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The Science of Happiness

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Happiness is a sense of well-being, joy, or contentment. When people are successful, safe, or lucky, they feel happy. Happiness is a feeling of pleasure and positivity. When someone feels good, proud, excited, relieved, or satisfied about something, that person is said to be “happy”. Feeling happy may help people to relax and to smile.

Happiness is usually thought of as the opposite of sadness. However, it is very possible to feel both at once, often about different things, or sometimes even about the same thing. You will feel excited too when you are happy. Happiness can also be inspired too.

Happiness, in the context of mental or emotional states, is positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy. Other forms include life satisfaction, well-being, subjective well-being (SWB), flourishing, and eudaimonia.

Since the 1960s, happiness research has been conducted in a wide variety of scientific disciplines, including gerontology, social psychology and positive psychology, clinical and medical research, and happiness economics.

Defining Happiness
Any serious discussion about happiness must first begin by attempting to define what we mean by the term happiness. In general, happiness can be thought of as an emotional state that reflects a high level of mental and/or emotional well-being. Current scientific perspectives typically frame happiness as a complex binary construct that encompasses subjective elements of both effect and cognition that contributes to well-being. Subjective well-being (SWB), “represents people’s beliefs and feelings about whether they are leading a rewarding and desirable life, SWB is definedas “ a person’s cognitive and affective evaluations of his or her life as a whole,” including evaluations of emotional reactions to life events, and also cognitive judgments about satisfaction and fulfillment, and especially in important life domains, such as marriage and work.

What is the Science of Happiness
It’s all about the science behind what happiness is and how to experience it, what happy people do differently, and what we can do to feel happier.

Recent studies have shown us that:
• For Americans money can only buy happiness up to about $75,000 – after that, it has no significant effect on our emotional well-being.
• Most of our happiness is not determined by our genetics, but by our experiences and our day-to-day lives.
• Trying too hard to find happiness often has the opposite effect and can lead us to be overly selfish.
• Pursuing happiness through social means (e.g., spending more time with family and friends) is more likely to be effective than other methods.
• The pursuit of happiness is one place where we should consider ditching the SMART goals; it may be more effective to pursue “vague” happiness goals than more specific ones.
• Happiness makes us better citizens – it is a good predictor of civic engagement in the transition to adulthood.
• Happiness leads to career success, and it doesn’t have to be “natural” happiness – researchers found that “experimentally enhancing” positive emotions also contributed to improved outcomes at work.
• There is a linear relationship between religious involvement and happiness. Higher worship service attendance is correlated with more commitment to faith, and commitment to faith is related to greater compassion. Those more compassionate individuals are more likely to provide emotional support to others, and those who provide emotional support to others are more likely to be happy. It’s a long road, but a direct one!

The Scientific Research on Happiness at Work
There’s been a ton of research on the effects of happiness in the workplace. Much of this is driven by companies who want to find a way to improve productivity, attract new talent, and get a dose of good publicity, all at the same time. After all, who wouldn’t want to do business with and/or work for a company full of happy employees?

Although the jury is still out on exactly how happy employees “should” be for maximum productivity, efficiency, and health, we have learned a few things about the effects of a happy workforce:
• People who are happy with their jobs are less likely to leave their jobs, less likely to be absent, and less likely to engage in counterproductive behaviors at work.
• People who are happy with their jobs are more likely to engage in behavior that contributes to a happy and productive organization, more likely to be physically healthy, and more likely to be mentally healthy.
• Happiness and job performance are related—and the relationship likely works in both directions (e.g., happy people do a better job and people who do a good job are more likely to be happy).
• Unit- or team-level happiness is also linked to positive outcomes, including higher customer satisfaction, profit, productivity, employee turnover, and a safer work environment.
• In general, a happier organization is a more productive and successful organization.
To sum up the findings so far, it’s easy to see that happiness at work does matter for individuals, for teams, and for organizations overall. There is a relationship between happiness and productivity.

Research shows:
1. Happiness is linked to lower heart rate and blood pressure, as well as healthier heart rate variability.
2. Happiness can also act as a barrier between you and germs – happier people are less likely to get sick.
3. People who are happier enjoy greater protection against stress and release less of the stress hormone cortisol.
4. Happy people tend to experience fewer aches and pains, including dizziness, muscle strain, and heartburn.
5. Happiness acts as a protective factor against disease and disability (in general, of course).
6. Those who are happiest tend to live significantly longer than those who are not.
7. Happiness boosts our immune system, which can help us fight and fend off the common cold.
8. Happy people tend to make others happier as well, and vice versa – those who do good, feel good!
9. A portion of our happiness is determined by our genetics (but there’s still plenty of room for attitude adjustments and happiness-boosting exercises!).
10. Smelling floral scents like roses can make us happier.
11. Those who are paid by the hour may be happier than those on salary (however, these findings are limited, so take them with a grain of salt!).
12. Relationships are much more conducive to a happy life than money.
13. Happier people tend to wear bright colors; it’s not certain which way the relationship works, but it can’t hurt to throw on some brighter hues once in a while just in case!
14. Happiness can help people cope with arthritis and chronic pain better.
15. Being outdoors – especially near the water – can make us happier.
16 The holidays can be a stressful time, even for the happiest among us – an estimated 44% of women and 31% of men get the “holiday blues.”
17. Happiness is contagious! When we spend time around happy people, we’re likely to get a boost of happiness as well.

How is the Brain Wired for Happiness?
Our brains come already designed for happiness. We have care giving systems in place for eye contact, touch, and vocalizations to let others know we are trustworthy and secure. Our brains also regulate chemicals like oxytocin. People who have more oxytocin trust more readily, have increased tendencies towards monogamy, and exhibit more care giving behavior. These behaviors reduce stress which lowers the production of hormones like cortisol and inhibits the cardiovascular response to stress.