finding happiness“Positive Psychology” is the scientific study of resilience, optimism, and emotional well being.  In other words, the science of happiness!

Today, I want to share some of the key insights of this research.

The first thing you need to know is that the strongest predictor of happiness is having something meaningful to do.

Mihayli Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian psychologist, wrote about the importance of meaningful activity in a book called “Flow.”  While the concept of productivity contributing to happiness has been around for centuries, Csikszentmihalyi was the first to research and define this phenomenon.

Flow is defined as being totally engaged in an activity, often to the point that you lose track of time.

The activity is challenging, meaningful, and usually requires some degree of creativity or problem solving.  When you finish working on the project, you feel a sense of accomplishment and achievement.

But, the process is just as important, or maybe even more important, than the outcome!

Because “flow” is such an integral part of happiness, I’ll devote my next post, “Finding Flow,” to this topic.

The relatively new field of “Positive Psychology” builds on the concept of “flow” and examines the core components of a happy, fulfilling life.

If you’re looking for a “recipe” for happiness, consider these 7 ingredients from

  1. Relationships
  2. Caring
  3. Exercise
  4. Flow
  5. Spiritual Engagement & Meaning
  6. Strengths & Virtues
  7. Positive Thinking:  Optimism & Gratitude

If you want to learn more, read about Flow and Happiness here, or about the science of Positive Psychology here.

The second thing you need to know about finding happiness is that we are generally poor predictors of what will make us happy!

Research shows that what we think will bring happiness–a new car, a vacation, winning the lottery–does not tend to have a lasting effect on our overall happiness.  Human beings are excellent at “acclimating,” or getting accustomed to a situation.  So we may experience a temporary boost in happiness when something fortunate happens, but fairly quickly, we are back at our “baseline” level of happiness.  Dan Gilbert, Ph.D., writes about this in Stumbling on Happiness, or you can watch his TED Talk here:

GQ Magazine published a great article–“The Luckiest Village in the World“–about tiny Sodeto, Spain, where all the residents (except one) chipped in and won El Gordo, the largest lottery in the world.  After the initial elation, the villagers tended to be as happy, or unhappy, as they were before.  In fact, the good fortune increased the stress level (and decreased the happiness) of many of the villagers.  And the one resident who did not participate in the lottery?  He turned out to be one of the happiest at the end of the year!  As Michael Paterniti, the GQ journalist, notes:

“Even as luck provides certain comforts while others still suffer, it doesn’t really change you.”

The flip side of Dr. Gilbert’s research on happiness is that, just as improved circumstances don’t usually lead to lasting increases in happiness, we are also surprisingly good at adapting to hardship.  So, the things we think would make us miserable often do not significantly impede our happiness over the long haul.

Dr. Gilbert’s research dovetails nicely with the findings of Positive Psychology–it’s finding something meaningful to do, more so than the circumstances, that makes us happy.

Good fortune, a vacation, or a new possession brings only temporary happiness; likewise, we can weather misfortune if we have meaningful activity in our lives.

For help integrating the 7 ingredients of happiness into your life, sign up for the Daily Shoring 90 Day Series