Can Happiness Be Cultivated

What can we do to achieve more happiness? Dr. Martin Seligman the author of authentic happiness and researcher from the University of Pennsylvania says we can make changes that will develop our level of optimism and happiness. It may be that we have a "set point for happiness" and we tend to return to this set point when circumstances in our lives give us pleasure or bring us pain. It was once believed that it was not possible to change this set point and we were doomed to be miserable. The study of neuroplasticity also challenges this concept. We now know that our brains are flexible, adaptive, and capable of making changes by developing new neural pathways that impact our ability to learn and adjust to environmental conditions.

If it is possible for us to be happier or move our set point for happiness, than what do we need to do to bring about these changes in our lives? Most likely it is helpful to make a distinction between happiness and pleasure. Pleasure is an enjoyable experience that does not necessarily make us happy in the long term and may even make us unhappy. Eating sweets excessively, drinking alcohol to excess, or being impulsive may well give us some instant gratification, but may only serve to make us more unhappy. Asserting conscious self-control, developing a sense of gentle self discipline, and authentically taking better care of ourselves may help us feel happier and improve our ability to relate constructively to the world around us. 

Improving the way we relate to the world can have a major impact on our ability to reduce stress and help us feel we have some level of control in our lives. When I say control, I do not mean that which is uncontrollable. As Dr. Steven Covey says, "we can develop the ability to positively influence or control certain aspects of our lives." By relating more effectively to the world around us, we are better able to meet our needs and approach life in a more relaxed and confident manner. Developing improved communication skills such as active listening and improving our ability to attend to others is a winning strategy.

Learning to slow down (my particular challenge), practicing meditation, mindfulness, being involved in activities that we love, developing compassion, and learning to be more patient require effort and practice. It may be difficult to develop these skills; however, it may be well worth the investment of our time and energy. When we are miserable and anxious it is particularly challenging to cultivate self-acceptance, a sense of self-appreciation, and a non-judgmental attitude with regards to our own emotions. These skills are not something that come to most of us easily and required sustained effort over time.

By Donald Recupido

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