Yes, you can train yourself to live a fuller and happier life. First, you have to understand what makes you happy. Behavioral scientists have determined that the quality of relationships is primary; close relationships with both family and friends help keep people happy throughout their lives. Health, creative work and freedom from mind-numbing routine all produce happiness as well as the smaller day-to-day events. A person who has several positive experiences throughout the day, such as a pleasant exchange with a friend or boss or a compliment from a spouse, is likely to be happier overall than someone receiving a single isolated big event. Money may help as well. According to Daniel Gilbert, psychology professor at Harvard University, “Once you get basic human needs met, a lot more money doesn’t make a lot more happiness.” However, recent research has determined that money can buy happiness if you know how to use it. Spending money on activities important to you can increase happiness. But the greatest happiness comes from spending money on others, especially those close to you, says Michael Norton, professor of business administration at Harvard Business School.
Genes and age also play a role in happiness; genes account for about 50 percent of the variation in people’s happiness levels. The age factor shows that happiness declines as people move into middle age and bottoms out around age 44. But then it steadily rises in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Research indicates that as people get older, they learn to care less about what others think, or that they become more adept at avoiding situations they don’t like. Perhaps experience has taught them that happiness isn’t something that just happens; there are ways to set a course for a happier life. So yes, you can work on being happier. Psychologists maintain that you have a “set point” of happiness, returning to it time and again throughout your life. One way to work on being happier is to count your blessings and express gratitude. Practicing gratitude, verbally or through writing, triggers particular patterns of brain activity and can be self-perpetuating, making it easier to see and appreciate the good in your life down the road. Positive effects of meditation, exercise, volunteering, and applying yourself to a hard task are additional ways of training yourself towards happiness. Even challenges can make you happy. Setting and achieving goals is a key part in working toward happiness, because every time you accomplish a task your brain releases dopamine, the “feel good” neurotransmitter. According to Laura Carstensen, director of Stanford University’s Center on Longevity, “When you focus on emotionally meaningful goals, life gets better.” From: www.ThisWeek.com
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