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What makes people happy?



For the past 5 decades a new area in psychology has emerged called positive psychology. Historically Psychology has focus much of its attention to mental illness, suffering, and pain, and relatively little attention was dedicated to happiness and wellbeing.


“Positive psychology is the scientific study of what makes life most worth living” (Peterson, 2008)


Positive psychology help people flourish and live their best lives. One of the big areas in positive psychology that has exploded in recent years is the "science of happiness". It explains the main drivers of happiness and what people can do to live happier and more fulfilling lives and brings together psychology, philosophy, neuroscience, biology, history and all other disciplines that address the issue of happiness.


One of the first questions that you might ask in on whether we are borne happy or unhappy, which is, what is our genetic predisposition to happiness. Many genetic studies involving twin or family designs reveal that about 30-40% of the differences in happiness between people within a country are accounted for by genetic differences between people. The other 60-70% of differences between people result from the effect of environmental influences or choices that are independent of the genes. So, while a big chunk of your happiness (or lack thereof) can be explained by genes, a meaningful amount can be affected by things that are more under your control.


Then, if we can influence our level of happiness, What are the key drivers of happiness we can focus on? In broad strokes and simplifying happiness is determined by the quality of your Relationships in 3 different spheres. First and foremost your relationship with friends and family (your social support network). Secondly your relationship with your work (a sense of purpose and achievement) and thirdly your relationship with the divine (your spirituality, meaning your relationship with religion, nature and yourself).


You might be asking.... How about money? Studies have show that money bring happiness... but until 75k a year in US. What about health? Yes, if health issues produce negative emotions on a constant basis that outweighs positive emotions and brings unhappiness. Curiously studies have shown that people that became disable as a consequence of a life event can be equally or happier than fully able people.


Many models were developed on how to cultivate happiness. Dr. Tal Ben Shahar from Harvard developed the SPIRE model (Spiritual, physical, intellectual, Relational and emotional well-being) and Martin Seligman created the PERMA model (positive emotion, Engagement, Positive Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment). These models revolve around the same themes.... Relationships, fulfilling work and Spirituality.


The problem? Humans were not design to be happy... pursue relationships, fulfilling work and spirituality. Humans were designed for survival and procreation and therefore seek power, status, money and pleasure. Can we “defeat” human nature and live happy lives?


Stay tuned.


Happy Life,


Pedro

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