Happy Healthy You
What defines happiness?
If you look in the literature, East and West, you'll find incredible diversity of definition of happiness.
Some people say they only believed in remembering the past, imagining the future, never the present. some people sayhappiness is right now; it's the quality of freshness of the present moment.
Henri Bergson, the French philosopher said " All great thinkers of humanity have left happiness in the vague so that they could define- each of them their own terms"
Aristotle gave us his definition of happiness:
"Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence". Implying that everything in life leads to one final place, enshrining happiness as a central purpose of human life and a goal in itself.
He also said “Happiness depends on ourselves" which is reiterated by many of our more modern advocates of self reliance such as Wayne Dyer and Louise Hay.
Stefan Sagmeister gives an overview on American & European data that he studied on the subject of happiness. Climate plays no role. If you live in the best cliamate, in San Diego in the United Sates or the worst climate in Buffalo, New York, you are going to be just as happy in either place. If you make more than $50,000 a year in the U.S, any slary increase you experience will only have a tiny, tiny influence on your over all well being. Black people are just as happy as white people are and whether you're old or young makes no difference as does attractiveness.
Do the contents of our moment to moment experiences influence our happiness?
In a study carried out by Matt Kilingsworth of trackyourhappiness.org used the iPhone to monitor people's happiness in real time by sending people signals at random points throughout the day, asking them a series of questions about theirmoment to moment experience at the instant just before the signal. The results indicated that 47% of the time, people were thinking about something other than what they're currently doing. How does this mean thatpeople who aren't focused on what they are doing are not achieving ultimate happiness?
The study went on to show the rate of mind wandering across 22 activities ranging from a high of 65% taking a shower, brushing their teeth, to 50% when they're working, to 40% when they're exercising, all the way down to 10% of the time people's minds are wandering when they're having sex. Kilingsworth concludes that no matter what people are doing, they're mind wandering at least 30% of the time suggesting that it isn't just frequent, it's ubiquitous. Mind wandering pervades everything we do.
How does thinking thoughts that aren't related to the moment affect our happiness?
More often than not, when our mind wanders, it's to think thoughts such as "must remember to pay that bill", "I hate my tummy, I wish it was flatter", "I wish I hadn't said that to my friend/mother/colleague", I wish I didn't have to work so many hours and be away from my family/partner/children". So more commonly, when our mind wanders off into enormously unpleasant thoughts. Our worries, regrets, anxieties and even arguably pleasant thoughts can affect ones state of happiness.
What comes first.... mind wandering or un happiness?
In the study mentioned above where they took over 650,000 real-time reports from over 15,000 people from a really diverse background, people form a wide range of ages, from 18 to late 80's, a wide range of incomes, education levels, people who are married, divorced, widowed etc and monitored the correlation betweentheir state of happiness and the focus of their thoughts.
Some could argue that our minds wander as an escape and to distract us from what we are doing at the time because what we are doing is making us unhappy. Does mind wandering tend to precede un happiness or does un happiness tend to precede mind wandering?
The study by Killingsworth concludes that there is a strong relationship between mind wandering NOW and being unhappy a short time LATER. In contrast there is no relationship between being unhappy NOW and mind wandering a short time LATER.
In other words, mind-wandering very likely seems to be an actual cause, and not merely a consequence of un happiness.
Can we train our minds into happiness the same we train our bodies into fitness?
Yes, is the answer to this! I'll be addressing the fairly new science of neuroplasticity in an upcoming blog post.
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