What Causes Happiness? (Expanded version)

World Happiness Report 2015 ranked top 10 happiest countries namely Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Canada, Finland, Netherlands Sweden, New Zealand, and Australia. Notice that these are developed nations with established public healthcare, social capital, stable socio-politics/economics and lack of corruption. These are some of the primary factors that lead to the nations’ life satisfaction and life expectancy. People do live longer if they are satisfied with life. You could rule out suicide if there is less life discontentment and mental illness.

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While the annual GDP of these nations register good and stable growth, it wasn’t all about money but altruistic governance toward a better-managed commons and equality to all. However, as magnanimous as this may sound, there is also no denying that money does buy happiness.

Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling On Happiness, puts it succinctly, “But the idea that money is unrelated to happiness is also ridiculous. And all you have to do is go stand outside with no coat, no shoes, nowhere to go and hungry and in about five minutes you go ‘wow, money would make me happier’ and you’re right. So money is obviously related to happiness, but its relationship is intricate and complex.”

But then experientia docet, experience being the best teacher, tells us that money and all its pursuit would make us miserable and mad. For one, money can’t buy you love – real love that is.

Money in itself is not evil but the love of it is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10 NET). Sonja Lyubomyrsky of Scientific American wrote, “Worshiping mammon foments evil ways.”

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These top ranked happiest countries focus on building stronger social ties and building a strong sense of community. They also have extrovert traits with penchant for traveling, meeting people and experiencing other cultures. “There is now a rising worldwide demand that policy be more closely aligned with what really matters to people as they themselves characterize their well-being,” said Jeffrey D. Sachs, co-researcher of World Happiness Report. We’ve got it right finally.

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So now, if they hit the top 10 Happiness billboard chart, we learned that the key to being happier is to focus on doing things that makes them happy and less on what does not. We may learned a vital lesson from these countries ie. paying attention on what matters in your life. What matters to these nations are activities that not just contribute to their personal well-being but the common good.

“Our attention is a scarce resource. Paying attention on one thing is attention not devoted to another,” said Dr Paul Dolan. Akin to containing fire by starving it off oxygen that fuels its rage, when we desist from feeding – focusing – on the bad thoughts, it eventually would die. And if our attention is a scarce resource, you would be more careful in cherishing and using the resource. You won’t simply squander it, would you?

If you keep thinking on a sad experience, then you would be sad. If you focus on how badly you were prejudiced this week, by devoting to this thought, you would soon miss out on the kindness of others in your life. (There is prejudice everywhere you go.) The negative thoughts you fixated on in your mind release stress hormones, cortisol, which has a silent deleterious effect on your health in the long term. You have to sow good seeds in your mind so you get to reap good fruits. And this would add healthy years to your life. A healthy mind yields a healthy life.

Based on a famous attention experiment conducted by Daniel Simons & Christopher Chabris at Harvard University, videos were made of two teams of students dressed black or white, who passed a basketball back and forth. Then they asked students to count how many passes the players dressed in white made. The participants were asked if they had seen anyone other than the players.

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More than half the participants failed to notice a large furry gorilla walking directly through the teams in play. Because the participants were paying attention to counting the number of passes the players made, they did not see the gorilla at all!

If you do not want to miss out the gorilla in your life, pay attention to what you pay attention to.

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I’m certainly not referring to missing out the gorilla, literally, but the intended and serendipitous events and blessings in your life.  How can you be happy if you keep your minds on the wrongs inflicted on you? As man is imperfect, whimsical and capricious, there would always be flaws in his action. If you allow these to affect you’ll be caught in its deadly unending vortex of bitterness and pain.

How to counter this in an imperfect world and maintain Happiness?

1. Watch what you’re thinking about.

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2. Make the best of what you have.

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3. Be thankful for what you have.

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Finally,

4. Do what makes you happy. 

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If it’s right, good and beneficial, do and keep doing it.  Keep doing things that makes you happy. If reading a good book or watching a meaningful movie or taking your dog out for strolls makes you happy, go ahead and keep doing it. Studies revealed that in participating in engrossing activities like these elevate your level of phenylethylamine. This is a natural, organic compound in your brain that helps regulate mood, stress and, take note, controls mental attention – in other words, focus! What you focus on makes you absorbed in the activity causes you to lose track of time. This is why time seems to fly when you are enjoying yourself.

Now, go lose some time in your Happiness and not your mind.

By @Johnnny_5

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