Recently someone told me I should not be happy because there are people in the world who are suffering.
I’d like to know your thoughts on this. Is happiness wrong?
Here are mine:
I have researched happiness for many years and understand that happiness is not the result of success or good health. Yes, those things help. But the research is exceedingly clear that individuals who are positively focused enjoy better health, better relationships, better mental health, and more career success. When you’re happy first, good health, great relationships, and success follow.
Happy people are literally smarter. The same person scores better on the SAT exam when he is happy than when he is not happy.
So, if we want to solve the world’s problems, it seems to me we want the happiest possible people working on the solutions because they are the ones who are more likely to find them.
Let’s take these one at a time.
The disease burden in the world creates a tremendous financial strain on every economy, it not only costs money to treat but also creates losses from lower productivity. Our immune system works better when we are happy. The Grant Study showed that a positive outlook delayed death by more than a decade and reduced the number of years with chronic and debilitating diseases by eighteen years because the dreaded end of life diseases came much closer to death.
That alone would be a tremendous boon to the economy. Diabetes, stroke, depression, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and even the common cold and flu are less likely to happen to someone who has a positive mental focus.
So, from a health standpoint, I say the more happy people the better. From a health standpoint my happiness benefits a lot of people beyond myself because it lowers the risk of my adding to the disease burden.
As researched in the Harvard Men’s Study, whether the graduate was positively focused or not meant more to his eventual success than his Harvard education. The negatively focused Harvard graduates were much more likely to become alcoholics, to divorce, to commit suicide, to experience business failures, and more than their positively focused classmates. Even though we live in an era where prosperity is beginning to be viewed as somehow undesirable by some who believe that one person’s success lessens their chances of success, I think most would agree that a business failure hurts not only the business owner but also the employees who are left without jobs. I don’t see much argument from society that not being an alcoholic and a lower divorce rate are both beneficial to society.
For the good of society, the more success the better. One person’s success does not diminish your chances of success. Today the real root cause of wealth is a well executed good idea.
Happy people are more likely to marry and more likely to remain married. Happy people have better relationships of all types–at home, work, in the neighborhood. Extended outward this even plays out in research that demonstrated unhappy people are more likely to commit crimes–something that is very bad for relationships. Happy people are more likely to be kind to strangers, to help someone in need, and display better corporate citizenship. I don’t think anyone would dispute that these are all pro-social benefits.
Happy citizens are good for society.
Now, if you were taught the false premise that happiness is the result of circumstances or that it is something you must chase, you may feel that this is sort of like someone sticking their thumbs in their ears, wiggling their fingers and saying “Ha Ha, I’m happy–you’re not.”
But the truth is that it is not circumstances that determine happiness. You can be sick and poor and worried and find a perspective that makes you feel hopeful and in the moment you find that hopeful thought and believe in its possibility, you feel better. In that same moment, your immune, cognitive, digestive, and endocrine system functions begin improving.
As your cognitive function improves, solutions you could not think of just minutes before occur to you.
Your happiness is determined by the perspective you take about your current circumstances.
It is possible to feel positive emotion even in the midst of a bad situation by finding the silver lining.
I’ve been studying what makes humans thrive for a very long time. I know how to help people thrive. I am best able to do that when my cognitive abilities and my health are in top form. My cognitive abilities and health are best when I am happy.
Therefore, I believe my happiness benefits me and all those (the world) that I am set on helping.
The old paradigm said, “You shouldn’t be happy until someone else/everyone else is happy.” But that paradigm did not have the benefit of the information researchers have published in the last few decades. The research leads us to a new paradigm, “If you want to help others, maintain your happiness as best you can because you will have greater clarity of thought and be in a better position to identify solutions.”
Thinking about the problems others are experiencing increases my stress level, which decreases my cognitive abilities, decreases my immune system function, my digestive system, endocrine system and mental health. I don’t think that serves anyone well.
What do you think? Is Happiness Wrong?
The research on happiness and health as well as techniques that help you develop the skills that allow you to be happy even when your circumstances are less than ideal are provided in True Prevention–Optimum Health: Remember Galileo. Right now I am working on an expanded follow-up to True Prevention (Stress Kills:Happiness Heals) that takes the conversation into uncharted territory applying the principles to eliminating disparate impact, creating peace, eliminating racism, education, and more. If you prefer classroom style learning, we provided classes in person and online.
When the research became so clear and compelling to me, I named my company Happiness 1st to remind myself and my clients that when you’re happy first, everything you want is easier to achieve.