“Most people are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”---Abraham Lincoln
That’s always been one of my favorite quotations. In fact, it used to be on my refrigerator until the little scrap of paper it was on became frayed and yellowed. I made up my mind a long time ago. I’m a happy person! I’m generally positive, content, grateful, and eager to see what life has to offer. Now I’ve found out that someone actually studies happiness!
I got my new issue of Prevention magazine and there on the cover is the headline “How to be (and stay) Happy- 3 research-tested secrets to change your life.” Well, as I said, I’m already a happy person, but I read the article to understand why I’m happy. I mean I’m not pretty, or rich, or famous, or without problems. I have one or two relatives who drive me crazy. I’m constantly engaged in an unsuccessful attempt at a new diet. I have a stressful job. I’ve had a couple of accidents and seven major surgeries so I have a few health concerns. We have our share of money problems. Then why am I always going around with this smile on my face? Why am I basically positive even when things don’t go well?
Dorothy Foltz-Gray’s excellent article explains the research of Martin E.P. Seligman, PhD, founder of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. He’s also the author of Authentic Happiness. According to his research, it’s the internal characteristics we have that make us happy, not the external events of our life. He has an excellent website at www.authentichappiness.org where you can actually take surveys to measure your happiness level, character strengths, etc. Turns out I have three of the characteristics that make people happy! I’m grateful- I include in my nightly prayers a list of things or people I’m thankful for and I try to acknowledge people who help me. I’m curious- I love to learn and explore new ideas. I love people- I have relationships with a variety of people and I feel loved by others. Reading that made me even happier!
Another interesting idea presented by Dr. Seligman is that there are three routes to happiness: the pleasant life, the engaged life, and the meaningful life. He says that “most satisfied people pursue all three”. The pleasant life is “full of pleasure, joy, and good times”. The engaged life is one which pursues a “passion or activity”. The meaningful life is “packed with purpose”. I like the idea of having a little of each, of creating a balance in my life. My life is probably more “engaged” than anything else, but it also has a little “meaning” and “pleasure”.
I’ve barely begun to explore the website and take some of the surveys, but I plan to visit again. I like the idea of someone promoting happiness and helping people find new ways to be positive. There are so many negative things going on in the world each day. The news is 90% bad, depressing, and discouraging. No wonder we have a hard time being positive without help!
Here’s an exercise from the article that you can try even if you don’t visit the website: spend a few minutes each night writing about what went well for you. According to the article the study group that did the exercise “felt happier for the full 6 months of the study”. I know that my “gratitude prayer” has certainly improved my life. I’ve been doing it for over a year and it just makes me take stock of what is important in my life.
So…be grateful, be curious, be loving. Visit the website. Take a survey. Write down what was good about today. Make up your mind to BE HAPPY!