Happiness is a Muscle

Recently I watched and rewatched a PBS special on happiness. The documentary examined the growing study of happiness.  In attempting to create markers and quantifiable measurements and turn it into a science, some interesting observations were made:

  • Money does not determine happiness: once a person is making a minimum that provides for food, clothing and shelter, more money does not equate with more happiness.
  • The more meaningful connections you have and the more you work at these personal connections, the more happy you are.  In other words, strong links to friends and families directly and positively link with the likelihood that you will be happy.
  • Serving others, volunteering and helping others is positively linked to happiness.
  • Countries that support infrastructures that build these connections such as Norway, report happier communities.
Meaningful connections – Happiness! Photo by J. Philipchuk
There are no surprises here.  Being loved and giving love trumps a fancy car and the latest fashion and gadgets. Spending time and serving others brings more happiness than spending money and collecting things. Yet, somehow,  we still behave as though the opposite is true, “If only I lose 10 pounds and fit into this outfit, I’ll get a man, and then I will be happy” “Once I get my own car and my own place, I won’t need to depend on anyone and then I will be happier,” “You get paid the big bucks, must be nice to have an easy life”.
Historically,  economic growth and the amount of cash circulating our global economies, is unprecedented, yet we are in the midst of a global “unhappy and anxious” epidemic in First World countries.  We are firmly attached to the idea that things bring us happiness, despite the mounting evidence to the contrary.
“It is easier to change ideas and doctrines in other’s minds than it is to change their myths and symbols,” writes Madonna Kohlbenschlag. All of this “Happiness Research” clearly points to a doable action plan that all of us in some way, can begin to implement.
The most compelling part of the documentary for me, is the claim that we can teach happiness, practice happiness and train ourselves to be happy.  It is a muscle, that through practice, repetition, and support, can grow and develop and become strong.
The ball is in our court.  We can choose to work on developing our happiness muscle.  No special equipment is required.  All that is needed is a willingness to put down the burden of belief that says things and this illusion of independence matter more than people, service, love and belonging.