These questions are at the heart of the work being done by researchers in the field of Positive Psychology, who apply the rigorous methods of social science to the study of happiness and well-being.
Their findings are practical, encouraging, and sometimes surprising. And they’ve led to the development of proven techniques we can all use to become more optimistic, reduce our anxiety, enhance our relationships, achieve goals that matter to us, and take other steps that can help us to transform how we experience our lives.
Our Short Course in Happiness will be a journey through some of the most important research findings and most useful techniques from across Positive Psychology and related fields.
My emphasis is on the practical truths of happiness, so I only share insights and recommend techniques that are proven to work, and that I’ve successfully applied in my own life as well as in my work with clients. I’ve seen and experienced the impact of taking these steps, which is why I’m so delighted to have the opportunity to share them in this book.
Let’s begin with a quick look at some of the benefits of happiness. Then we’ll spend the rest of the book focusing on how to cultivate it.
The Benefits of Happiness
Not only is happiness obviously worth having for its own sake, it’s also a powerful contributor to many of the other things we seek in life.
Happy people have stronger relationships with their spouses and friends and raise happier, more productive kids. They’re more effective leaders, make better decisions, set and achieve higher goals, and even earn more money.
Happy people are also more fit and energetic, and less likely to develop chronic diseases. They even donate more money to charity and spend more time volunteering for causes they care about.
And happiness isn’t just a result of these good things; it’s also an important cause of them. In other words, by learning to be happier — which research has convincingly shown we can successfully do — we can also improve our relationships, benefit our families, and become healthier and more successful.
The Four Elements of Happiness
One of the most effective ways to figure out how to create greater happiness in our lives is to ask what very happy people have in common. Luckily for us, the answers to this question are quite clear – clear enough, in fact, that we can describe four common characteristics. I call them the Four Elements of Happiness, and I’ll address one of them in each of the four sections of this book.
Here are the four things very happy people do:
1. Focus on the Positive
2. Cope Effectively with the Negative
3. Develop Strong Relationships
4. Pursue Meaningful Goals
We’ll start our investigation of these four elements by looking at some common myths about happiness.
Myth #1: Happiness Is About Getting the Big Things Right
It’s natural to think that if we were suddenly rich, beautiful, and living on the beach somewhere, then we’d be happy. But as it turns out, that type of good fortune has a surprisingly small impact on happiness.
Unless we’re in truly intolerable situations, we can have a much bigger impact on our happiness by cultivating positive emotional outlooks and habits than we can by changing the “big things,” such as where we live, how we look, and how much we earn.
Section One will focus on proven steps we can take to cultivate the positive in our lives.
Myth #2: Happy People Suppress Negative Emotions
Happy people actually experience sadness, grief, worry, and other so-called negative emotions nearly as frequently as unhappy people do. The difference is what happens once those negative feelings kick in.
Happier people are generally able to experience negative feelings without losing their hope for the future. They give themselves permission to feel sad, angry, or lonely, but they remain confident that things will get better. As a result, their sadness progresses into hope and action rather than regressing into anxiety and despair.
We’ll find out how they do it, and how we can, too, in Section Two.
Myth #3: Pursuing Happiness is Self-Centered
The clearest of all conclusions drawn by researchers into emotional well-being is that our happiness is determined more by our relationships with other people than by any other single factor. The happiest people have good, trusting relationships at the center of their lives.
Those relationships may be with friends, spouses, or other family members; it doesn’t much matter. What does matter is that we have people we know we can rely on for love and understanding, and who rely on us in turn.
In Section Three, we’ll see how to cultivate the strong relationships that can make life so good.
Myth #4: I’ll be Happy When I Achieve My Goals
Have you ever worked hard to achieve a goal, sure that its achievement would make you happy forever – or at least for a very long time – then wondered why the happiness didn’t last? Or have you ever failed to achieve a long-sought goal and felt as if you’d never recover from the disappointment, only to discover before too long that the failure didn’t ruin your life after all?
Committed goal pursuit is one of the keys to a happy life. But most of the happiness we get from our goals comes while we’re making progress toward them, not after we achieve them. So it’s important that we choose goals that we’ll enjoy pursuing, and that are in synch with our most important values and priorities.
Lynda Wallace is a highly sought-after career, life, and executive coach who meets with local clients in her sunny office in Montclair, NJ, and with clients from around the world by phone and video. She wrote the best-selling book A Short Course in Happiness, and teaches her evidence-based coaching methods to hundreds of coaches every year. Lynda spent twenty years as a senior executive at Johnson & Johnson, holds an MBA from the Wharton School, and is a Certified Positive Psychology Coach.
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