Slices of Life: The Science of Happiness | News, sports, jobs

Jill Pertler

Lately, I’ve become interested in happiness – from a scientific perspective, of course. It sounds confusing and even oxymoronic. What does a world based on cut-and-dried scientific facts have to do with instincts and emotions like happiness?

They have more in common than I thought. Happiness creates physiological changes within us that science can use to define, quantify, and even predict happiness.

I always think of happiness as something external, something that happens to me. Happiness comes from opening presents and going to Disney World at Christmas “yes” a dress, a brand new convertible, getting your dream job, getting that last piece of chocolate cake, winning the lottery, etc.

Although it may seem logical, external experiences and things that happen to us are not the true source of happiness. In fact, happiness comes from within. At least that’s what science says.

And who are we to argue with science?

Scientists have studied happiness and found that it is naturally occurring. (Fine.) But (here’s the kicker) it can also be manufactured. Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert explains “Synthetic happiness.” It’s the happiness we create when we can’t get what we want.

Like seeing the glass half full.

The happiest of us choose to look at things from a new perspective and see things differently when we don’t get what we want.

The key word in that last sentence: choose.

Happiness is a choice.

Just soak up that power for a minute because it’s awesome. It is gigantic.

You will choose your own happiness. How cool is this spinning? Unexpected! Because choice is power. And the power is in your hands. No one else’s. You are in charge.

Responsible. Damn it’s big.

From my very limited research and life experience (extensive), I have concluded that happiness is a habit. As with all habits, it becomes easier and more natural with practice. The opposite, and vice versa, is true. Taking a dim view of life can also become a habit. You can send two people to the county fair in one day. You will see dirt, dust, clumps and long queues in front of trucks serving greasy food. The other will see roller coasters, ferris wheels and delicious corn dogs on sticks.

The same exhibition. That same day. Same experience. Different views. Different results.

People in white lab coats say happiness is a choice, and they have a few gems to help them find their own Happy Avenue. Their research suggests the following.

Gratitude increases happiness. If we spend time thinking about all the things we have, we spend less brain energy on all the things we want or don’t have. Like happiness, gratitude is a habit. They are the best of friends and are often spotted together on Tuesday mornings drinking coffee together at the cute bakery down the street, which clearly shows their love and appreciation for each other more than lattes and donuts.

(Ready for that shock?) You can increase happiness with activities you enjoy. Do what makes you happy and you’ll be happier. Standing applause.

Realize that your emotions are your choice. Even in difficult situations, you choose how you feel. It may be bad, but it will get better and maybe even worse. Most of our challenges won’t be on our radar a year from now, or even five years from now. Even so, life will always be like today. Think about it and remember it. Allow yourself to give it perspective, even if it takes a conscious breath at a time.

The happiest people believe in something greater than themselves. It relieves the burden of the world from their shoulders. After all, we may be out of control. Understand and accept it. Hug for the gift.

I grew up believing “something” made me happy – experience, luck, other people. Turns out I was half right. Happiness (sometimes) comes from our environment, but often it is within us – we are waiting to embrace it and recognize it. It’s there for the taking. Go ahead and buy yourself some healthy food.

You’ll be glad you did.

Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright, and author. Don’t miss a slice; follow Pieces of life Page on Facebook.

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