Aug 252013

Happy couple at a tropical beachHappiness is something we all could do with a little more of, but today’s fast-paced lifestyle of increased work stress and financial uncertainty has left many of us with a shortage of it.

We seem to spend massive amounts of effort worrying about the state of the economy, whether or not we’re got that big promotion and the price of gas, leaving little time to truly allow ourselves to be happy. However, a general increase in happiness could well be the answer to most of our worries…

Happiness and Positive Thought

Now, we’ve all heard of the power of positive thought made famous by The Secret. Well, scientifically speaking, there is truth to it. Keeping one’s brain happy with good, pleasurable thoughts, according to Dr Teresa Aubele of Florida State University, actually helps with our ability to be more productive and improves our cognitive abilities. Studies have shown that happier people are more creative, have increased problem solving abilities and are generally more productive. Oh, and are nicer to be around!

So, just how do we keep our brain happy? Well, it’s not as hard as you would think! Keeping a positive frame of mind will immediately increase your happiness. Spending time thinking negative thoughts and dwelling on past mistakes has been proven to drain your brain of energy.

By thinking positive thoughts we engage the part of the brain known as the Prefrontal Cortex. The prefrontal cortex is basically the epicentre of our emotions and the one place where we can control how we feel.

Diagram of the prefrontal cortexBy keeping an optimistic, positive outlook we actually generate more serotonin, which in turns gives us that calming feeling of well-being. The moment we start so slip into a pessimistic frame of mind we actually stop ourselves from reaching our true potential. Neuroscientists have proven that a positive frame of mind increases activity in the prefrontal cortex. This increased activity is what drives us to complete our goals and reach the heights we wish to.

Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky, one of the world’s leading experts on happiness, talks about how the need for a positive outlook is essential to increasing, and maintaining, our happiness levels. Negative-minded people have been shown to spend time thinking of how they don’t match up to those around them, mulling over past mistakes and considering the things that could have been. This attitude not only hampers their happiness but decreases their chances of being successful in life.

Professor Lyubomirsky goes on to caution us about letting ourselves dwell on past failures. By allowing ourselves to continually relive the negative emotions tied to our own regrets, we lower our ability to be happy. It’s a proven fact that reliving past glories or triumphs can help motivate us and increase productivity, but the same can be said for negative experiences. While introspection and learning from our mistakes is a vital part of growing as person, we need to be careful we don’t allow ourselves to become too caught up in the emotions of negative events.

Decision making goes a long way to avoiding such regrets and it is here we can make a big step to ensuring lasting happiness. Be careful about making those snap decisions. Rather, take your time and consider them properly. Even those decision we feel have been unconsidered can be proven to be quite the opposite.

Take a situation like choosing one college over another. Perhaps you think you chose where to do a post-graduate degree almost on a whim but in fact it was a decision most-likely backed up by prior knowledge. This knowledge you could have accumulated through experiences such as interactions with other people or things you might have read.

With correct decision making and a positive outlook comes an increased level of happiness and productivity. This ultimately leads us to be more successful, which is something we all strive for. Wealth and happiness have always been thought to go hand-in-hand, with rich people cited as being the happiest of us all. This isn’t entirely the case.

Wealth and Happiness

Picture of a key and some moneyWealth and happiness really comes down to our basic needs. If, for example, you spend most of your life living close to the poverty line a sudden jump increase in wealth will massively increase your happiness. With this influx of money worries such as where the next meal is coming from, how to make rent or providing basic things for your family disappear. These basic needs are what control our happiness.

The increase in happiness due to wealth does scale down. If a financially comfortable person comes into more money, their level of happiness will rise but in a much smaller fashion. Money is something that can have a positive and negative effect on our happiness. Some extremely rich people have been found to be deeply unhappy. A lot of people set themselves financial goals but often find themselves a little surprised at how little reaching that goal impacted on their happiness.

It really comes down to how we use our wealth. Buying a bunch of fancy, new things will definitely give you an instant high. However, this happiness has no lasting value to it. The impact is more immediate but also peters out over time. Choosing more philanthropic ways to spend our money will immediately increase our levels of happiness.

Look at growing yourself as a person. Learn a new hobby or take up an interest that you’ve never done before. This will not only give you the satisfaction of learning a new skill or meeting new people, but it will give you something that can be enjoyed for a long period of time and sustain your happiness.

Also, look to contribute to those around you. A study was done with 4th, 5th and 6th grade students. Over four weeks they were told to do at least three acts of kindness or charity per day. Most of these acts occurred at home and outside of the school. However, the kids showed a marked increase in happiness as well as popularity at school. The effect of the charitable acts had a positive impact on all facets of their lives.

By connecting with other people and growing relationships we allow ourselves the opportunity to create bonds that will give us a lasting happiness instead of a quick once-off jolt like a new gadget or vacation. A happy life ultimately comes down to our frame of mind and by creating situations where we continually feed our happiness we can ensure that we have lasting happiness.

This is a Guest Post from Tiffany. K

picture of guest author Tiffany KTiffany.K is an avid student and coach in personal development. She believes that the whole point of living life is to be happy. She shares her knowledge through articles like this to help others attain more happiness in their lives. You will love Tiffany.K’s gift called the Happiness Bible.

At Pursuing Happiness, Tiffany runs a weekly self improvement newsletter with free articles, tips, and information from her own life – you can get your copy of the Happiness Bible (click here to download your free copy) and join her newsletter for more info.