Happy Wednesdays! So what EXACTLY does science says? – part 1

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Sometimes, when reading academic textbooks and articles on happiness – which is called subjective well-being SWB in research literature – I was REALLY surprised by new findings. We think, for example, that having children would make us happier and then… what do we find out? 😉

Research found that happiness IS NOT related to:

  • Physical attractiveness! Striving to look as perfect as possible and spending a lot of money on clothes, make up, and cosmetic surgery does not equal happiness – this can be quite surprising for some people.
  • Age! Some of us worry about getting old to the extent that we may think that older means unhappy! There are various findings, sometimes contradictory, about this aspect but most studies emphasise that your happiness level doesn’t depend on your age much or at all!
  • Money! When you meet your BASIC needs there is not much difference between someone who is earning a low or average wage and a filthy rich person in terms of happiness! I know it may sound unbelievable for many people. Kasser in The high price of materialism (2002, available here) proved that actually desiring and focusing on the pursuit of wealth would make you LESS HAPPY! And quite often the more we have, the more we want!
  • Gender. What’s interesting is that women have a greater tendency towards being depressed… but also towards being more joyful!

I found a picture which I think may be able to explain these findings… 😉

TYPICAL DAY IN A MAN’S LIFE:

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TYPICAL DAY IN A WOMAN’S LIFE:

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  • Educational level
  • Having children! Although some clarification is more than needed here 😉 It was found that having children who are up to 5 years old or teenagers makes us actually LESS HAPPY! However, children can make our life more meaningful and what’s interesting (in spite of all the stress and worries), parents live on average longer!
  • Moving to a sunnier climate
  • Crime prevention
  • Housing
  • Objective health (what your doctor tells you about your health – how good your blood test results are, what you are diagnosed with, etc.)
  • Environment & genetics! Even if in your genes there is some coded predisposition towards becoming unhappy or depressed, if you grow up and live in a positive, engaging and encouraging environment you can actually become HAPPIER than someone who has genetic predispositions to be content!

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Happiness & science. Live 9.4 years longer!

In 2000 a huge amount of data was analysed and, after talking about happiness to 1.1m people in 45 different countries, it was concluded that on average people feel quite happy. On a scale from 0 to 10 the average score for all these people was 6.75, which is quite surprising when we think of how much time and effort and money many people put into the pursuit of happiness, how many of us complain and worry unnecessarily every day, and how many life coaches or self-help and self-development books are published every year on selling tips and techniques for boosting well-being!

A score of 6.75 I think is pretty good! What do you think?

Surely the surveys were not too straightforward and consisted of a series of questions to cover various aspects of well-being rather than asking only one question directly – how happy are you?

And we know there are LOTS OF benefits of being HAPPIER – it can even protect us against colds! Also, according to research done by Danner (results published in 2001) happiness can increase our life by 9.4 years!

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What do you think your score would be?

I think if someone simply asked us only one question about happiness the answer would depend a lot on the time of day (we feel more tired and unmotivated in the afternoon rather than in the morning). The season of the year and the weather would also affect our answer, as would our feeling disappointed, stressed, in pain, or relaxed and contented at a particular time for some reason (maybe we just finished reading or writing a book or we are terrified because we are going to the dentist?!). We may focus more on the emotion we feel at particular time than on our general well-being. We probably wouldn’t score anywhere near the maximum number. However, we actually probably should give us a very high score when we think about it for longer and remind ourselves that actually maybe we have a great family, and food every day, and a roof over our head, and fairly good health; and maybe we can work full-time while some people due to ill health may not be able to… Or maybe we have a fantastic, trustworthy and reliable friend and there are some people out there in a toxic environment that leads them to depression and even suicide.

If we try to not take things for granted and be more grateful for what we have, our happiness level increases a lot. Actually, one of the most common exercises in positive psychology which can boost our well-being is to keep a diary where we write each day a few (3-5) things that we are grateful about that day. It is proven that this works and boosts our happiness level a lot.

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SELF-GROWTH. What is it: a bit of a luxury or an essential need?

