When we think about happiness, and what we need to be happy people will often think – if I had more money I would be happy. If we had our own house we would be happy. If I had this. If I had that…on and on the list goes, if only…I would be happy. We also associate happiness with having chocolate, watching a DVD, a massage, flowers or shopping. However these forms of happiness are only ‘momentary happiness’, they are short lived, momentary positive feelings that don’t contribute to our quest for happiness.
For us to be really happy long term, we need to increase our ‘enduring happiness’. Martin Seligman in his book Authentic Happiness provides a formula that includes circumstances in life and factors that are under your voluntary control, that raise your level of happiness. Unfortunately increasing our enduring happiness is not as simple as one would think.
In the past happiness on an individual level was attributed to those people who were well paid, married, young, healthy, well educated, and religious, this has been proven incorrect. Seligman outlines from his research that if you want to raise your level of happiness you need to change external circumstances in your life, most of which are either impossible or inconvenient to change, these circumstances include:-
- Living in a wealthy democracy has a strong effect on happiness;
- Getting married has a robust effect;
- Avoiding negative events and negative emotion has a moderate effect on happiness;
- Acquiring a rich social network has a robust effect but is often casual; and
- Getting a religion has a moderate effect on happiness.
All of which are not simple, and for some to accomplish these circumstances it is nearly impossible. If I consider these circumstances in regard to my own life I would say that as life stands at the moment, reaching a higher level of happiness will not be an easy fete.
While Australia is far from a improvised nation, for the average individual or family we are far from wealthy, and for most of us we face debt in every aspect of our daily life, in this regard our democracy would not be contributing to my happiness.
Getting married is every girls dream, it is not so easy to achieve. There are so many variables that come into play when trying to find your true love and marrying. For me, I am half way there, I have found my soul mate and now feel true love, but whether through a ring and a marriage certificate my happiness would dramatically change my current level of happiness because I move from having a partner to having a husband I am not sure the effect on my happiness would change.
Avoiding negativity, both events and emotions, while living with depression is not as easy as it sounds, after all negative self-talk is a large factor in contributing to our depression. To continue on my road to recovery I have started to focus on my self-talk and references to my depression, this should help with negativity and increase my happiness. So my focus is on instead of saying “I suffer from depression”, I now say “I live with depression.” Only a small change in words but it turns having depression from a negative event to a positive event that I am starting to learn how to live with. In regards to negative emotions, I have started to think of my emotions as part of living with depression, a phase for which I will recover from through a variety of activities, rather than thinking of these emotions as suffering, as punishment upon me, i see them as aspects of my life that will make me who i am. I will write more on the impact of our words on our happiness and how this can influence our depression later on.
The concept of a social network has changed dramatically in recent years with the evolution of social media. Mo longer does socialising happen by telephoning or meeting for coffee, instead we are all trapped behind computers, phones and other gadgets, all of which removes the need to socialise face to face. In this regard, can any of us say that we have an enriching social network? When for most, socialising exists in the cyber world, with some people who we barely know, and with others who were once friends we hung out with all the time, never going more than a couple of days before seeing each other again. Do those who have no social media accounts have a more enriching social network and therefore higher levels of happiness than those who solely rely on social media?
Religion varies considerably from one person to the next, from one culture to another, from one generation to another, how religion increases happiness I am not sure. I was baptised catholic, as a student growing up I went to catholic schools where religion was a subject of study and where attending mass was a regular occurrence in school life. Since leaving school 20 years ago I can honestly say I have not attended mass or thought about religion. Has this affected me as a person, contributed to my depression? Without researching this more broadly it is difficult to identify a clear path between our level of happiness and religious affiliation.
Seligman goes on to outline the following as things we should not bother with if we want to increase our level of happiness:-
- Making more money, if you are lucky enough to get the opportunity too, with money known to have little effect on our happiness level;
- Staying healthy, at times is not within our control;
- Getting as much education as possible has no effect on our happiness; and
- Changing our race or the climate in which we live also has no affect on our happiness.
If all these major life changing events and circumstances are meant to have some influence on our happiness, most of which are impossible to achieve or obtain, it is any wonder we rely on our momentary events and circumstances to make us feel happier.