religion/spirituality, and working the right amount were choices that, if made, would bring more happiness into a person’s life. What this can demonstrate to us is that we really do have a tremendous amount of control as to what our emotional state is at any given time. With our positive focused intentions, we can shape and change the way we feel.
Our control over our state of mind is further enhanced with the realization that the most sought-after means to an end (money) does not bring happiness like people sometimes believe. Scientists have recently proven for the first time that even the thought of money reduces satisfaction in the simple pleasures of life. Their results showed that the subjects in their study who were wealthier had a self-assessed lower level of savoring ability, which undermined the positive effects of money on their happiness, although they were overall slightly happier than the less well-off subjects.
This is something that must be understood by the whole of humanity, particularly by the societies that consume gratuitous amounts of products every day because not only does our happiness rely on it, our very survival as a species depends on it as well.
There is a paradox at the heart of our lives. In a book entitled “Happiness: Lessons From a New Science” by Richard Layard, this paradox is explored . Most of us want more income so we can consume more. However, as societies amass more riches, they do not become happier.
In fact, the “First World” has more depression, alcoholism and crime (non-violent) than 50 years ago. This paradox is true of countries such as Britain, the United States, continental Europe and Japan. Statistically people have more things today than they did 50 years ago, but they are less happy in several key areas. There is also the considerable cost of what materialism does to the environment.
We do not yet know what final toll that could take in terms of quality of life and overall happiness. What many people do not understand is that if we want to save the environment then at some level we have to buy and consume less. The current way of life is a lose-lose situation because we are not becoming happier and we are simultaneously making this planet uninhabitable.
If we are succumb and use a means (money) to an end (happiness), research shows that buying life experiences rather than material possessions leads to greater happiness for both the consumer and those around them. This finding, which was presented by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. The study demonstrates that experiential purchases result in increased well-being because they satisfy higher order needs, specifically the need for social connectedness and a feeling of being alive.
The results also show that experiences produce more happiness regardless of the amount spent or the income of the individual. Experiences also lead to longer-term satisfaction because purchased experiences provide memory capital…we do not get easily bored of happy memories like we do with material objects.
How to Be Happier
We know that happiness is something very beneficial and comforting to experience, but sometimes it may be difficult to lift ourselves up to the domain of positivity. Thankfully, there are many ways to increase our level of happiness.
One of these ways is through meditation. There is plenty of research on meditation and some of it concerns meditation’s effect on happiness. One study found that after a trial period of mindfulness meditation, 14 and 15 year-old boys were found to have increased well-being, which was defined as the combination of feeling good (including positive emotions such as happiness, contentment, interest and affection) and functioning well.
Other research identified the left prefrontal cortex as a region of the brain associated with happiness and positive thoughts and emotions. Using functional magnetic resonance imagining scans on meditating monks, the study found that their brain activity was especially high in this area. A conclusion reached from this research was that meditation not only changes the workings of the brain in the short term, but also produces permanent changes as well. That extraordinary finding is based on the fact that the monks had considerably more gamma wave activity than others even before they start meditating.
The best things in life can truly said to be free. They come in the form of simple pleasures and they appear right in front of you at various locations and times. They are governed by macrocosmic forces and situational circumstance, then being captured by mindful awareness. Take moments out of your day to notice the little things in life. Perhaps it is the red, orange, and yellow-colored leaves falling from the trees in the brisk autumn breeze, or it is the laying in a field cuddling with your lover. Noticing these moments and taking part in them regularly will bring unpredictable bursts of happiness into your life.
Several other ways exist by which we are able to enhance the the heart-centered feelings of happiness. Some of these include the following:
- Spiritual practices like meditation that connect us to something greater than ourselves.
- Heart-to-heart connection with others and close friendships within and outside family.
- Gathering with others frequently for uplifting purposes
Positive psychology has done much to increase our understanding of happiness and has given us a multitude of exercises that can increase our level of happiness. Here are five that are exceptionally helpful:
- Express your individuality. The more autonomy and freedom of choice in your life, the happier you are. Look for opportunities in your daily life, at work and home, to express your free choice and independence.
- Since people tend to overestimate the duration of their feelings about both positive and negative future events, adjust your expectations accordingly.
- An orientation to the welfare of others is, in the long run, more satisfying than an orientation to one’s own pleasure. To experience this for yourself: In the next week, undertake one pleasurable activity for yourself and one philanthropic activity that will benefit another person. Spend about the same amount of time on each activity during the week and at the end of the week jot down your reactions and feelings as a result of each activity.
- Gratitude is a feeling of thanks that, when expressed, brings positive emotions to both initiator and recipient. To experience this, pick someone who has been kind and helpful to you, but has not heard your personal expression of thanks. Write a gratitude letter to the person you pick, expressing your gratitude and why you are grateful in specific and concrete terms. If at all possible, deliver it personally and ask the person to read the letter in your presence.
- Research indicates a very strong correlation between the quality of a relationship and the way in which partners respond to each others’ good news. When your partner has good news to share: listen attentively, share positive thoughts about the news, and be constructive.
We crave happiness. It is certainly more desirable than unhappiness. By understanding how happiness, and the lack of it, affects the overall well-being and level of consciousness of oneself, each person is able to take steps towards streaming more happiness into one’s life. By using tools such as meditation and positive psychology exercises such as expressing individuality, we are able to experience more happiness more often.
We can evolve humanity by experiencing a higher level of happiness individually and collectively. Think of the possibilities such as less frequent war and conflict (and one day hopefully neither of these). Imagine the transformation of society that would occur if the overall level of happiness the collective consciousness experiences. We can start with raising our own personal levels of happiness, and then we will be able to smile when we see the transpersonal effects in the whole of humanity.