Sunday 28 September 2014

What Creates Happiness

Action For Happiness.
Action for Happiness is a movement for positive social change. We're bringing together people from all walks of life who want to play a part in creating a happier society for everyone.
For fifty years we've aimed relentlessly at higher incomes. But despite being much wealthier, we're no happier than we were five decades ago. At the same time we've seen an increase in wider social issues, including a worrying rise in anxiety and depression in young people. It's time for a positive change in what we mean by progress. Source

Ten Key Things For a Happier Living.
The Ten Keys to Happier Living are based on a review of the latest research from psychology and related fields. Everyone's path to happiness is different, but the evidence suggests these Ten Keys consistently tend to have a positive impact on people's happiness and well-being.
The first five keys (GREAT) are about how we interact with the outside world in our daily activities. They are based on the Five Ways to Wellbeing developed by nef as part of the Foresight Project. The second five keys (DREAM) come from inside us and depend on our attitude to life.

Outside: Our Daily Activities
1. Giving
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Do things for others
Caring about others is fundamental to our happiness. Helping other people is not only good for them and a great thing to do, it also makes us happier and healthier too. Giving also creates stronger connections between people and helps to build a happier society for everyone. And it's not all about money - we can also give our time, ideas and energy. So if you want to feel good, do good! Read more...
2. Relating
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Connect with people
Relationships are the most important overall contributor to happiness. People with strong and broad social relationships are happier, healthier and live longer. Close relationships with family and friends provide love, meaning, support and increase our feelings of self worth. Broader networks bring a sense of belonging. So taking action to strengthen our relationships and create new connections is essential for happiness. Read more...
3. Exercising
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Take care of your body
Our body and our mind are connected. Being active makes us happier as well as being good for our physical health. It instantly improves our mood and can even lift us out of a depression. We don't all need to run marathons - there are simple things we can all do to be more active each day. We can also boost our well-being by unplugging from technology, getting outside and making sure we get enough sleep! Read more...
4. Appreciating
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Notice the world around
Ever felt there must be more to life? Well good news, there is! And it's right here in front of us. We just need to stop and take notice. Learning to be more mindful and aware can do wonders for our well-being in all areas of life - like our walk to work, the way we eat or our relationships. It helps us get in tune with our feelings and stops us dwelling on the past or worrying about the future - so we get more out of the day-to-day. Read more...
5. Trying Out
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Keep learning new things
Learning affects our well-being in lots of positive ways. It exposes us to new ideas and helps us stay curious and engaged. It also gives us a sense of accomplishment and helps boost our self-confidence and resilience. There are many ways to learn new things - not just through formal qualifications. We can share a skill with friends, join a club, learn to sing, play a new sport and so much more. Read more...

Inside: Our Attitude to life
6. Direction
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Have goals to look forward to
Feeling good about the future is important for our happiness. We all need goals to motivate us and these need to be challenging enough to excite us, but also achievable. If we try to attempt the impossible this brings unnecessary stress. Choosing ambitious but realistic goals gives our lives direction and brings a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when we achieve them. Read more...
7. Resilience
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Find ways to bounce back
All of us have times of stress, loss, failure or trauma in our lives. But how we respond to these has a big impact on our well-being. We often cannot choose what happens to us, but we can choose our own attitude to what happens. In practice it's not always easy, but one of the most exciting findings from recent research is that resilience, like many other life skills, can be learned. Read more...
8. Emotion
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Take a positive approach
Positive emotions - like joy, gratitude, contentment, inspiration, and pride - are not just great at the time. Recent research shows that regularly experiencing them creates an 'upward spiral', helping to build our resources. So although we need to be realistic about life's ups and downs, it helps to focus on the good aspects of any situation - the glass half full rather than the glass half empty. Read more...
9. Acceptance
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Be comfortable with who you are
No-one's perfect. But so often we compare our insides to other people's outsides. Dwelling on our flaws - what we're not rather than what we've got - makes it much harder to be happy. Learning to accept ourselves, warts and all, and being kinder to ourselves when things go wrong, increases our enjoyment of life, our resilience and our well-being. It also helps us accept others as they are. Read more...
10. Meaning
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Be part of something bigger
People who have meaning and purpose in their lives are happier, feel more in control and get more out of what they do. They also experience less stress, anxiety and depression. But where do we find 'meaning and purpose'? It might be our religious faith, being a parent or doing a job that makes a difference. The answers vary for each of us but they all involve being connected to something bigger than ourselves. Read more...

