Many researchers and psychologists are looking for ways to better understand how to make us happier and more satisfied. Studies at Stanford University in active collaboration with the Dali Lama, are trying to understand phenomena like meditation, while others are looking to see how our brains are impacted through prayer, music, exercise and creativity. The numerous results from studies that we have already give us an overwhelming amount of data and tools that we can apply and experiment with for ourselves.
From everything we know so far, it turns out that happiness is largely biologically driven, however everything is pointing to the fact that it is also a skill. A skill that demands a great deal of practice and dedication, but a skill that can be learned, improved upon and implemented to whatever situations we might find ourselves in.
Do you think thousands of years ago people thought as much as we do about happiness? This is of course a rhetorical question, but one that I would like you to keep in mind as you read this article. While people have always questioned the meaning of life, today we live in a much different reality. Unlike those earlier times, our world is greatly shaped by media, advertising, virtual networks, celebrities and something even by avatars.
Aristotle, who lived about 2300 years ago, believed that human nature is good. He also believed that man - unfortunately – is not born with the ability to lead what he called the ”Good Life”. What we would define today as a “satisfying” or “fulfilling” life. No matter how we define what a “Good Life” means today, there are studies that point to commonalities among all human beings in terms of the end-results. In other words, most people want to be happy and satisfied with their life. They want to be healthy, find love, companionship, and everyone strives to find some type of meaning. What differs, of course, are the ways in which we can achieve happiness, and what exactly constitutes meaningfulness or fulfillment for each individual.
If we only change our minds
Research in the area of happiness is quite new - not much more than a couple of decades. In the 90’s it become known as Positive Psychology. Even though it’s a nascent science, there is already an impressive amount of empirical studies and consistent results that have led to some very interesting conclusions. The overwhelming knowledge that we now have on happiness could easily lead one to believe that the path to happiness has at finally been identified. However, it is also important to acknowledge the work and dedication that it takes to attain overall wellbeing, and then to sustain it.
At a very basic level, research in the area of Positive Psychology has shown that there are two areas that have made our lives difficult and unquestionably frustrating. The first such occurrence, has to do with what is called “friction between emotional and deliberative processes”. Basically what this means is that we are horrible at predicting how we will feel in the future as a result of our decisions and choices that we make in the present moment. And, for better or for worse, this is true with both significant things like having kids, as well as less significant things, like the place where we go on vacation.