International Day of Happiness is March 20th. But happiness isn’t something that happens to us once a year on the calendar. Happiness is something we do, and there is plenty good reason to do it more often than many of us do.
Who Cares About Happiness?
Aristotle thought happiness was the meaning and purpose of life. Our founders considered happiness an inalienable right. Still, many people consider the pursuit of happiness selfish or frivolous, and thinking this can bury happiness better than anything else can.
After all, if we do not see the point of happiness, we may focus more on putting out the fires of life’s challenges than doing what it takes to let happiness grow in our lives.
But wait, The New York Times just did a piece on the 3.3 million students who took Yale’s happiness course online, based on the course taught by their own Professor Laurie Santos.
Students learned, among other things, about the potential for sleep, gratitude, random acts of kindness…to have a positive impact on their general moods. After the course, student comments ranged from life changing to not so much—but I just love that students gave that much of themselves to take the course at all.
This has happened before. For example, Harvard’s most popular course in 2006 was a happiness course. That was not an easy year for the U.S. on a variety of fronts, and it’s an understatement to say that this past year has been off the charts in challenges for us.
So we could speculate that people, especially young people who have been hit so hard, just want the pain to stop. But I think it’s more. The tree wants to grow, the bird wants to fly, and so do we, even more when we are led to, allowed to, believe—It is good to be happy, even if, especially if, times are hard.
Benefits of Happiness
Maybe you’ve heard, “Misery loves company,” and maybe Misery thinks it does, but I believe that Misery would be misguided there. More and more people being unhappy seems to me to do no one any good. I believe that happiness is just like money. It depends on how we spend it when we have it, that makes or breaks the person that we are. So it’s okay. Better than okay.
Here is just some of the good that is associated with happiness, which you can explore in greater depth if you like:
Health Benefits: Stronger heart, immune system, resilience under stress, less sensitivity to pain, longer lives.
Work Benefits: Improved cognitive performance, individual/team performance, customer satisfaction, increased income (and yes, for money and happiness there is research on which comes first.)
There is also tons of research on movement, nature, mindfulness as ways to lift our moods. Of course, there are different strokes for different folks. And you will find your own.
Although, I imagine we would all benefit from the recommendation of Dr. Ethan Kross in his book, Chatter, that we try to get a grip on the 4000 words we say to ourselves inside our heads every minute—some of it useful, much of it spoiling, distracting, or just plain pointless, as you know.
What matters most, seems to me, is that happiness is contagious. Our moods, up and down, affect not just us but everyone around us too. So, happiness is not frivolous and it is not selfish, and the more of us who stretch ourselves to let it be, the better for us all.
Practice, practice, practice… and let us know what you find at www.madelaineweiss.com
Stan B on Unsplash