Doing Things for Others.
Helping others is not only good for them and a good thing to do, it also makes us happier and healthier too. Giving also connects us to others, creating stronger communities and helping to build a happier society for everyone. And it's not all about money - we can also give our time, ideas and energy. So if you want to feel good, do good!

Why Helping Others Matters.
Doing things for others - whether small, unplanned acts or regular volunteering - is a powerful way to boost our own happiness as well of those around us. The people we help may be strangers, family, friends, colleagues or neighbours. They can be old or young, nearby or far away.
Giving isn't just about money, so you don't need to be rich. Giving to others can be as simple as a single kind word, smile or a thoughtful gesture. It can include giving time, care, skills, thought or attention. Sometimes these mean as much, if not more, than financial gifts.
Scientific studies show that helping others boosts happiness. [1] It increases life satisfaction, provides a sense of meaning, increases feelings of competence, improves our mood and reduced stress. It can help to take our minds off our own troubles too. [2]
Kindness towards others is be the glue which conncts individual happiness with wider community and societal wellbeing. Giving to others helps us connect with people and meets one of our basic human needs - relatedness. [3]
Kindness and caring also seem to be contagious. When we see someone do something kind or thoughtful, or we are on the receiving end of kindness, it inspires us to be kinder ourselves. [3][4] In this way, kindness spreads from one person to the next, influencing the behaviour of people who never saw the original act. Kindness really is the key to creating a happier, more trusting local community. [5]

Happiness and Helping.
Science shows there are strong associations between happiness and helping others. Firstly, happiness helps helping. Happy people are more likely to be interested in or be inclined towards helping others. They are more likely to have recently performed acts of kindness or spent a greater percentage of their time or money helping others. [1][6][8][9]
There appears to be a relationship between happiness and helping others at every age:
  • Pre-school children who displayed empathy were more likely to have happy moods
  • High school students who said they experienced intense positive feelings were more likely to be involved in community service activities such as volunteering
  • Working adults who were happier at work were more likely to help others [2]
  • Volunteering has also been related to many benefits for senior citizens, including greater happiness and life satisfaction. [1][7]
Volunteering is also related to increased happiness irrespective of the socio-economic situation of the volunteer. [8] What's more people who give a proportion of their monthly income to chartable causes or spent it on gifts for others were found to be happier than people who did not spend on others, and this was regardless of income level. [9]

