Most people seek a life filled with meaning, contentment, gratification, and pleasure. In moments of reflection, we may wonder what we can do to direct our lives not only away form anxiety, anger, stress, and depression but toward a state of personal fulfillment. We may realize that the typical markers of achievement in our society – a graduation, a marriage/commitment, a job promotion, the completion of a project, buying a home – do not always bring us the happiness that we expected, and often they increase our stress.
Despite the fact that we are affluent by world standards, able to drive nice cars, live in large, clean houses and have access to entertainment media, we are subjected to high levels of stress. As a result, many of us carry with us a pervasive feeling of discontent. We pursue the next highest goal in our lives, only to find that achieving that goal does not bring us the feeling of true happiness that we long for. Most of us live better than royalty did in the past, but these high standards of living have not brought us a sense of true contentment. A recent survey of people in nations around the globe learned that the highest levels of personal happiness were found in Nigeria, followed by Mexico. The United States came in at number 16, while Canada and most of Western Europe also scored at similar levels.
There are some things that we can do about our life circumstances to increase our level of personal happiness. For example, cross national studies have found that people who live in wealthy democracies are generally happier than those who live in countries with poverty and dictatorships. People who are in committed relationships tend to be happier than people who live alone. People who are lucky enough to avoid negative events in their lives report higher levels of happiness than those who have been hit by unfortunate events, such as job loss, relationship dissolutions, or the death of a loved one. Surprisingly, however, once a basic level of financial security has been achieved, having more money does not contribute to happiness. Physically healthy people appear to be no happier than those who suffer from an illness. Higher levels of educational attainment are not linked to more happiness. People in sunny climates report about the same levels of happiness as those living in colder climates. And race has no effect on a person’s perceived level of happiness.
Happiness is elusive if we look for it through monetary gain and material possessions. We are no happier driving the luxury car, after the first few months, than we were when we drove the old workhorse. Money is like a drug addiction, we need more and more and we adapt to higher levels and expectations. It becomes a never ending cycle. Finding happiness does not lie in making more money, it is found within.
Recent research has focused on how a person can work toward a happier life. Dr. Martin Seligman and his associates at the University of Pennsylvania base Positive Psychology on years of research into what makes people happy. They have concluded that happiness is an internal experience based on staying true to one’s genuine or authentic self. When people are able to function well in the world using their strongest abilities or “signature strengths,” they have a chance to achieve authentic happiness. They have identified twenty-four signature strengths found in cultures across the world. To investigate your signature strengths, take the VIA Strengths survey found on the internet at www.authentichappiness.org. There are other surveys on happiness and authenticity on this website that may give other insights about you.
The first step is to identify your personal strengths. From there you can explore ways to incorporate these strengths into your life so that your best abilities can be expressed in whatever you do in your daily life.
In researching this topic, an article found on the BBC News website summed up the search for authentic happiness. It was a list written by Bob Yeldham from Wales and stated: “How to be happy; 1) Cultivate a passion; 2) Be part of something bigger than yourself ; 3) Don't resist change; 4) Live for the moment; 5) Audit your happiness; and, 6) Play the part and be happy!”
Happiness is yours for the taking. Put quarters in the Happiness machine and make yourself laugh, smile, play and enjoy the little moments that live gives. Laugh and smile more, its infectious. When you can stay true to the best in yourself, you can achieve an authentically happy life.