What makes us happy?

Despite the exponential increase in our wealth in the last 50 years, it seems our levels of happiness have not increased.  While our standard of living has increased dramatically, in some cases our levels of happiness have diminished slightly.  The evidence suggests that being richer isn’t making us happier.

In fact, Australia consistently scores highly (or highest) for happiness in education, health, security and wealth, when assessed by the United Nations Human Development Index.  And yet, other data shows us that Australians have some of the lowest levels of job satisfaction in the world. Only Japan, Taiwan, and six East European nations (including Russia) do worse in this regard.

So what does make us happy? 

Happiness is not a destination, but a decision.  We decide to be happy.

In Learned Optimism, Dr Martin Seligman, a leading specialist in positive psychology, presents scientific evidence that optimists get along better than pessimists in almost ever facet of life: at school, at work, in personal relationships and in sports. According to Seligman, optimists respond better to adversity of all kinds.  What’s more, they have better physical health and may even live longer.  The key is what we say to ourselves when we confront failure and disappointment.

Permanent change comes from rewiring habits. I keep a journal which I write every day before I go to bed.  I always write down my ‘three good things’ that happened that day.  This simple exercise helps with resilience and optimism.  By focusing on the positive, I can pick myself up, dust myself off and start all over again when things feel wrong or go wrong in the workplace. Maintaining an attitude of gratitude is simple, yet liberating and empowering.

So, the question is: are you happy?  Seligman’s Authentic Happiness website features countless surveys on happiness, including optimism, relationship satisfaction, work/life balance and meaning of life.  You’ll find some clues to your mental attitude there.


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