Benefits of Helping Others.
1. Helping increases happiness
While it has long been assumed that giving also leads to greater happiness this has only recently started to be scientifically proven. For example, when participants in a study did five new acts of kindness on one day per week over a six-week period (even if each act was small) they experienced an increase in well-being, compared to control groups. [10]
In another study, participants who were given $5 or $20 to spend on others or donate to charity experienced greater happiness than people given the same amount to spend on themselves. Interestingly the amount of money did not effect the level of happiness generated. [11]
And there is now evidence that this leads to a virtuous circle - happiness makes us give more, and giving makes us happier, which leads to a greater tendency to give and so on. This effect is consistent across different cultures. [12]
It makes sense that helping others contributes to our own happiness. Scientists are reconsidering the idea of the 'selfish gene' and are exploring the evolution of altruism, cooperation, compassion and kindness. [13] Human beings are highly social creatures and have evolved as a species living with others.
If people are altruistic, they are more likely to be liked and so build social connections and stronger and more supportive social networks, which leads to increased feelings of happiness and wellbeing. [14] Indeed participating in shared tasks like community service, and other social activities, predicts how satisfied people are even after other factors are taken into account. [15]
2. Giving feels good
Giving literally feels good. In a study of over 1,700 women volunteers, scientists described the experience of a 'helpers' high'. This was the euphoric feeling, followed by a longer period of calm, experienced by many of the volunteers after helping. These sensations result from the release of endorphins, and is followed by a longer-lasting period of improved emotional well-being and sense of self-worth, feelings that in turn reduce stress and improve the health of the helper. [16]
It used to be thought that human beings only did things when they got something in return. How then could we explain people who did kind acts or donated money anonymously? Studies of the brain now show that when we give money to good causes, the same parts of the brain light up as if we were receiving money ourselves (or responding to other pleasurable stimuli such as: food, money or sex)! [17]
Giving to others activates the reward centres of our brains which make us feel good and so encourage us to do more of the same. Giving money to a good cause literally feels as good as receiving it, especially if the donations are voluntary. [18][19]
3. Giving does you good
Giving help has a stronger association with mental health than receiving it. Studies have shown that volunteers have fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety and they feel more hopeful. It is also related to feeling good about oneself. It can serve to distract people from dwelling on their own problems and be grateful for what they have. [20] Volunteering is also associated with psychological wellbeing. [21]
Giving may increase how long we live. Studies of older people show that those who give support to others live longer than those who don't. This included support to friends, relatives, and neighbours and emotional support to their spouse. [22][23] In contrast, receiving support did not influence living longer.
Volunteering also appeared to predict maintenance of cognitive functioning in a study of 2,500 people in their 70's who were followed in a study lasting 8 years. Others studies have shown that amongst teenagers, volunteering has been associated with improved self-esteem, reduction in anti-social or problem behaviours and school truancy, improved attitudes to school and increased educational achievement. [25][26]
Whilst unpicking the benefits of volunteering from other factors can be hard, such as volunteers being more healthy in the first place and so more able to volunteer. The wealth of evidence does suggest some relationship and it may be that volunteering is one intentional activity that people can engage in as a strategy to increase wellbeing and maintain optimal cognitive functioning in old age. [14]

Helping; A Caveat.
Helping is associated with increased happiness and health, but feellng burdened by it can be detrimental, such as in the case of long-term carers. [1] There is evidence that whilst giving for pleasure is associated with higher self-esteem, life satisfaction and positive feelings, giving under pressure is not. [27] There are times when we need to give because it is the compassionate response and the right thing to do, such as in times of crisis or need.
However as a general rule we should try to match our giving activities to things that we find inherently enjoyable, in line with our own goals and feel are worthwhile for ourselves as well as the recipient. If we are happy givers, the recipients will likely benefit more and we are more likely to continue to give. [19]

