In Pursuit of Happiness:
The key to happiness may paradoxically come down to accepting unhappiness, research has found.
How many people are on the pursuit, only to be inundated with all the negativity in their lives? According to research by the University of Reading and De Montfort University, the pursuit itself may actually be the problem.
In a newly published study in the Journal of Happiness Studies, the team found that placing too much value on feeling happy was found to reduce our ability to enjoy life, which can also be lined to depressive symptoms.
The study demonstrated how directing our attention can have a real impact on the way we feel. If we can’t direct our attention, we’ll be overwhelmed by our feeling of lack or absence of happiness.
This research found that increased value of happiness was linked with less emotion attention control and lower savoring of positive experiences, suggesting that wanting happiness is actually counterproductive to getting it.
And what was interesting about the findings was the significance of the culture participants came from; those from Western cultures, particularly the U.K., were found to be more affected by depressive symptoms than less Westernized cultures, raising questions about mindsets across different cultures.
A psychologist from the University of Reading says, “There seems to be a significant divide between English-speaking Western cultures and other cultures when it comes to how our internal value of experiencing happiness shapes our experiences and mood.
“We have very limited cognitive space and bandwidth,” explains Princeton psychologist Dr. Shafir, in an interview with the American Psychological Association. “When you focus heavily on one thing, there is just less mind to devote to other things. We call it tunneling – as you devote more and more to dealing with scarcity you have less and less for other things in your life.”
Indeed, when we place conditions on our happiness, we will always find something wrong. When we focus not on what’s lacking and rather on all that we do have, happiness finds us.
That is why the practice of gratitude and an abundance mindset is so key.
A growing body of scientific work shows that gratitude and kindness are traits that lead to higher levels of well-being. People who are grateful and kind are happier, less depressed, less stressed and more satisfied with their lives and social relationships.
The research, including two studies from Utrecht University in the Netherlands, also documents how expressing gratitude leads to other emotions, such as enthusiasm and inspiration, as it promotes the savoring of positive experiences. The end result: Gratitude helps people optimize feelings of enjoyment, no matter what their circumstances are in life.
People of all ages and of various nationalities who have more grateful dispositions tend to report fewer health complaints than their less grateful counterparts. In one study, more grateful participants reported fewer health problems (such as headaches, gastrointestinal problems, respiratory infections, and sleep disturbances); in another, they reported fewer physical symptoms (including headaches, dizziness, stomachaches, and runny noses).
How can we start practicing gratitude? Start with just a minute a day!
A simple thing you can do every day is pause for just one minute and list all the things that are going right at that exact moment. It can be easy to focus on all the things that have gone wrong in your day, but this practice forces you to notice the hundreds of things that go right every day as opposed to the few that go wrong. Incorporating this quick exercise into your day could help you retrain your brain to focus on the positives.
Chasing happiness makes us unhappy! Our culture is obsessed with happiness, but what if there’s a more fulfilling path? Happiness comes and goes, says writer Emily Esfahani Smith, but having meaning in life – serving something beyond yourself and developing the best within you — gives you something to hold onto. Click on the image above to view the video!