Month: November 2014

The Happiness Series – Building your relationship web!

heart-195147_1280One of the most important factors to be discussed when looking at creating greater happiness in your life is your web of social connections.  This web of strong and weak ties has been referred to as “a necessary condition for high happiness”  in a study that compared the lives of “very happy, average, and unhappy people.”

Very happy people in this study consistently scored an average of 30 on a life satisfaction scale, double the score of the unhappy group!  Without fail, these happy folks had rich interpersonal lives, spent the most amount of time with others and the least amount of time alone.  The study concluded that “social relationships form a necessary but not sufficient condition for high happiness – that is, they do not guarantee high happiness, but it does not appear to happen without them.”

A Harvard study that followed 268 men for their entire lives found that “success in relationships” was strongly tied to physical, mental, emotional health and even economic health.  What appears to be most important is your subjective experience of support and loneliness.  In other words, the number of relationships is less important than how you feel about them.  It is also important to note that various types of relationships and connection levels, referred to in positive psychology as strong and weak ties, are valuable and contribute to happiness levels.

This week’s happiness technique is … building your relationship web.

To implement this technique, take stock of your current relationships.  Do you have strong family ties, friendships, work relationships, and community connections?  They are all important and can contribute to your long-term happiness levels.  Put some extra effort into fostering connection with others and then watch to see how it impacts your experience!

Our Shared Human Autobiography

road-166543_1280 (1)

I love the way this poem describes, so simply and beautifully, life and the process of learning from our experiences.  We all live lives made of different versions of the same experiences in many ways.  There is beauty in our shared human autobiography.  Walking down that street with another and learning to see the holes together is an honor.



“Autobiography in Five Chapters” by Portia Nelson
1)I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost… I am hopeless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.
2)I walk down the same street
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I’m in the same place,
But it isn’t my fault or my responsibility.
It still takes a long time to get out.
3)I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my responsibility.
I get out immediately.
4)I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.
5) I walk down another street.

The Happiness Series – Happiness and Finding your Flow

smiley face(Each article in my Happiness Series will feature at least one science-backed technique to increase your happiness levels!  Move to the bottom of the article for this week’s technique.)

EVERYONE wants to be happy, right?  Right!  It is even written into the founding documents of our country that happiness is a worthy lifelong pursuit.  Why then, does it seem for so many the quest to be happy is a never ending search for the holy grail?  The good news is that positive psychology has spent 15+ years exploring the meaning and science behind happiness.  The studies show, unequivocally, that there are specific techniques, skills, and lifestyle adaptations we can learn to effectively increase our happiness levels. Studies also show that happiness is well worth your time as it increases your professional success,  physical health outcomes, and your relationships among many other benefits.

But first, the big question…what is happiness?  Happiness has long been represented by the stylized, iconic yellow face with black dots for eyes.  Our first thoughts on the definition of happiness may lead to similarly superficial ideas of new cars, an exceptional meal, or a beach vacation.  But the complexity of the word and the feeling it represents, once truly explored, are much greater than can be captured by the round yellow beacon of good times.   In her 2007 book The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky, positive psychology researcher, describes happiness as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.”

In short and very simplified terms, there are two components to or types of happiness. Hedonic happiness derives from pleasure (most typically of the senses) or goal fulfillment.  Eudaimonic happiness is happiness from meaningful pursuits.  Hedonic happiness tends to provide short, intense bursts of pleasure that quickly recede.  This tendency for short hedonic happiness bursts is due to “hedonic adaptation.” This means that when a change in circumstance occurs (a new house) that makes us happier, we quickly adjust to the change and return to our original (before the new house) happiness levels. Eudaimonic happiness, however, appears to have a moderate but longer lasting effect over a lifetime.  So for those that want to “be happier,” the most effective efforts will be put towards increasing eudaimonic happiness, or pleasure from meaningful pursuits.

Most positive psychologists argue that the distance between hedonic and eudaimonic pleasure is a murky, confusing path.  They are entangled and entwined like ivy tendrils, highly correlative but not exclusive of one another, in ways that impact our overall happiness.  In an effort to understand what impacts this overall happiness, Lyubomirsky and her colleagues have reviewed and conducted endless studies of happiness.  The results indicate that there are large aspects of our happiness levels under our control.  What they’ve found is that approximately 50 percent of our happiness level is genetic.  Unfortunately, this 50 percent genetic influence appears to be a “set point” that is difficult to change.  About ten percent of overall happiness is related to life circumstances such as income, physical attractiveness, jobs and health.  This is an astoundingly low percentage given that this is the area most people focus their attention on.  “I will be happier when … I get a new car, a girlfriend, a better job.”  The remaining 40 percent of our happiness comes from intentional activity, thoughts and behaviors that we have control over.  Nearly half of what impacts your happiness level is under your control.  And this is where we will focus our attention over the next few articles, specific ways to help you feel happier!

This week’s happiness technique is …Find Your Flow.

Based on flow theory by Csikszentmihalyi and supported by positive psychology studies, happiness levels increase as a person spends more time in “flow activities.”   Flow activities are ones in which you engage so deeply you lose yourself, achieving a heightened sense of awareness of the here and now moment, and act effortlessly.  These activities most often include some form of creative process.

To implement this technique, you need to follow two simple steps!

1.  Identify your flow activities.  It may be a sport, solving a complex math problem, learning about a particular topic, gardening, etc.

2.  Make an effort to provide daily time to FInd Your Flow!  By nature, flow activities speak to our strengths and passions and engage us deeply in our day. Increasing your daily allowance of flow activity can not only impact your happiness levels but also increase your creativity, productivity, and learning.

Remember, small simple steps each day will make big change over a lifetime.

For those interested in further learning about the topics addressed in this article, consider the following:

The Greater Good Science Center

9 Steps to Achieving Greater Flow at Work