Into every life a little rain must fall. Does your rain come from a stray cloud on an otherwise sunny day, or is it from a gray, overcast sky that never goes away? Personal forecasts of sunny days and sunny moods contribute positively to a person’s health.
It is no surprise that a contented mind and cheerful spirit improve physiological functioning. We know the opposites — stress, depression and anxiety — can cause physical illnesses. Stress and depression both can lead to heart disease and heart attacks. People with heavy job stress have 50 percent higher health care costs.
It is a common misperception that life will always be better in the future: when we have a larger home, a nicer car, a corner office; when we are married, have children, or get divorced; once we finish a difficult task at work, or change jobs altogether.
In truth, life is always full of challenges. We must decide to be happy in spite of circumstances.
Nor does happiness correlate with age. Surveys of many thousands of people tell us that age alone has very little impact on happiness. Teenage years can be carefree and joyous, or they can be angst-filled and disturbing. Post-retirement is a time of adventure and exploration for some, isolation and loneliness for others. Happiness depends on the way in which challenges are handled, not the age at which they are handled.
Happiness is not a gender. Studies show that neither sex is inherently or statistically happier than the other.
Happiness is not for sale. Discussions of money and happiness span the history of humankind. It would seem that wealth does not confer happiness. In a 1957 study, about 35 percent of the population identified themselves as happy. Today, 30 percent of Americans call themselves happy. This is despite a doubling in average family earnings and despite the explosion in comforts, access to information and luxuries.
The truth is, money does have some correlation to happiness. People wealthy enough to afford basic necessities such as food, shelter and health care generally are happier than people who lack such necessities. After basic needs have been met, wealth loses much of its power to create contentment or happiness.
A study of the people on the Forbes Magazine list of the 100 wealthiest people indicates they are only slightly happier than average citizens. Research seems to say that happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have.
Key Characteristics of Happy People
Dr. David Myers, author of Pursuit of Happiness, identified a number of qualities shared by many people who tend to be happy. From that research, eight concrete characteristics of happy people have emerged.
- Happy people like themselves. They see themselves as emotionally and physically healthy. They believe they are more ethical and intelligent. They believe they are less prejudiced and better able to get along with people.
- Happy people feel a sense of personal control. They feel empowered. Because of that, they tend do better at work and school and cope better with stress.
- Happy people are optimistic. They expect good things to happen. They feel upbeat. The glass is half full. They try to make sense of events in an optimistic and positive way.
- Happy people are extroverted. We do not know if happiness makes people more extroverted or if extroversion causes happiness, but statistically, they correlate.
- Happy people have close relationships. That shows up most obviously in surveys, which tell us that married people are usually happier than unmarried people. But it’s not a question of marriage; close, trusting relationships of any kind tend to help people be happy more readily than they would be without.
- Happy people have a spiritual foundation. Spirituality is a belief system that focuses on intangible elements that add meaning and vitality to life’s experiences. Whether that is a belief in God, a dedicated prayer life or communing with nature doesn’t matter. Studies show highly spiritual people are twice as happy as people who are not.
- Happy people tend to have balanced lives. The time in their lives dedicated to work, play and spirituality is sufficient for each. They make time for reflection and relaxation.
- Happy people are creative. They look at problems from as many viewpoints as possible and find creative ways of handling those problems. They follow sparks of interest. They don’t let life become sedentary. They keep producing new ideas and learning new things.
The relationship between mind, body and spirit is very intimate. Each aspect affects the others. Proverbs 17:22 says “a merry heart doeth good like a medicine.” That ancient piece of advice is now supported by the most modern scientific research. You can practice the eight characteristics of happiness, and contribute to your overall health.