Sep 30

Happiness: Quotes from the Experts

I use the term happiness to refer to the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile. Sonja Lyubomirsky, The How of Happiness, on finding happiness

Finding happiness is a preoccupation for many. The following quotes from various authors and experts may help point you in the right direction.

Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis: Happiness is not something that you can find, acquire, or achieve directly. You have to get the conditions right and then wait. Some of those conditions are within you, such as coherence among the parts and levels of your personality. Other conditions require relationships to things beyond you: Just as plants need sun, water, and good soil to thrive, people need love, work, and a connection to something larger. It is worth striving to get the right relationships between yourself and others, between yourself and your work, and between yourself and something larger than yourself. If you get these relationships right, a sense of purpose and meaning will emerge.

Matthieu RicardHappinessHappiness is a state of inner fulfillment, not the gratification of inexhaustible desires for outward things.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, The How of Happiness: If we observe genuinely happy people, we shall find that they do not just sit around being contented. They make things happen. They pursue new understandings, seek new achievements, and control their thoughts and feelings. In sum, our intentional, effortful activities have a powerful effect on how happy we are, over and above the effects of our set points and the circumstances in which we find themselves. If an unhappy person wants to experience interest, enthusiasm, contentment, peace, and joy, he or she can make it happen by learning the habits of a happy person.

Raj Raghunathan, author of If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? in an interview with Joe Pinsker, The Atlantic: On the one hand, we are hard-wired to focus more on negative things. But at the same time, we are also all hard-wired to be seeking a sense of happiness and the desire to flourish, and to be the best we can be. Ultimately, what we need in order to be happy is at some level pretty simple. It requires doing something that you find meaningful, that you can kind of get lost in on a daily basis.

Paul Dolan, Happiness By Design: Change what you do, not how you think. You are what you do, your happiness is what you attend to, and you should attend to what makes you and those whom you care about happy.

Brené Brown: I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness–it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude.

David Steindl-Rast, Music of Silence: Look closely and you will find that people are happy because they are grateful. The opposite of gratefulness is just taking everything for granted.

Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness ProjectThe belief that unhappiness is selfless and happiness is selfish is misguided. It’s more selfless to act happy. It takes energy, generosity, and discipline to be unfailingly lighthearted, yet everyone takes the happy person for granted. No one is careful of his feelings or tries to keep his spirits high. He seems self-sufficient; he becomes a cushion for others. And because happiness seems unforced, that person usually gets no credit.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, The How of Happiness: To be sure, most of us do become happier at some point during our lives. Indeed, contrary to popular belief, people actually get happier with age.

Daniel M. Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness: We are happy when we have family, we are happy when we have friends and almost all the other things we think make us happy are actually just ways of getting more family and friends.

May 16

“Stumbling On Happiness”: Dealing With Uncertainty

Daniel Gilbert is a social psychologist whose book Stumbling On Happiness was published to great acclaim in 2006. He points out that “…when people try to imagine what the future will hold, they make some basic and consistent mistakes. Just as memory plays tricks on us when we try to look backward in time, so does imagination play tricks when we try to look forward.”

Because he’s done significant research on what he calls “affective forecasting,” perhaps no one knows better than Gilbert that it’s really hard to accurately predict not only what our feelings will be about specific future experiences but also how long those feelings will last.

But that doesn’t stop most of us from trying.

Selected Reviews for Stumbling On Happiness:

Booklist: “[S]ly, irresistible….It is not only wildly entertaining but also hilarious (if David Sedaris were a psychologist, he very well might write like this) and yet full of startling insight, imaginative conclusions, and even bits of wisdom.”

The New York Times Book Review: “In an important sense, Stumbling on Happiness is a paean to delusion. ‘How do we manage to think of ourselves as great drivers, talented lovers and brilliant chefs when the facts of our lives include a pathetic parade of dented cars, disappointed partners and deflated soufflés?’ Gilbert asks. ‘The answer is simple: We cook the facts.'”

Washington Post: “Among other things, Gilbert explains why we learn so little from our mistakes — why so many divorced people wake up realizing that their second spouses are exactly like the ones they left. He reviews some common tricks of memory, such as our tendency to ‘remember the best of times and the worst of times instead of the most likely of times,’ and some kinks in our decision-making processes, like our tendency to rationalize.”

A phenomenon related to how we “stumble on happiness” is the issue of how we deal with uncertainty. In 2009 Gilbert posted an article called “What You Don’t Know Makes You Nervous.” What you don’t know makes you project your feelings into the future—feelings that may never happen.

.”..(H)uman beings find uncertainty more painful than the things they’re uncertain about,” notes Gilbert. “Why would we prefer to know the worst than to suspect it? Because when we get bad news we weep for a while, and then get busy making the best of it. We change our behavior, we change our attitudes. We raise our consciousness and lower our standards. We find our bootstraps and tug. But we can’t come to terms with circumstances whose terms we don’t yet know. An uncertain future leaves us stranded in an unhappy present with nothing to do but wait.”

Tomorrow, more on uncertainty…or, to paraphrase Don Pardo at the end of sports-blooper-filled “Spanning the World” segments…if there is a tomorrow…