In the last decade, there has been a proliferation of studies on happiness. Around the world, researchers have conducted studies, reviewed data, and analyzed new brain research in the hopes of discovering the key to happiness.
Harvard psychologist, Dan Gilbert, and Stanford social psychologist, Sonja Lyubomirsky, are two of the most notable happiness researchers. They discuss the development of our pre-frontal cortex and the impact of external factors on our happiness. Shawn Archer’s work is, perhaps, most clear. He spent 12 years at Harvard studying student stress, collaboration, and outcomes. He built on the work of Gilbert and Lyubomirsky to find some interesting notes for us to consider.
1. Long term happiness is, more or less, the result of 10% external (tests, stress, life, money) and 90% internal (optimism, genetics, motivation) factors. See the graph below.
2. Long term success in the workplace is, more or less, the result of 25% IQ and 75% effort, attitude, optimism, social support, and the ability to embrace stress.
3. Brain functionality is 37% better when in a positive modality.
While these three factors are meaningful in their own right, his final piece of wisdom is most interesting.
4. In the Western world, in particular, we are goal obsessed. We are taught to set a goal – a score on a test, a specific university entrance, winning a game, a certain level of income – and once it is achieved, we are allowed to be happy. Misery and toil along the way is ‘just the way it is’. The trouble with this mindset, Archer says, is that we rarely soak up the afterglow. Instead, we immediately set new benchmarks and begin the labour all over again. Now, hyperbole aside, Archer provides an interesting perspective. To be truly happy, he argues, we must enjoy the daily process of achieving our goals. Embrace the challenges of the task. Love the journey.
He goes on to say that the path of least resistance is the negative one: This sucks! Why can’t we do that? The grass is greener somewhere else. Or my favorite: it’s his/her fault!
Instead, let us all take the more challenging and enjoyable path of seeing the little joys in life. The beautiful sunrise over Mount Baker. Wednesday morning breakfast cakes. The laundry staff’s Hallowe’en decorations. Big bro/little bro and big sister/little sister bonding evenings. Going Uptown with our friends. Or having a selfie with Patel. ;-)