[1] Post, S. G. (2005). Altruism, Happiness, and Health: It's Good to Be Good. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 12(2), 66-77.
[2] Midlarsky, E. (1991). Helping as coping. Prosocial Behavior: Review of Personality and Social Psychology, 12, 238-264
[3] Algoe, S. B., & Haidt, J. (2009). Witnessing excellence in action: the 'other-praising' emotions of elevation, gratitude, and admiration. Journal of Positive Psychology, 4(2), 105-127.
[4] Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). The How of Happiness. NY: Penguin
[5] Fowler, J. H., & Christakis, N. A. (2010). Cooperative behavior cascades in human social networks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107(12), 5334-5338.
[6] Lyubomirsky, S., King, L. & Diener, E. (2005). The Benefits of Frequent Positive Affect: Does Happiness Lead to Success? Psychological Bulletin, 131, 803-855
[7] Greenfields & Marks
[8] Borgonovi, F. (2008). Doing well by doing good. The relationship between formal volunteering and self-reported health and happiness. Social Science & Medicine, 66(11), 2321-2334.
[9] Anik, L,. Aknin, L. B., Norton, M. I., Dunn, E. W. (2009). Feeling Good about Giving: The Benefits (and Costs) of Self-Interested Charitable Behavior. Harvard Business School Working Paper, 10-012.
[10] Lyubomirsky, S, Sheldon, K M, & Schkade, D. (2005). Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Review of General Psychology, 9(2), 111 - 131
[11] Dunn, E.W., Aknin,L.B. & Norton,M.I. (2008) Spending money on others promotes happiness. Science, 319, 1687 - 1688.
[12] Aknin, LB., Barrington-Leigh, C., Dunn, E.W.,Helliwell, J.F., Biswas-Diener, R., Kemeze,I., Nyende, P., Ashton- Janes, C.E. & Norton, M.I. (2010) Prosocial Spending and Well-Being: Cross-Cultural Evidence for a Psychological Universal. NBER Working Paper No. 16415
[13] Vaillant, G.E.. (2008). Spiritual Evolution: How we are wired for Faith, Hope and Love. NY: Broadway Books
[14] Dunn, E.W., Gilbert, D. T., & Wilson, T. (in press). If money doesn't make you happy then you probably aren't spending it right. Journal of Consumer Psychology.
[15] Harlow RE, Cantor N (1996) 'Still participating after all these years: a study of life task participation in later life' Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 71: 1235-1249
[16] Luks, A. A. (1988). Helper's high. Psychology Today, 22(10), 39.
[17] Moll, J., Krueger, F., Zahn, R., Pardini, M., de Oliveira-Souza, R., & Grafman, J. (2006). Human fronto-mesolimbic networks guide decisions about charitable donation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 103(42), 15623-15628.
[18] Fehr, E., & Camerer, C. F. (2007). Social neuroeconomics: the neural circuitry of social preferences. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 11(10), 419-427
[19] Harbaugh, W. T., Mayr, U., & Burghart, D. R. (2007). Neural Responses to Taxation and Voluntary Giving Reveal Motives for Charitable Donations. Science, 316(5831), 1622-1625.
[20] Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). The How of Happiness. NY: Penguin
[21] Piliavin, J., & Siegl, E. (2007). Health Benefits of Volunteering in the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study. Journal of Health & Social Behavior, 48(4), 450-464.
[22] Brown, S. L., Nesse, R. M., Vinokur, A. D., & Smith, D. M. (2003). Providing social support may be more beneficial than receiving it: results from a prospective study of mortality. Psychological Science (Wiley-Blackwell), 14(4), 320-327.
[23] Brown, S. L., Smith, D. M., Schulz, R., Kabeto, M. U., Ubel, P. A., Poulin, M., Yi, J., Kim, C., & Langa, K. M. (2009). Caregiving behavior is associated with decreased mortality risk. Psychological Science; Apr2009, 20(4), 488-494.
[24] Yaffe, K. (2009) Predictors of maintaining cognitive function in older adults: The Health ABC Study, Neurology, 72, 2029-2035
[25] Piliavin, J. (2003). Doing well by doing good: Benefits for the benefactor. In C. M. Keyes, J. Haidt, C. M. Keyes, J. Haidt (Eds.) , Flourishing: Positive psychology and the life well-lived (pp. 227-247). Washington, DC US: American Psychological Association.
[26] Piliavin, J., & Siegl, E. (2007). Health Benefits of Volunteering in the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study. Journal of Health & Social Behavior, 48(4), 450-464. Warburton, J. (2006). Volunteering in later life: is it good for your health? Journal for the Institute of Volunteering Research, 8, 3-15. Wilson, J. (2000). Volunteering. Annual Review of Sociology, 26, 215
[27] Gebauer,J.E., Riketta, M., Broemer, P. & Maio, G.R. (2008) Pleasure and pressure based prosocial motivation: Divergent relations to subjective well-being. Journal of Research in Personality, 42, 399-420

Connect with People.
People with strong and broad social relationships are happier, healthier and live longer. Close relationships with family and friends provide love, meaning, support and increase our feelings of self worth. Broader networks bring a sense of belonging. So taking action to strengthen our relationships and build connections is essential for happiness. [1][2][3][4][5]

Relationships Matter.
Our connections with other people are at the heart of happiness - theirs and ours. Whether these connections are with our partners, families, friends, work colleagues, neighbours or people in our broader communities, they all contribute to our happiness. Chris Peterson, one of the founders of positive psychology puts it simply as: "Other people matter".
Scholars and scientists agree about the central importance of relationships for our wellbeing and our happiness. [2][3][4][5] Many studies have shown that both the quality and quantity of social connections have an impact on our health and longevity as well as psychological wellbeing. [6]
Not having close personal ties poses the same level of health risk as smoking or obesity. Having a network of social connections or high levels of social support appears to increase our immunity to infection, lower our risk of heart disease and reduce mental decline as we get older. [7]
Close, secure and supportive relationships are the most important for well-being, whether these are with our husband, wife, partner, relatives or friends. See Family and Friends. Research shows that it's the quality of our relationships that matters most. [2] This is influenced by:
  • Experiencing positive emotions together - e.g. enjoyment, fun
  • Being able to talk openly and feel understood
  • Giving and receiving of support
  • Shared activities and experiences. [8]
Just as relationships are a two-way thing, it seems the connection between happiness and relationships is too. Not only do relationships help to make us happier, but also happy people tend to have more and better quality relationships. [9]
So working on our relationships is good for happiness and working on our happiness is good for our relationships. That's a win all round!

