Happiness

March 20 was the first International Day of Happiness as proclaimed by the UN. The day was created in part because happiness is deemed to be a universal goal among humans. We all seek happiness in our lives and many spend quite a bit of time trying to figure out exactly what happiness looks like as well as how to attain it.

Canada is one of the most prosperous and free countries in the world and yet there are many here who are not happy. In spite of being wealthy, living longer healthier lives and having the incredible conveniences afforded to us by modern technology, happiness still eludes many.

So since we know the cliché is true – money can’t buy happiness – what is it that brings this desired state of mind?

This is a question many will continue to try to answer and of course there will be different factors for every individual. One researcher has shed some light on the subject in recent years.

While working on his PhD at Harvard, Matt Killingsworth developed an iPhone app called Track Your Happiness, which he has used to gather a large amount of real-time data investigating happiness.

After examining more than 650,000 data points from over 15,000 people, Killingsworth believes happiness has a lot to do with living in the moment.

The Track Your Happiness app has users fill in information about their happiness at various points throughout the day. It asks questions about how the person is feeling, what they are doing and what they are thinking about.

Using data collected in this project, Killingsworth has learned people generally tend to be significantly less happy when their mind is wandering than when they are focused on their current activity. Further, this held true even when the activity was not an enjoyable one. For example, most people say they find their work commute unenjoyable – yet they still tend to be happier during their commute if they are focused only on driving and their mind is not wandering elsewhere.

So perhaps another old cliché is true – it is best if we live in the moment. How do we go about doing that? Mind wandering is a ubiquitous human trait. According to Killingsworth’s data, people report their mind wandering approximately 47% of the time.

I’m afraid there is no easy step-by-step solution to how to live your life in the moment. As a start, I would suggest unplugging from unnecessary technological interruptions during activities. Don’t be afraid to turn off cellphone alerts, not check Facebook or otherwise divide your attention from whatever your primary focus should be in that moment.

As much as possible, try to fill your day with experiences you find meaningful and enjoyable. It is much easier to attend to something you like than to something you find onerous.

Of course, if you have an unmanaged mental health condition that makes it difficult to experience your moments to their fullest, seeking appropriate help and treatment will be important.

If you’re interested in participating in the happiness project, check out their website at www.trackyourhappiness.org. You can also watch a TED talk by Matt Killingsworth if you search him at www.ted.com.

I hope your International Day of Happiness was indeed a happy one.

 

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