14 Nov

Image posted on Facebook by Conscious Body Pilates Seattle.

A primary goal of both psychotherapy and mindfulness practices is to find meaning in life, which some might say is feeling HAPPY.  Interestingly, the more we strive for typical methods of securing happiness, such as pursuing wealth and power, the more we might struggle to find it.  Sometimes happiness comes about in unexpected ways such as being out of your comfort zone and taking risks, or in finding profound meaning from very painful circumstances such as trauma.  As Joseph Campbell said “It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life.  Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.”

Today I watched the 2011 documentary “Happy” which explores the wealth of scientific research into happiness.

The film delves into Positive Psychology research and introduces its viewers to numerous concepts related to happiness, quickly moving from topics such as laughter, bullying, community and religion.  The film rapidly moves all over the world- from Louisiana to India, to Bhutan and to Japan.  It is a quick ride with a lot of happy information thrown at you, but overall it is interesting and fun as well as inspiring.

Some highlights of the movie include:

  • Happiness is partially related to our genetics and only 10% influenced by things like money and possessions.  However, research has shown that 40% of happiness is influenced by what we choose to do with ourselves as far as activities, thoughts and practices.  The movie does mention the importance of basic needs being met (think basic shelter and food) in order to pursue happiness.
  • Activities such as exercise (especially “novel exercise”, which the movie shows as people running in gorilla suits) increases the production of dopamine which makes people HAPPY.  (This must be why exercise is often regarded as the best anti-depressant.)
  • Positive Psychology research claims that close family and community support provides more happiness in life than material wealth ever will.  Makes a lot of sense.
  • Compassion meditation is shown to boost brain functioning and is found to increase happiness, even after just a little bit of practicing it.
  • Counting your blessings  is a way to stay focused on good fortune and can boost happiness.  (Shout out to all of those on Facebook currently posting about the gratefulness for the entire month of November!)
  • Research has shown that random acts of kindness is a huge way to boost overall feelings of well-being and happiness.

So overall, it is a compilation of information many of us may already be familiar with.  The message is clear though: Happiness is not some elusive thing you’ll find when you save enough money to get some new car or house.  It is also not something you simply find and have forever- it is a practice and a lifestyle.  Happiness is found in the everyday- cooking and enjoying meals with friends, learning to surf, taking time to walk outside and so on.  Happiness is also found by being part of something bigger than yourself, perhaps by giving back to the world.   The more you do those things, the more you’ll tap into happiness.

The ending narration of the movie states: “The formula for happiness is not the same for everyone.  The good news is that the things we love to do are the building blocks of a happy life: play, having new experiences, friends and family, doing things that are meaningful, appreciating what we have…these are the things that make us happy, and they’re free.  And with happiness, the more you have, the more everyone has.”

So what will you do today to find happiness?  

Ren & Stimpy- experts on happiness? Image from http://www.fanpop.com


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