Science of Happiness
Working together with the Greater Good Science Center, we have identified six skills to form the foundation of LG’s Experience Happiness program: mindfulness, human connection, positive outlook, purpose, generosity, and gratitude. Although each person may take a different path, the practice and pursuit of these six skills can help set anyone on the path toward sustainable happiness.
The simple act of appreciating and thanking others for the goodness they contribute to our lives helps foster happiness. Stemming from the significance of quality relationships and the sense of well-being that human connection creates, thankfulness fuels optimism, and reinforces our basic trust that others are there for us. When gratitude is expressed toward someone, it is often returned, creating a reciprocally benevolent loop. Finally, gratitude involves being thankful and aware of our own privilege and identifying the sources of goodness outside of ourselves.
Illustrated through almost 50 years of research, human connection – relationships with significant others, friendships, and social engagement with peers – is the most reliable, enduring predictor of happiness in life. Those with close bonds are happier, less lonely, and have higher self-esteem. Strong relationships are essential to happiness, as they are critical to well-being.
Positivity is one’s ability to imagine a fruitful outcome and maintain a readiness to pursue and experience the positive opportunity in any circumstance. Positive emotions open our awareness and increase the expanse of our peripheral vision, helping us see more possibilities. When experiencing positive emotions, people are more creative, more resilient to adversity, more likely to perform better academically, and more socially connected. Individuals can foster a more positive outlook by being open, appreciative, curious, kind, optimistic, and sincere. From these strategies spring positive emotions.
Understanding our ability to make a difference in the world, at work, school, or for a team or community, leads to a fuller, finer sense of purpose and increases our sense of happiness. Having a sense of purpose involves a combination of living according to one’s values and goals and striving to make a positive difference beyond self-interest. Finding purpose requires dedicated commitment, personal meaningfulness, goal directedness, and a vision larger than one’s self. There are many paths to identification and many start with the “why”; providing context and direction.
Research in neuroscience has offered evidence that generosity, helping and being kind to others, is intrinsically rewarding. According to a study overseen by Harvard University, those who donated time or money were 42% more likely to be happy when compared to those who didn’t give anything. Psychologists have identified this kindness-to-happiness-buzz as a “helper’s high.” The feeling after expressing kindness toward someone produces a rush of endorphins, similar to, but not dangerous like a drug high. As a result of this “warm glow,” happiness and cheerfulness are increased in those who participate in acts of kindness. Being kind creates a cycle that promotes widespread happiness and altruism.
Mindfulness is being aware of your thoughts, feelings, and surrounding environment in the present moment, without judging your thoughts or feelings as admirable, shameful, or anything in between – while maintaining a kind, supportive stance towards oneself and others. Practicing mindfulness helps us develop focus and emotional balance and builds resilience, i.e. our capacity to recover, and derive meaning, from difficult experiences. There is evidence that when mindfulness is taught in the classroom, behavioral problems are reduced, while attentiveness, empathy, and learning go up.