Part 2: What’s the benefit of being EVEN happier?
Blaise Pascal wrote: “All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.”
Nancy Etcoff opens her TED talk with Pascal’s words and explains how modern psychology has confirmed our innate wiring to want to be happy. But is getting what we want actually the best thing for us?
Modern research suggests that in the case of happiness, it really might be.
By developing our happiness intelligence, we can intentionally process all of our emotions with control and stability, so we can (as quickly as desired) return to a productive, joyful and universally beneficial mindset.
Increasing numbers of peer reviewed studies have linked comparatively higher happiness, with many benefits across all aspects of our well-being, from physical and mental health, to social and economic advantages.
Physical health benefits include greater longevity of life (one report estimates happiness can add 8-12 years) through slowing down the ageing effects Cortisol and other stress hormones have on our DNA so we can sustain a higher standard of living for longer. There are statistical correlations with more efficient sleep, better metabolic control, improved heart health, and increased happiness has been shown to positively impact our immune system too. This results in slowed disease progression and can even reduce the aggression of certain cancers. Happier people may be around half as likely to catch the cold virus and have a 50% lower risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack or stroke.
Mental health benefits are equally comprehensive and range from reduced likelihood of depression, greater self-control and resilience during emotional turmoil, to reduction in severity and progression of dementia.
Higher levels of happiness has also been shown to counter stress, burnout, trauma and grief, which can all manifest themselves as physical problems, from headaches, to muscle cramps to digestive problems and sleep disorders.
Happiness isn’t just a vaccine for these ailments; understanding, practising and experiencing happiness has powerful positive and preventative effects for our wellness too. Happier people are better prepared to face emotional challenges in later life.
We will all die, all age, get sick, and will all witness suffering. When we allow these hardships to spawn additional suffering, through prolonged grief, anger or depression etc., these negative responses inhibit all those benefits of happiness.
31% higher productivity, 37% higher sales, and three times more creative.
Happier people minimise this loss as they are better prepared to process trauma’s as efficiently and productively as possible when inevitable changes of circumstance happen.
Increasing Happiness intelligence coincides with improved emotional intelligence, and includes improvements in one’s ability to process emotions more healthily and make more meaningful connections with others. This impacts many other social factors such as higher chances of marriage, lower divorce rates and stronger social networks.
Social benefits continue as we see that people that acknowledge themselves as comparatively happier, are also more philanthropic, and volunteer more and donate more to charities than those who identify as comparatively less happy.
In the workplace, happier employees generate more successful business. This is an effect of better relationships, both inter-departmentally and with customers and suppliers, and other, more tangible business metrics. A Harvard Business Review recently featured a meta-analysis of 225 academic studies which concluded that employees were on average 31% more productive, recorded 37% higher sales, and were three times more creative. These profound results are partnered with other effects of increased happiness and reduced stress, which include better problem solving skills and better rational decision making.
This all comes with reduced absenteeism, less sick leave, less non-productive work (including work disputes, retaliatory behaviour etc.), lower average health insurance/medical bills, and reduced staff turnover (and its many associated costs).
As these happier employees tend to be more cooperative and less self-centred, they are more willing to help others and are typically noticed for their increased efficacy, which commonly leads to greater career progression and higher incomes for the individual. As the happier employees become leaders, comparatively higher happiness continues to be beneficial as they are viewed as more assertive and self-confident.
Clearly our jobs are major influencers on our happiness, not only due to the vast amount of time it takes up in our lives, but also because it can also be a source of many other factors for happiness, including social contact, fun, a sense of purpose, self esteem, recognition, and an atmosphere of growth.
An extensive study in the British Medical Journal monitored people over 20 years and found that their happiness levels had some measurable effect on other people in their networks connected within “three degrees of separation”.
Therefore focusing on the happiness of an individual may have far more profound effects than we traditionally thought. Gretchen Rubin summarises this positive feedback loop as: “One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy. One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.”
Robert Louis Stevenson said, “There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy.”
It is only through misguided social conditioning and complacency that we might believe other pursuits to be more valuable than that of happiness. Wisdom of this mistake in later life led Bronnie Ware, a palliative nurse, to identify the Top Five Regrets of the dying as:
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
- I wish I didn’t work so hard.
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish that I had let myself be happier.
At the other end of the age spectrum, schools that focused on the social and emotional well-being of students, experienced significant academic improvement and pupil behaviour.
Lastly we have the justification of personal experience. The undeniable experience that we are wired to enjoy feeling happy. This is due to the brain’s complex reward systems linking joy, happiness, contentment and many other positive emotions, giving long term and short term pleasures.
Focusing on proactive life-improvement and prioritising happiness didn’t feature on many people’s dying regrets…. Which leads to the next question…