Thursday, June 30, 2016

Study Finds a Surprisingly Accurate Predictor of Happiness

pablo-44by , Lifehack: http://www.lifehack.org/409574/study-finds-a-surprisingly-accurate-predictor-of-happiness

Happiness. We all search for it and we may even spend money on the quest of attaining happiness. Nowadays, you will find countless resources that assert that happiness could be bought, found, etc.
However, a recent study conducted at Harvard University finds several surprising and accurate predictors about happiness.

Sometimes when we see friends enjoying their vacation we would think they must be having a greater time than you sitting at home or working in the office. What’s surprising is that the study suggests that it does not matter exactly what you are doing that will predict happiness. According to the data gathered from the Harvard study group, the specific way you spend your day does not predict how happy you are. Rather, the predictive element to happiness is matching your thoughts to your action. To have a strong mental presence of what you are doing. 

How The Study Was Done

In order for the psychologists to study everyday happiness they had to catch their subjects in the act of feeling good or the opposite, feeling bad. Measuring the ingredients in a lab would be extremely difficult and undeniably hard to measure.

In this study the psychologists invested in a technique called experience sampling. Meaning, to interrupt people at random intervals and ask them what they are doing and what is on their mind. You can begin to assemble a specific portrait about someone when you do this multiple times a day for several days at a time.

The participants in the study were surveyed via an iPhone app. The app would notify the participant to fill out out a quick questionnaire. The questionnaire would ask what they were doing and if they were thinking about what they were doing. If a participant answered that they were not thinking about what they were doing they would answer additional questions inquiring if what they were doing was enjoyable, neutral or not enjoyable. 

The Results

The data gathered by the study reveals that we tend to be at our happiest when we are thinking about what we’re doing. For example, a person who is washing the dishes and thinking about washing the dishes is happier than a person who is washing the dishes and thinking of a future vacation. 

The Relationship between Focus and Happiness

Psychologists discovered a large portion of our thoughts, approximately half, are not related to what we are actually doing. Some may hope that a mind that wanders like this would bring us to a happier state of being, but the data gathered during the study suggests otherwise. Turns out, we are happiest when our thoughts and actions are perfectly in line with one another, even if it’s a simple task like taking the trash out. 

The Prescription for Happiness

Sure this sounds like an easy fix, but our mind tends to wander and it happens that our minds are wired to wander from time to time. Our brains prefer an arousal state of existence. If a task can be completed without going into too much thought, our brain figure out a specific ways to create an exciting alternative and send the mind wandering.

Do know that the mind can be trained to wander less? It takes practice and dedication, but it can be done! You can engage in a meditation practice, work on being mindfully present throughout your day and work on being contentment. 

Conclusion

If you’re like most people and seek happiness, try practicing the art of matching your thoughts to your action. Think about what you’re doing and see how this impacts your overall happiness.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

How Other Languages Can Reveal the Secrets to Happiness

Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock
by Tim Lomas, University of East London, The Conversation: https://theconversation.com/how-other-languages-can-reveal-the-secrets-to-happiness-61468

The limits of our language are said to define the boundaries of our world. This is because in our everyday lives, we can only really register and make sense of what we can name. We are restricted by the words we know, which shape what we can and cannot experience.

It is true that sometimes we may have fleeting sensations and feelings that we don’t quite have a name for - akin to words on the “tip of our tongue”. But without a word to label these sensations or feelings they are often overlooked, never to be fully acknowledged, articulated or even remembered. And instead, they are often lumped together with more generalised emotions, such as “happiness” or “joy”. This applies to all aspects of life - and not least to that most sought-after and cherished of feelings, happiness. Clearly, most people know and understand happiness, at least vaguely. But they are hindered by their “lexical limitations” and the words at their disposal.

As English speakers, we inherit, rather haphazardly, a set of words and phrases to represent and describe our world around us. Whatever vocabulary we have managed to acquire in relation to happiness will influence the types of feelings we can enjoy. If we lack a word for a particular positive emotion, we are far less likely to experience it. And even if we do somehow experience it, we are unlikely to perceive it with much clarity, think about it with much understanding, talk about it with much insight, or remember it with much vividness.

Speaking of happiness

While this recognition is sobering, it is also exciting, because it means by learning new words and concepts, we can enrich our emotional world. So, in theory, we can actually enhance our experience of happiness simply through exploring language. Prompted by this enthralling possibility, I recently embarked on a project to discover “new” words and concepts relating to happiness.

I did this by searching for so-called “untranslatable” words from across the world’s languages. These are words where no exact equivalent word or phrase exists in English. And as such, suggest the possibility that other cultures have stumbled upon phenomena that English-speaking places have somehow overlooked.

Perhaps the most famous example is “Schadenfreude”, the German term describing pleasure at the misfortunes of others. Such words pique our curiosity, as they appear to reveal something specific about the culture that created them - as if German people are potentially especially liable to feelings of Schadenfreude (though I don’t believe that’s the case).

German’s are no more likely to experience Schadenfreude than they are to drink steins of beer in Bavarian costume. Kzenon/Shutterstock

However, these words actually may be far more significant than that. Consider the fact that Schadenfreude has been imported wholesale into English. Evidently, English speakers had at least a passing familiarity with this kind of feeling, but lacked the word to articulate it (although I suppose “gloating” comes close) - hence, the grateful borrowing of the German term. As a result, their emotional landscape has been enlivened and enriched, able to give voice to feelings that might previously have remained unconceptualised and unexpressed.

My research, searched for these kind of “untranslatable words” - ones that specifically related to happiness and well-being. And so I trawled the internet looking for relevant websites, blogs, books and academic papers, and gathered a respectable haul of 216 such words. Now, the list has expanded - partly due to the generous feedback of visitors to my website - to more than 600 words.

Enriching emotions

When analysing these “untranslatable words”, I divide them into three categories based on my subjective reaction to them. Firstly, there are those that immediately resonate with me as something I have definitely experienced, but just haven’t previously been able to articulate. For instance, I love the strange German noun “Waldeinsamkeit”, which captures that eerie, mysterious feeling that often descends when you’re alone in the woods.

A second group are words that strike me as somewhat familiar, but not entirely, as if I can’t quite grasp their layers of complexity. For instance, I’m hugely intrigued by various Japanese aesthetic concepts, such as “aware” (哀れ), which evokes the bitter-sweetness of a brief, fading moment of transcendent beauty. This is symbolised by the cherry blossom - and as spring bloomed in England I found myself reflecting at length on this powerful yet intangible notion.

Finally, there is a mysterious set of words which completely elude my grasp, but which for precisely that reason are totally captivating. These mainly hail from Eastern religions - terms such as “Nirvana” or “Brahman” - which translates roughly as the ultimate reality underlying all phenomena in the Hindu scriptures. It feels like it would require a lifetime of study to even begin to grasp the meaning - which is probably exactly the point of these types of words.

Now we can all ‘tepils’ like the Norwegians - that’s drink beer outside on a hot day, to you and me Africa Studio/Shutterstock

I believe these words offer a unique window onto the world’s cultures, revealing diversity in the way people in different places experience and understand life. People are naturally curious about other ways of living, about new possibilities in life, and so are drawn to ideas - like these untranslatable words - that reveal such possibilities.

There is huge potential for these words to enrich and expand people’s own emotional worlds, with each of these words comes a tantalising glimpse into unfamiliar and new positive feelings and experiences. And at the end of the day, who wouldn’t be interested in adding a bit more happiness to their own lives?

Tim Lomas, Lecturer in Applied Positive Psychology , University of East London

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.