Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries
...except when it's not. Happiness comes so easily to some, but eludes others as life and circumstance pile on. Years ago, I had two colleagues, one so dispassionate as to be morose, the other almost continually upbeat and on a natural, rather than drug induced, high. Circumstance had much to do with their emotional states. Emilia was born in a resettlement camp and came to this country when she was twelve. She had a twin, whose personality displayed the same dour tendencies as her own, so I suspect a genetic component also contributed to her negative attitude and aloof behavior. Emilia was bright and attractive, but so unpleasant some thought her behavior was a put on. It was not. Paul, on the other hand, was Midwestern born and bred, and as relaxed and affable as the large clan from which he came. We used to joke that he was born enlightened, though I must admit I once questioned if anyone that happy could possibly have teenagers in the house. He did, and despite an occasional bout of teenage angst, they were as upbeat and steady as their father. Lunch was a bipolar experience when Paul and Emilia were both at the table. Happiness isn't always contagious. Can it be learned?
Scientists, believe it or not, have weighed in on the subject of happiness, examining what it is and is not. Their research suggests that happiness is a combination of satisfaction and emotional well-being. They've also found the biggest predictor of happiness is genetic predisposition. That set my imagination into overdrive and I now have visions of a rogue gene that taints the DNA of some while sparing others. It's like a lottery, but the good news for the losers is, with consistent effort, the affects of genetics can be overcome and habits can be formed that will make for a satisfying and fulfilling life.
Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor who wrote The How of Happiness, is a happiness researcher. She has determined 50% of an individual's happiness level is genetically determined. About 10% of happiness is affected by external living conditions, but 40% of happiness can be influenced by the mind of a person. She believes the secret of lasting happiness is to concentrate on that 40% of it that is determined by the brain. She suggests regular exercise, avoidance of negative thoughts, healthy social relationships and the pursuit of positive goals, but she emphasizes that gratitude is most important to those on the path to a happy and fulfilling life. To that end, she has developed a 12 step program that is outlined in her book.
Other researchers have put together a list of what they believe will make people happy.
1) Live proactively. Have positive goals and positive tasks.
2) Exercise. Regular physical activity keeps the body and the spirits healthy, Stay fit.
3) Be a giving person. Live for others as well as yourself.
4) Find a balance between rest and activity.
5) Think positively.
6) Turn off the television. Barring that, choose your programs carefully.
7) Build a positive circle of friends.
8) Find joy in your life and the life of others.
9) Laugh a lot.
10) Have a realistic belief in yourself.
I'm not sure that these happiness researchers could help Emilia. She would find their very title off-putting and would find the solutions they offer simplistic. Paul, however, would throw himself into the program and be unbearably buoyant before the day was done. I don't know which camp you fall in, but the advice is free and there is nothing here that can hurt you. It might even help.
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