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How to be happy according to psychologists
How to be happy according to psychologists

Scientists tell us what prevents us from enjoying life and how to deal with it.

How to be happy according to psychologists
How to be happy according to psychologists

What is happiness

Some believe that to achieve happiness you need to work tirelessly. And the more you invest, the more you get.

For example, the author of the popular book “Eat, Pray, Love” Elizabeth Gilbert writes about happiness in the following way: “It is nothing more than a consequence of working on oneself. We must fight for happiness, strive for it, persist and sometimes even embark on a journey to the other end of the world in search of it. Take a constant part in achieving your own happiness. And having approached the state of bliss, make mighty efforts to forever move upward on the wave of happiness, to keep afloat. It is worth relaxing a little - and the state of inner satisfaction eludes us."

For some, such an attitude is suitable, but for many it can bring harm rather than benefit. Including lead to feelings of stress, loneliness and own failure. Then it is better to perceive happiness as a fearful bird: the more you strive to catch it, the further it flies away.

How attitudes affect life satisfaction

Psychologist Iris Mauss of the University of California, Berkeley was one of the first to explore this idea. She was inspired by the incredible number of self-help books that have been published in the United States over the past couple of decades. In many of them, happiness is presented as a prerequisite for our existence.

“Everywhere you look, there are books about the importance of happiness, about how we almost have to be happy,” says Moss. - Because of this, people have high expectations: it seems to them that they need to be happy all the time or experience incredible happiness. This leads to self-disappointment."

Moss also wondered if the simple question "How happy am I?" self-examination, which suppresses the very feeling that a person is trying to reveal in himself. She tested this theory with a series of experiments.

In one of them, the participants were given a large questionnaire, where they had to evaluate such statements:

  • How happy I am at any given moment says a lot about how worthwhile my life is.
  • For my life to be fulfilling, I need to feel happy most of the time.
  • I value things only in terms of how they affect my personal happiness.

As expected, the more the participants approved of these statements, the less satisfied they were with their lives.

But the life circumstances of the participants also influenced the results. Attitudes towards happiness have not affected the well-being of those who have recently experienced a difficult situation, such as loss.

Wanting to be happy won't make you worse when you're in dire straits. But when everything is in order, it can reduce life satisfaction.

Moss and her colleagues then tested whether transient happiness could be changed by affecting attitudes. To do this, she asked half of the participants to read a fictional newspaper article on the importance of happiness, and the other half a similar article on the benefits of common sense. Then all the participants were shown a touching film about the victory in the Olympics, and then asked about their feelings.

Scientists again noticed an ironic effect: the film had less effect on the mood of those who were inspired by the desire for happiness with the corresponding article. She raised the participants' expectations of how they "should" feel when watching an optimistic film.

As a result, they constantly checked their feelings. And when they did not meet those expectations, the participants experienced disappointment, not enthusiasm. You've probably come across this during big events like a wedding or a long-awaited trip.

The more you wanted to enjoy each moment, the more boring it became.

Moss has also shown that wanting and pursuing happiness can increase feelings of loneliness and isolation. Perhaps because it makes you pay attention to yourself and your feelings instead of appreciating the people around you.

“Focusing on ourselves can lead to less interaction with other people,” adds Moss. "And it is more negative to perceive them if it seems to us that they" interfere "with our happiness."

How the pursuit of happiness relates to time perception

Other scientists have found that when you consciously pursue happiness, it feels like you don't have time for anything. They also did some experiments.

In one of them, the participants had to list ten things that would make their life happy. For example, spending a few hours a week with your family. However, instead of making them optimistic about the future, it created stress.

Participants worried that they did not have enough time to do all this, and as a result, they felt less happy. This did not happen if they just listed what makes them happy in the moment. The problem was precisely the desire to increase their happiness.

Happiness is a vague and changeable goal. Even if you are happy right now, you will want to prolong that feeling. As a result, complete happiness always remains unattainable.

“Happiness turns from a pleasant experience that I can enjoy in the present moment, into something burdensome to strive for without stopping,” says psychologist Sam Maglio, one of the study's lead authors.

What to do to be happy

According to scientists, “the mighty efforts to forever move upward on the wave of happiness, to stay afloat,” described by Elizabeth Gilbert, on the contrary, make us less happy.

Of course, this is not a reason to avoid important life decisions that will positively affect your condition. For example, breaking up a toxic relationship or seeing a specialist for depression. Sometimes you really need to focus on your immediate well-being.

But if you are not faced with serious adversity in life, try changing your attitude towards happiness. We spend a lot of time on social networks, and they increase our desire to live more interesting. Although in reality they are just a retouched version of someone's life. According to Maglio, we would be happier without looking back at other people's standards of full-fledged existence.

The constant mention of someone traveling to an exotic country or having a sumptuous dinner makes it feel like other people are happier than you.

Research confirms that, in the long term, those who accept negative emotions rather than see them as enemies of their well-being experience greater life satisfaction.

“By striving to be happy, you can become intolerant of all the unpleasant things in life,” says Moss. "And scold yourself for feelings incompatible with happiness." She advises to perceive negative emotions as fleeting phenomena and not try to completely eliminate them from life.

Of course, some little tricks make you feel better and you shouldn't give up on them. For example, a diary of gratitude and good deeds evoke a pleasant feeling in the present moment. Just don't expect them to immediately and dramatically change your mood. And don't go too deep into analyzing your feelings.

Remember that happiness is like a shy animal. Once you stop chasing it, you will find that it appears by itself.

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