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Shifting from Unhappiness to Happiness

Very often happiness is a state of mind, and this shift is easier than we think.

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It seems as if over the course of the past year or so, many people have been feeling a shift in their attitudes toward life. Those who have normally been considered optimistic and happy are often finding themselves feeling sad. When asking random people what they’re experiencing, they’re simply saying that their melancholy doesn’t seem to be caused by anything in particular; they just feel “blah.”

Well, they’re not alone in their feelings. To go from an unhappy attitude to one of gratitude and happiness (gratitude is connected to happiness), sometimes just means making a shift in our worldview or outlook when we wake up in the morning.

Very often what determines our level of happiness is outside of our control, although there is a lot in our control. There are those who are genetically predisposed to see the world more positively or through rose-colored glasses, while others have a propensity to take a negative worldview. In reality, life is not always rosy—good things happen and bad things happen, and in the Buddhist world, that’s all part of life.

A study by Moligner et al. (2011) showed that happiness is not fixed and that across the lifespan, there’s a shift in the meaning of happiness. They studied 12 million personal blogs and found that younger people associated happiness with excitement, and older people are more likely to associate happiness with a sense of peacefulness. The study suggested that perhaps this shift has to do with the redirection of attention from the future to the present, as people age.

In reference to teenagers, another study examined the connection between what we decide to do during our free time and our happiness. This particular study studied the happiness of teenagers and found that the more time they spent seeing friends, exercising, and engaging in sports and other social activities, the happier they were. This is not surprising, because humans are social creatures. The same study found that those who engaged in solitary activities such as texting, email, internet, and playing computer games tended to be less happy. The researchers concluded that every activity that didn’t involve the use of a screen was linked to more happiness.

While this study focused on teens, it’s been shown that similar trends have been seen in adults. In general, people are less happy than they were about 15 years ago, and a lot has to do with our increased connection with screens, whether computers or phones, resulting in less face-to-face interaction with others. Another interesting aspect of the study showed that teens who didn’t use digital media (it’s hard to believe there are any) were actually a little less happy than those who used it a little bit. In other words, happiness decreases with increased use, so it’s probably wise for all of us to limit our digital usage.

To attain some control over our happiness, it’s important that we’re aware of shifts in perspectives, which we can control. In order to shift our perspectives, we can try to look at life’s bigger picture and refrain from focusing on minute details. A great deal of perspective change also has to do with maintaining a sense of humor and lightness of being and trying not to take ourselves so seriously. In addition, we might consider thinking about those we admire who seem to always have a positive and joyous outlook. What are they doing that’s different? It’s certainly something to ponder.

Mogilner C., S. D. Kamva, and J. Aaker. (2011). “The Shifting Meaning of Happiness. Social Psychological Personality Science. Vol 2. Issue 4. pps. 395-402.

Twenge, J.M., G. N. Martin, W. K. Campbell (2018). “Decreases in Psychological Well-Being Among American Adolescents After 2012 and Links to Screen Time During the Rise of Smartphone Technology.” Emotion.

Originally published at www.psychologytoday.com

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