Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert has spent more than a decade detailing – through scientific research – just how poor we are at predicting which future events will make us happy.
The practical wisdom we can extract from such research: be happy now.
Whatever it is you think will one day make you happy is likely to bring you much less happiness than you think it will.
In other words, if you tend to tie your happiness to future events – like the proverbial “I will be happy when I finally get married, get that promotion, get a new house, . . .” – the promise of happiness will at best disappoint you and at worst completely elude you.
The lesson is that happiness is really only available to us in the present moment. And, our best chance at being happy is to learn how to find and focus on the many good things we do have to be grateful for, even as we are aware of the many things we don’t yet have that we wish we did.
We truly live in parallel worlds and it is a fact of life that pain and joy always coexist. Yet, it is possible -without denying our pain, difficulties and disappointments in life – to learn how to focus better on all the good things we do have to be grateful for.
This ability is – in fact – the most direct path to greater happiness and joy in life. The ability to be grateful for – and focus on – what is good in our lives is a skill that – for most of us – takes practice. A skill, however, that is well worth learning.
Martin Seligman Ph.D., a pioneer in the positive psychology movement, in his latest book Flourish, tells of one simple exercise that dramatically reduced people’s level of depression within one week: every night write down three answers to the question, “What went well today?” That simple question refocuses our awareness from the negative (which is the factory set-point for our awareness) to the positive (which doesn’t come automatically and requires effort, focus and will-power) and in so doing, helps move us away from depression and toward greater happiness.
The ancient Sages of the Talmud posed this famous question, “Who is rich?” The answer: “One who is content with what they have.”The Talmud is wise in not defining “rich” as being about material wealth. Being rich is – according to ancient wisdom – about being content or happy with what we have.
Dennis Prager, author and happiness expert, teaches that happy people make the world better and unhappy people make the world worse; that happiness is not just a feeling, it is a moral obligation.
So doing our best to be happy is not just some Pollyannaish notion, it is an essential part of living a good and meaningful life.
From a health standpoint, science verifies that happy people tend to be healthier and suffer from fewer illnesses than unhappy people.
So why not take a moment to focus on something you are happy about right now or someone you are grateful for right now in your life?
To multiply your happiness even more, let that person know how much they mean to you by sending them a quick text, email or note or just forwarding this message on to them with a personal “Thank you for all the happiness you bring into my life.”
Not only will you brighten up their day with happiness, but you will be happier and healthier for it as well. You cannot spread happiness around to others, without some of it coming back to you.