Being Happy: Self-Help tips for battling Depression
What makes people happy? Clearly the specifics vary from person to person but it frequently comes down to the simple things of life. Money, we know, can bring certain comforts, but according to the wealthy its ability to bring true or sustained happiness is very limited.
Wealth, it seems, can also have the effect of blunting the simpler things in life that bring many of us a moment or two of pleasure. Dan Jones, writing for the September 25 edition of New Scientist magazine, cites Jordi Quoidbach's research at the University of Liége. On being asked to taste a piece of chocolate, wealthier subjects spent less time savoring the experience and reported less enjoyment of the chocolate than less wealthy subjects. O.k. it doesn't say a great deal about wealth and happiness but it does open up a debate about what truly makes us happy.
Let's start the process by clarifying what is meant by happiness. At one level it equates very favorably with pleasure, but there is a broader dimension in terms of well-being and satisfaction with life. Happiness therefore can be transient but it can also be long lasting and have long lasting effects.
A variety of what might be called mood experiments exist. Jones highlights one of these in which two groups were given the same problem-solving task, but prefaced by a video. One group watched a comedy video while the other watched a documentary about mathematics. When it came to task completion the group who had watched the comedy video approached the task with a lighter mood and were more likely to solve the problem.
A positive frame of mind has all sorts of benefits. It improves social skills, it enables people to deal more constructively with criticism, and it protects against negative thinking so strongly associated with depression. A positive mind set and happiness are therefore related and it seems that we can train ourselves into becoming more positive in order to reap the benefits.
A few self-help strategies can help to improve mood. Meditation and other forms of relaxation are known for their mood lightening properties. Nurturing friendships seems to act as a buffer against stress and negative thinking. Keeping a daily diary, even for as little as two minutes a day, is said to improve life satisfaction. Nurturing the things worth being, rather than the things you feel are worth having, is another step in the right direction.
Getting used to feeling positive may feel a little false and awkward at first, but like any new strategy it needs work. Different things work for different people so this has to be explored. However, like any skill, things get better with time, practice and effort.
Jones, D (2010) Be Happy. New Scientist. 25 September, 45-47.