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Sit a bit and hear some observational stories I’ve been steeping.

Happiness 101

The first thing you should know about happiness is that the experts say that only 40% of our happiness is in our control.  They attribute about 10% to circumstances and about 50% to genetic endowments.


Someone really should have told me about this sooner.  Who knew that a slew of professionals could have been hard at work on half of me in my mythical pursuit of happiness.  Darn gene pool.


I recently read an article from the editors of Prevention magazine that gives some excellent advice on how to be happy.  My daughter is about to graduate high school and I’m going to have to share this article with her.  There’s still hope… for her.


For the rest of us, the article gives a healthy poke-in-the-nose about how we might want to start now to improve our overall sense of satisfaction and well-being.  Here are a few tips from MSNBC (as filtered through me) on how to do that:


Get off your duff

Turns out, little things done regularly, like exercising or attending religious services will make you smile.  There was a study done at Yale University that showed evidence of “people leaving religious services felt slightly happier than those going in.”  I’ve spent some time on a wooden pew before.  My fanny agrees.  But, the socialization, spiritual uplifting and healing of the heart might have something to do with it, too.


Take a sentimental journey

Look through old photos.  Researchers at the United Kingdom’s Open University found that subjects had a higher spike in mood after looking at personal photos than they did after “eating a chocolate snack, sipping an alcoholic drink, watching TV or listening to music”.  Personally, I think engaging in all of the above at the same time couldn’t help but do wonders for my mood.  But, that’s just me.


Wear some rose-colored glasses

Even if you find it impossible to be optimistic, slap a smile on your face and pretend.  That nugget of advice comes from Loyola University Chicago.  Putting on a happy face (even a fake one) “induces greater happiness,” according to social psychologist Fred. B Bryant, PhD.  If you find you’re having trouble with this, you might want to consider consulting with a plastic surgeon.  Money might not buy happiness, but it will pull your face tight enough until you at least look like you’re happy, like Batman’s Joker.


Talk to strangers

Specifically, speak to your spouse as if you don’t know them.  The good folks at the University of British Columbia observed that “people conversing with strangers tried harder to make good impressions than they did with their romantic partners – and the more they did so, the happier they felt after the interaction was over”.   For this, they needed a formal study?  Sigh.  Bottom line: Go forth into the living room and chat.  For me, I’m thinking wearing those rose-colored glasses might help.


Clean house

No, really it’s not a metaphor.  Clean.  House.  It turns out that messy ol’ cubicle, kitchen table piled high with junk mail or good old-fashioned clutter can “make you feel like a failure,” according to Elaine Aron, PhD.  The good doc says that “the illusion of order is enough to ease the mind.” 


So, after you’ve talked to your strange significant other, go straighten up the coffee table.


Don’t hang on, Sloopy

Sometimes it’s better to just move on, as opposed to “hanging in there.”  Humans have a weakness that economists and psychologists call “the fallacy of sunk costs”, meaning we won’t walk away from situations that suck.  Bad jobs.  Bad relatioships.  Not wanting to waste time, money, effort or emotions we have a difficult time understanding that we cannot recoup what’s already been lost.  The advice from experts for this human failing is to assess a long-standing bad situation and ask yourself what you would do if you were coming into it right now.  Sort of a 3D glasses hybrid of realistic hind-sight coupled with those rose-colored glasses of optimism.


Money cannot buy happiness

Retail therapy is a myth, miss.  That is, unless you’re buying an experience, such as going out for an exceptional meal or attending an event like a concert or play.  According to Dr. Miriam Tatzel of Empire State College, “experiencers” are happier than folks who throw money at material goods.  The socialization of having quality experiences with family and/or friends makes for happy times, too (I’m pretty sure the whole Visa “priceless” campaign was based on this).


Misery may love his company, but happiness adores her neighbors

MSNBC says that studies have shown that people who live within half a mile of “buoyant friends” increase their odds of being happy by 42%.  Chances drop to 22% if your friends live farther away (I have to believe they did figure social media into this study – Facebook makes me smile).  It also claims that additional research showed “very happy” people visited with their neighbors seven more times a year than unhappy people.  MSNBC didn’t give any specific information on where these studies were done, but I can point out the happy houses on my street and I definitely ring their doorbells more than seven times a year (and only partly because I have to borrow milk for tea and coffee because I don’t get to the market often enough).


Get off your duff, part deux

Making an effort to see the sun a few times a day can lead to less depression, fewer sleep problems and might even keep you more productive and alert and the world needs more lerts (I’m sorry.  That’s a joke from 1972 that refuses to die, but makes me happy). 


As my daughter graduates and prepares to go out into the world, I guess my sage words of advice will now be, “Get off your duff (twice) as you go on a sentimental journey wearing rose-colored glasses making sure to talk to strangers and neighbors.  Keep a clean house and don’t spend your hard-earned cash (providing you can find a job in this economy) trying to buy happiness.  Oh, and if the going gets too tough, get out.


Yup.  Those words of wisdom should carry her through.

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