February 1, 2013

New Studies Help Explain Why I Am Happier Today Than Ever Before


Earlier this week I was checking Science Daily, which arrives in my inbox every day with reports of the latest scientific studies. I came across this link: Surprising Connections Between Our Well-Being and Giving, Getting, and Gratitude.

I opened the link. As I read the report, a light bulb clicked on. For the first time, I realized:
I am happier now than ever before!
The Scientific Studies
The article pulled together several recent studies on factors that enhance our well-being. Here's a rundown:

  • We all know that getting a good night's sleep augments our well-being. But new research suggests a surprising added benefit -- it makes us grateful for our relationships.
  • A large body of research has documented that people who express gratitude are healthier and happier than those who don't.
  • Just as expressing gratitude confers benefits, so too does giving to others. New research shows that people all around the world derive more  happiness from spending money on others than they do on themselves. Charitable giving makes people feel wealthier.
  • Similarly studies show that giving time to others -- from helping a student with homework to driving an elderly neighbor to a doctor's appointment -- actually makes people feel that they have more time.
  • In related research, psychologists find that spending money on experiential purchases -- travel, concerts, meals out -- tends to bring us more happiness than material purchases like clothing, jewelry, or electronic gadgets.
  • Researchers are looking into one possible explanation for this difference: we're more likely to talk to other people about our experiential purchases.
Which brings us to the central theme running through these studies: "a growing body of research documents the benefits of prosocial behavior, which includes greater happiness, reduced mortality, and better immune function."

What Makes Me Happy
I hadn't fully appreciated until reading this article the extent to which aging and its accompanying infirmities have taken a back seat in my life. Feelings of happiness, well-being, and gratitude are up front, in the driver's seat.

Lots of different things come into play here. Let's focus on just the "happiness" part of the study:
  • Sleep: I've written often, most recently a month ago, about finally getting rid of my chronic insomnia. I sleep soundly now before and after my early morning "Joy of Quiet" hour. I'm convinced this combination of sound sleep and meditation is a major contributor to my well-being and happiness.
  • Expressing gratitude: I learned in AA to say and believe: "I am a grateful, recovering alcoholic." Today I can say and believe "I am a grateful 83-year-old with Parkinson's." My new challenges help me learn more about life and living. 
  • Giving to others: I've been very fortunate financially, having been born in the Lucky Generation, then spending 40 years working at and investing in a 100% employee-owned company, BNA. I want to help the "less fortunate," but I decided long ago I favor a generosity that helps individuals, particularly those I know. I've always given to a few favorite charities, but most of my giving has been to individuals. I suspect this fact is a top contributor to my feelings of happiness and well-being.
  • Giving time to others: The article mentions that this activity actually creates an impression of giving us MORE time. Finding more time is not a particularly urgent issue with me these days. All I know is that giving time to others is rewarding, as long as I also see that the "others" are trying to help themselves as much as they can. 
  • Spending money on experiential purchases rather than material purchases: At this time of year, I'm always appalled when I gather the figures for my tax accountant and see how much I spent the previous year.  Then I use my Quicken software to see the subtotals for the different expense categories. Each year I'm reassured to see that over half  of my spending occurred in four categories: recreation, travel, charities, and gifts. That make me happy.
I noted that a theme running through the studies reported in the article was the importance of social interchange with others to feelings of happiness and well-being. Amen.


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I know the most important factors in my happiness are my two families -- the Schappi family and my Nimesh/Bhawana family -- and my many good friends.
                                                                                               

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