I think we’d all like to be happier, especially in times of stress. Sometimes we may look at others who seem to have it all figured out, or just seem to be happy most of the time, and perhaps wonder what they do to stay happy, when there are so many stressors in life. Apparently, the question of who is happy and why, is one that many people ponder, and some people are finding answers.
Recently, the New York Times ran a quick piece on happiness. Here’s an excerpt:
- Gallup, which released its list of happiest (and least happy) states in America Sunday, had been asked by the New York Times to identify a hypothetical happiest person in the United States. After some statistical magic, Gallup sent back this answer, according to the newspaper:
“He’s a tall, Asian American, observant Jew who is at least 65 and married, has children, lives in Hawaii, runs his own business and has a household income of more than $120,000 a year.”
Does such an unlikely person exist? Turns out there is one individual who fits the bill: Alvin Wong, 69, a Chinese-American who keeps kosher (he converted to Judaism). And yes, all the other factors check out — including his living in Hawaii, the Gallup-appointed happiest state of them all.
It must have been interesting for Alvin Wong to be told that he was likely the happiest person in America, based on these demographics that he fit. (Go, Alvin!) And it’s possible that he is. I like the idea of having a specific person to point to who might indeed personify happiness, if only because now, instead of using tired cliche’s like ‘happy as a clam,’ I can think to myself, “I’m as happy as Alvin Wong!”
But there are other, possibly more scientific, criteria that researchers and psychologists use to study happiness as well, in a growing field known as positive psychology. In addition to self-reports like those elicited in polls, positive psychologists use psychological assessments and other measures to determine happiness, and have found that happiness is associated with several unique factors. Some of these factors are inborn–certain personality traits that can be measured in infancy have been associated with happiness, and they create the range of happiness levels to which we have access. (For example, some people don’t laugh easily–they can work on developing their sense of humor, but they may never laugh as easily as someone who has a natural sense of humor who also works on developing it.) But there’s a lot of wiggle room within this range, and by some estimates, you can increase your overall levels of happiness by between 40-60% by adding factors to your lifestyle that positive psychologists are working hard to identify! (They’ve learned a lot so far, and are learning more all the time.) Many of these factors give clues to what you can change in your life to make yourself happier, like investing time into relationships, cultivating an attitude of gratitude, or getting involved in hobbies that stimulate you, promote mindfulness, and add meaning to your life.
This means that if you’re not an Asian man of a certain age and height (and specific set of inborn traits), you can still be a happier you. And that might possibly kick you up to a level of happiness that surpasses even that of the newly famed Alvin Wong. So perhaps soon on a good day, I should be saying, “Wow, I’m as happy as [your name here]!” That is, if I’m not already saying, “I’m as happy as Elizabeth Scott!”
Right now, you can take this free self assessment on happiness–How Happy Are You?–to see what areas of your life could use some changes. Also, the following resources will teach you more about happiness and positive psychology, and what you can do now to be happier.
- Gratitude Is a Choice (psychologytoday.com)
- Shawn Achor: First Get Happy, Then Get Rich (openforum.com)
- Positive Psychology Quick Tip: Perfectionism? (into-mind.com)
- Kindness the Road to Personal and Family Fulfillment? (happychildrenandfamilies.com)
- Put Positive Psychology to Work for You (psychologytoday.com)
- My Rules for Consistent Happiness [Inspiration] (lifehacker.com)