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I’ve recently been thinking about personal growth. Is it more of a luxury or an essential need; perhaps even something necessary for our survival?

I found a blog where an author argues that personal growth is a necessity. Do you agree? I’m always curious about what other people think. At first, I was convinced that personal development is DEFINITELY a luxury. Why? Because first we need to meet our basic needs — indicated in Maslow’s hierarchy, for example—and then we can really focus on our self-growth, right?

We need some:

  • TIME
  • RELATIVELY STABLE CIRCUMSTANCES
  • SPACE

to reflect on ourselves, our goals, ideas, ambitions, wishes, and desires and to think how we want to, and can, achieve them. However, if we are not feeling safe (e.g. due to domestic violence) or we are very poor (I mean, you have no food for your lunch: that poor!), really, who then is able to think about some dreams? We would rather think about how to get out of our difficult situation. We worry about everyday basic stuff that people who can afford their bills and life don’t even think about. Once we have a roof over our head and enough food, and some other basic needs are met, surely we can then start to consider:

  • What are our real passions and aims?
  • What do we enjoy?
  • What are we good at?
  • What brings us happiness?

I recently was impressed by this straightforward but, at the same time, deep and intriguing quote: “The meaning of life is to give life a meaning.” Human beings naturally seek a purpose in life and think of its meaning but I’m convinced that to purposefully better oneself we need to think about it, devote some time to it, be ready for some sacrifices and, ideally, plan for all these factors.

Growth occurs when we live under some difficult circumstances—that’s true—but what grows are our strengths, such as patience and our understanding of the world. We become smarter and begin to see solutions that we haven’t seen before.

Personal growth is pursuing our goals, living our dreams, spending time on our passions. It feels a bit like a luxury because we need time for it… and time is precious, limited and extremely valuable nowadays. Surely you agree with that? Time in some situations is definitely more important than money. Now, who has time to think more about personal development and plan it effectively? It is a bit of a luxury then, isn’t it?

On the other hand, no Me Time and no Personal Growth often lead to frustration or depression, even if we have “more important” things to deal with and to worry about on an everyday basis. This suggests that personal development is … a necessary aspect as well, a need that should be fulfilled in our lives.

Is personal growth a luxury or necessity then?

What do you think?

 

A few words about positive psychology

I’ve been interested in personal growth for as long as I can remember. Before I learnt the word ‘self-growth’ I thought that my interest was mainly in the learning process:

  • How can some people learn so quickly?
  • Why do some of us seem to have sharper brains?
  • Why are some people more productive and achieve more things effectively than others?
  • Why did my encounter with foreign languages used to be such a disaster but a few years abroad prove that I can learn a foreign language, or languages, if I really want to? (And it’s important to add here that some people who live abroad actually choose not to learn almost any of the foreign language at all).

Then I realised that it always been personal development in general that has been so interesting for me. There are so many different aspects and I enjoy reading and learning about all of them: motivation, time usage (time management, as some people say, but I don’t like the phrase), productivity, achieving one’s goals, the impact of different habits (sleep, nutrition, technology usage) on one’s happiness, stress levels and work-life balance.

Although the topic of self-growth had already been considered by ancient philosophers, the first study about achieving goals was done in the 1930s. Then there was a long period with not much significant research in the field, mainly due to world wars, when psychologists and other scholars focused more on dealing with and helping people who had suffered post-traumatic stress disorders, depression, anxiety, etc. There wasn’t much government interest or money for studies which would focus on positive psychology and peoples’ strengths and personal growth. It was more about survival than personal development. During this time five times more articles about negative symptoms and states such as depression were published compared with the ones which spoke about self-growth and strengths. So psychology became a science of mental diseases and disorders. Then positive psychology and coaching emerged and became as popular as ever in the last couple of decades.

Now it’s difficult to focus on one topic linked to personal development. There are so many of them! Let’s take the term ‘emotional intelligence’—that’s a huge area with lots of different studies and scientists involved!

I feel sometimes that different aspects related to self-growth are so intriguing that it’s hard to be selective enough and focus on particular narrow topics. What about you? What are you most interested in?

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