1. My Own Worst Enemy

    February 12, 2014

    My Own Worst Enemy

    by Michelle Blessing


    I want to be happy.  Not just content, but truly HAPPY.  And just when I think I have it figured out, it’s gone.  She takes it away again, leaving me broken and defeated.  Left to rebuild myself, I try again, only to once again almost reach the top of the happiness hill – and she pushes me back to the bottom.  I feel as if I will never win this battle.


    Who is she, you might be wondering?  Well, she is very simply put, ME.  I am my own worst enemy in the pursuit of happiness.  I find myself becoming content with the way life is going, finally settling into a pattern, and then I start to wonder – is this really it?  Have I reached the pinnacle of happiness?  My focus begins to drift, and I start to refocus my energy on the negative aspects of life, slipping back down the hill it took me so long to climb.


    This has been an ongoing battle for me for many, many years.  At one point, I decided I simply wasn’t meant to be happy; after all, not everyone can become a doctor or a lawyer, so why should everyone get to be happy?  Maybe I was meant to live a life of suffering and misery, while others enjoyed the people, places and things around them.


    And then I really started to think about it – what made those happy people different from me?  Why were they so jovial and free, while I was trapped in a prison of unhappiness?  I really didn’t have an answer, so I started doing some soul searching.  Why did their happiness seem so easy, so effortless, while mine seemed to be a full-time job?  And it was in that soul searching that I started to find the answers.


    First and foremost, happiness is not something we can force.  It is not something we can buy, nor is it something we should even strive for.  Let me explain that last part – because I’m sure many of you are scratching your head – I mean, are we supposed to strive for happiness?  Isn’t that what life is all about?


    Yes, it is, but the pursuit of happiness need not be specifically about happiness itself.  Because when it comes down to it, we all define happiness is different ways.  So to say we are striving to be happy has not just one, but also MANY, different meanings.  And that’s okay, but that means that we aren’t necessarily striving for happiness itself, but for the different situations that produce happiness.  Once I learned that happiness was not a quest per say but rather the end result of a journey, I found that what had eluded me for so long was suddenly right at my fingertips.


    So, what exactly did I do?  To start, I quit my 9 to 5 job and went back to school.  I started freelance writing and I spent more time with my kids and my family.  I know that is extreme, but you don’t have to overhaul your life to find true happiness.  Start small with something that you really, truly enjoy.  Take time each week to do that one simple thing.  It might be reading a chapter in a great book, taking a cooking or yoga class or making a telephone call to an old friend.  Whatever it is, you simply must do it.  As you start to make that part of your routine, add something else.  Keep adding enjoyable things to your life, slowly, until you feel that sense of contentment we all long for.  It might not come tomorrow, next week or even next month, but rest assured, as you continue to pursue the things in life you truly enjoy, it will.  After all, life is too short to be anything but happy.

    Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/viggum/3536424433

  2. The Pursuit of Happiness: 3 Facts Science Can Teach You

    June 5, 2013

    pursuit of happiness

    by Susan Martin

    Is there science to happiness or, in other words, can science teach us how to be happy? We all want to be happy. While the pursuit of happiness is an essential element of human existence, alas we are not always so clear on the details.

    The self-help industry was born to fulfill this void, and it has produced copious amounts of information to answer these basic questions. Unfortunately, self-help books and DVDs are not always the most reliable source of information.

    Fortunately, the pursuit of happiness is not the sole domain of the self-help industry. Research is actively addressing questions like ‘what makes a person happy’ and ‘how a person can improve their emotional life and emotional well-being’. Research on this area has already produced several interesting findings.

    In this post I want to explore 3 interesting facts science can teach you about being happy.

    Gratitude makes you happy

    Count your blessings is one of the oldest advice offered by the self-help industry. Most of us are highly critical of ourselves and think negative thoughts about ourselves far more often than positive thoughts. Always being critical of yourself is obviously not great for your well-being.

    Gratitude is the antidote for negativity. The idea is to focus on things you appreciate about your life, and then to be grateful of those things.

    Research by Dr. Robert Emmons at the University of California shows that practicing gratitude indeed makes you happier [1]. The researchers asked the participants to either focus on: gratitude, life hassles or neutral things. 10 weeks later the researchers measured the effects.

    Not surprisingly, the group that focused on gratitude reported significantly better emotional well-being than the other two groups. The gratitude group also felt more connected to others and acted more socially (they were more likely to give aid when requested). What’s interesting is the gratitude group also exercised an hour more per week more than the other two groups (3 hours per week vs. 4 hours for the gratitude group).

    Gratitude does work!

    Good deeds are passed on

    Marketers have long understood the concept of reciprocity. When you receive something you are far more likely to give something back. That’s why companies like to ‘so generously’ give you trinkets and freebies – so you would buy their products and services.

    A study published at the Journal of experimental psychology shows that generosity is paid forward [2]. In the study the researchers wanted to see what happens when people cannot give back to the person who initially gave them something. That is, when person A gives something to person B, what will the person B do when he or she cannot reciprocate to the person A?

    The study found that both good and bad deeds are passed on. And unfortunately people were more likely to pass on greed and other bad deeds than good deeds.

    The lesson here is clear. Be kind to others, because your behavior is passed on. You could see yourself as emanating energy that people you come in contact with pass on to others. So make sure you put out positive energy to the world.

    Happiness is a circular motion

    As humans we are often terrible at predicting what makes us happy. For example, let’s say you have $100 extra cash at your disposal and your task is to spend it in a way that maximizes your happiness. What would you do? If you are like most people, you might pamper yourself with a massage or buy something you’ve wanted for some time.

    A study by Dr. Lara Aknin published at the Journal of happiness studies shows that’s exactly the wrong thing to do [3].

    In the study the participants were asked to recall a recent purchase they had made. One group was asked to recall the last time they spent money on themselves or on others. Spending on others, also called prosocial spending, could mean buying something as a gift or a charitable donation. The group that recalled prosocial spending felt significantly happier afterwards. What’s more, they were also more likely to spend a monetary windfall of further prosocial spending than those who recalled spending on themselves.

    This research shows that spending on others creates a positive feedback loop that encourages further prosocial spending and happiness. Combine this with the previous bit about people passing on good deeds and you’ll see how powerful simple act of gift giving can be.

    As these studies show, we all have the potential to be happy. It doesn’t take great deeds or vast fortunes. Rather, happiness is a mixture of being content with what you have and treating others kindly. There’s a bit of scientific advice we all could take to heart.

    Image Credit: Marcos Vasconcelos


    [1] Emmons R, McCullough M. Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2003, Vol. 84, No. 2, 377-389.

    [2] Gray K, et al. Paying It Forward: Generalized Reciprocity and the Limits of Generosity. J Exp Psychol Gen. 2012 Dec 17.

    [3] Aknin L, et al. Happiness Runs in a Circular Motion: Evidence for a Positive Feedback Loop between Prosocial Spending and Happiness. J Happiness Stud (2012) 13:347-355.