Relationships are Human Nature.
By nature we are social creatures and it makes sense that relationships are central to our happiness - the survival and evolution of the human race has depended on it!
Indeed some eminent psychologists and biologists argue strongly that, contrary to the well-known 'selfish-gene' theory (i.e. that we are concerned only with the survival of our own genes), it is the survival of the group that is likely to be most successful in evolutionary terms - even if the genes of its members are unrelated. [3]
It does seem that we are wired for relationships - think of emotions and behaviours such as love, compassion, kindness, gratitude, generosity, smiling and laughing. [3] Or how reluctant we usually are to break bonds with people and how painful it is when we do. [10]
Our need to feel connected to other people - to love and be loved, and to care and be cared for - is a fundamental human need. [11] Some experts argue that the capacity to be loved, as well as to love, is the most important human strength. [12]

Happiness is Contagious Across Social Networks.
As well as our close relationships, we all have wider connections with people across the different circles of our lives - at work, in our communities or through our social activities. Although these relationships are less deep, these are also important for happiness and wellbeing.
Having diverse social connections predicts how long we live and even impacts how resistant we are to catching colds! Our broader social networks provide a sense of belonging and influence how safe and secure we feel. Building connections in our Local Community contributes to our own happiness and that of those around us, enabling our communities to flourish. [13]
Remarkable new research shows that happiness is contagious across social networks. Our happiness depends not only on the happiness of those in our direct social network, but on the happiness of the people they know too. In other words, happiness ripples out through groups of people, like a pebble thrown into a pond. [14]
We can help to build happier communities by doing what we can to boost our own happiness and also being conscious of the impact our behaviour on others. Even seemingly small, incidental interactions, such as a friendly smile or act of kindness can make a difference - to ourselves, the people we interact with and the people they affect too.

[1] nef (2008) Five Ways to Wellbeing. Report prepared by the New Economics Foundation for the UK Government Foresight Project, Mental Capital and Wellbeing
[2] Ryan, R.M. & Deci, E.D. (2001) On happiness and human potentials: A review of research on hedonic and eudaimonic well-being. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 141-66
[3] Seligman, M.E.P. (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York: Free Press
[4] Ryff, C. (1989). Happiness is everything, or is it? Explorations on the meaning of psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 6. 1069-81.
[5] Huppert, F.A. (2008) Psychological wellbeing: Evidence regarding its causes and consequences. State of the Science Review: SR-X2, UK Government Foresight Project, Mental Capital and Wellbeing.
[6] Uchino, B.N., Cacioppo, J.T. & Kiecolt-Glaser,J.K. (1996) The Relationship Between Social Support and Physiological Processes: A Review With Emphasis on Underlying Mechanisms and Implications for Health. Psychological Bulletin Vol. 119, No. 3, 488-531
[7] Dickerson,S.S. & Zoccola, P.M. (2009) Towards a biology of social support. In S.J. Lopez & C.R. Snyder (Eds.) Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology. NY: Oxford University Press.
[8] Maisel, N.C. & Gable, S.L. (2009) For richer…in good times…and in health: positive processes in relationships. In S.J. Lopez & C.R. Snyder (Eds.) Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology. NY: Oxford University Press.
[9] Diener, E. & Biswas-Diener, R. (2008). Happiness: Unlocking the mysteries of psychological wealth. Oxford, UK: Blackwell
[10] Baumeister, R.F. & Leary, M.R. (1995). The Need to Belong: Desire for Interpersonal Attachments as a Fundamental Human Motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 497-529
[11] Deci, E.D. (1995) Why We Do What We Do. NY: Penguin
[12] Valliant, G. (2008). Spiritual Evolution: How we are wired for faith, hope and love. NY: Broadway Books

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