Thursday, August 9, 2012

How to be Happy

I have never met anyone who said, "I want to be unhappy!"  Everyone I meet wants to be happier.  There is some good news and bad news.  Let's start with the bad news.  Recent research reveals that happiness in genetically linked.  This means people are born with a happiness "set" point.  Ever wonder why some people seem to be happy all the time and not effected by most things in their lives?  Or why others seem to be a bit on the dour side (we call them Eeyors).  No matter what happens they are expecting it to get worse.  Turns out that we are pretty much born with a happiness set point that is melded into our personality.

And the good news?  There are things that can effect the happiness point.  Actually there are three things that have significant impact on it.

Seems that the anticipation of something that we want has a way of increasing our happiness.  It is Friday and pay day.  We feel a slight rush as we anticipate receiving those hard earned wages.  Or we are saving up to purchase that new Ipad and getting close.  This anticipation is a happiness builder.  The downside is that shortly after receiving what we want our new found happiness fades away in the wind.  Seems the anticipation is the happiness trigger.  Closely connected to this is the happiness that comes from dopamine release.  While anticipation and actually receiving something longed for releases dopamine, addiction causes it to hang around and actually flood areas of the mind bringing intense pleasure. The down side is what scientist term hedonic adaptation.  Ever long for a piece of chocolate?  After eating a few pieces it begins to lose its appeal.  Hedonic adaptation causes us to get use to certain levels and then requires more of something to bring about the same sense of pleasure.  This is basic addiction.

But there is another way to increase your happiness.  Ever started working on something or playing a favorite sport and then find yourself so engulfed that you lose track of time?  Scientists call this flow while athletes refer to it as being in the zone.  As you move into the zone or stay in the flow your basic happiness increases.  It also increases as you anticipate being in the flow.  This is one good reason to find those things that you can do well and then seek to do them more often.  In Ephesians 2:10 we discover God has things for us to do.  I believe that as we find and "flow" with these we will increase our happiness.  Tied to this is that happiness increases as you "flow" with others.  Relationships in the process increase the impact.

Finally happiness increases as we reach out beyond ourselves and help others with no expectation of reward.  Perhaps a Greek Proverb says it best:

Civilization flourishes when people plant trees under the shade of which they will never sit.

God has intended that we become part of others by reaching out and helping where nothing is expected in return.  This benevolence is part of us that needs to be exercised.  Over time it benevolence atrophy can decrease its potential to increase happiness.

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