Q: I am not happy at work and this is affecting my personal life. What can I do to improve my situation?
A: You are not alone. Many people are seeking to be happy. Even students at the university are attempting to discover, “What is happiness?”
One of the most popular courses at Harvard teaches happiness. Positive Psychology, a class whose content resembles that of self-help books but is grounded in serious psychological research, has enrolled over 800 students, who learn about creating, as the course description puts it, "a fulfilling and flourishing life," courtesy of the booming new area of psychology that focuses on what makes people feel good rather than the pathologies that can make them feel miserable. "Positive Psych may be the one class at Harvard that every student needs to take," said Nancy Cheng, a junior majoring in biology.
After decades spent focusing on the psyche's dark side, now there's the emerging field of scientific research into what makes people happy. One happiness researcher attracting attention is Stanford's Brian Knutson. He is a professor of psychology and neuroscience who uses brain-image technology to measure satisfaction. Some of his research is designed to track how money affects the brain. In one study, he had subjects play a video game that involved, at certain points, the anticipation of winning money, and, at other points, actually taking possession of that money. He measured the difference in oxygen flow in the brain between those two activities. His conclusion: gearing up to do something can make you happier than actually doing it.
"Anticipation is totally underestimated," says Prof. Knutson, whose work is funded in part by the National Institute on Aging and the MacArthur Foundation. "Why do slot machines have arms? You could just have a button--but the arm heightens the anticipation." ‘I'll be happy when....’ is the way many people think they are living their lives. Yet, happiness is not something that happens to you. Happiness is inside you now. You are motivated from within. You only have to allow happiness to surface.
Happiness is being aware, not only of the positive events that occur in your life but, that you yourself are the cause of these events--that you can create them, that you control their occurrence, and that you play a major role in the good things that happen to you. Happiness, said Benjamin Franklin, "is produced not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen as by the little advantages that occur every day."
Happiness isn't off in the future, but in living in the "now" and loving the moment of our daily experiences. We form an impression in every business or personal interaction. In the business world, we don't speak much about the heart. Yet, the purpose of doing our life's work should come from the heart---since all businesses are ultimately people serving people. We all need connection, belonging and meaningful contribution.
Viktor E. Frankl in “The Will of Meaning” states the paradox of happiness, "To the extent to which one makes happiness the objective of his motivation, he necessarily makes it the object of his attention. But precisely by so doing he loses sight of the reason for happiness, and happiness itself must fade away. Success and happiness must happen, the less one cares for them, the more they can."
The circumstances in life have little to do with the satisfaction we experience. Health, wealth, good looks and status have astonishingly little effect on what the researchers call "subjective well-being" according to “The Science of Happiness" by Geoffrey Cowley (with Anne Underwood) in Newsweek, September 16, 2002.
Psychologists have amassed a heap of data on what people who deem themselves happy have in common. Mood and temperament have a large genetic component. In a now famous 1996 study, University of Minnesota psychologists David Lykken and Auke Tellegen surveyed 732 pairs of identical twins and found them closely matched for adult happiness, regardless of whether they'd grown up together or apart. Such findings suggest that while we all experience ups and downs, our moods revolve around the emotional baselines or "set points" we're born with.