Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Pursuit of Happiness

Once on a trip to India, my family and I were visiting a few Gurdwaras (Sikh temples). I remember walking around the area where we had parked our car, startled to find a bunch of homeless kids running around half-naked in the mud, playing games, as their parents walked from car to car asking for spare change. What was most shocking about the scene was the joy you could see on the faces of these children. 

When juxtaposed with my life, their lives were quite the opposite. They were poor, they didn’t attend school and were illiterate, and their biggest worry was finding some food to eat that night. A part of me felt pity that they had such difficult lives, while I lived comfortably in my home in New York, complaining about school instead of feeling thankful for being able to attend. Another part of me envied the simplicity of their lives. Back home, everything around me was fast-paced. Everyone was constantly trying to get ahead, and the cycle of wanting more never ended. My friends and family never seemed to be satisfied with what they had – they would work more hours, buy more things, and try to fill some void that just grew larger and larger. And these children – well, they were just so happy.

If you ask someone what he or she wants from life, you will more often than not hear, “I want to be happy.” But what is happiness?

Is happiness the opposite of pain? Is happiness gained from having a lot of family, or from finding God, or from doing charity? Is happiness associated with the amount of wealth you accumulate?

People frequently associate happiness with wealth – that the more money you have, the happier you will be. However, it was recently discovered that once we have our basic necessities like food and a roof above our heads, and we are living comfortably, an increase in wealth really doesn’t make us any happier. Specifically, there isn’t much difference in the happiness level of an individual who makes $50,000 and $50 million. Money may give us a short-time high, but we’ve learned that even lottery winners return to their previous states of happiness about 5 years after their big wins. Furthermore, average income has been increasing for years, but reported happiness levels have remained the same.

But we’ve all heard that you can’t buy happiness. So how can we achieve happiness?

Scientists have posed that about one-half of your happiness is controlled by your genes. Additionally, about 10% is based on your life’s circumstances. This includes your family, your wealth, your career, and your environment. That leaves us with 40%. This 40% is unaccounted for, and is believed to be able to be controlled by your own behavior and choices. So you can essentially control 40% of your own happiness. I don’t know about you, but I find this incredible! Think about it – we can actually train ourselves through intentional behaviors to be happier individuals.

Now how can we do this?
Our goals can be divided into two types: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic goals are things like health, relationships, and personal development. Extrinsic goals are things like wealth, power, and image. Research points to higher happiness levels for achieving intrinsic goals.

There are a number of ways to focus on our intrinsic goals and increase our happiness. The first is physical activity, which chemically induces happiness. And doing an activity that you enjoy will further increase your happiness. So if you love to run, run! If you love to dance, dance! Other ways to be happier include building strong and healthy relationships within your community, helping others, regularly expressing thankfulness for what you have, and finding and following your passion.

The secret to happiness is not so much a secret. I believe that since we only have this one life to live, we might as well make it worth our while, right?

As Benjamin Franklin once said, “The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.”

Wishing you all find immense joy in life



[This post was inspired by a movie I watched, titled Happy. Check it out!
Other sources used: http://www.forbes.com/2004/09/21/cx_mh_0921happiness.html, http://www.forbes.com/sites/jennagoudreau/2012/02/10/top-seven-ways-to-cmon-get-happy/, http://www.livescience.com/5462-happiness-wealth.html]

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