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socialize-web.jpgBy Eve Hightower

RISMEDIA, January 19, 2009-(MCT)-The economy is in the toilet. The unemployment rate continues to climb. Home values have plummeted. What’s there to smile about?

How about your freedom, your health and-most importantly-your loved ones? Those are just a few of the things associated with true enduring happiness, said social psychologist David Myers.

Q: What should we know about happiness during times like these?

A: Economic growth has not led to happiness over time. Growth and downfalls can lead to short-term happiness, but we rebound to our normal level of happiness after a while.

People who value high income, occupational success and prestige to having very close friends and a close marriage are twice as likely to describe themselves as “fairly” or “very” unhappy.

The need to belong runs deeper, it seems, than any need to be rich. For all but the very poor, more money buys no more than a temporary surge of happiness.

Q: What does predict happiness?

A: Perhaps the most important predictor is close, supportive relationships. We’re social animals. Forty percent of married adults say they’re happy, whereas 23% of never-married adults say they’re happy.

But just being married doesn’t mean you’re happy. You can be in an unhappy marriage.

Q: What do people wrongly associate with happiness?

A: Age. People think there are happy and unhappy times in life, like the midlife crisis years. There is more fluctuation and intensity among teens and younger people. But happiness and unhappiness is pretty much the same across age groups. There aren’t gender differences either, although they can express unhappiness differently. Women are more likely to be depressive, and men are more likely to be alcoholic.

Q: What do you find most surprising about happiness among people?

A: Biology. There are genetic influence on happiness. Some people are more biologically predisposed to happiness. But, like cholesterol, it can be tweaked through aerobic exercise, getting plenty of sleep and other things.

Q: Can happiness be a bad thing?

A: Happiness taken to the extreme is mania. Taken to the extreme, it can do harm. Manic people make foolish decisions.

Q: And unhappiness can be a good thing?

A: When bad things happen in our lives, unhappiness alerts us to do something about it.

9 Ways to Lift Your Spirits

1. Realize you can’t buy happiness-Wealth is like health: Its utter absence breeds misery, but having it doesn’t guarantee happiness.

2. Manage your time-Happy people feel in control of their lives, often aided by mastering their use of time. Set goals and break them into manageable tasks.

3. Act happy-Going through the motions can trigger the motions.

4. Flow-Happy people are often in a zone called “flow.” They’re absorbed in a challenging, but not overwhelming, task.

5. Exercise-Sound minds reside in sound bodies.

6. Sleep-Happy people allow their bodies to rest.

7. Foster close relationships-Friends who care about you can help you weather difficult times. Don’t take them for granted.

8. Be helpful-Doing good makes you feel good.

9. Be grateful-Pause to think about what you have rather than what you don’t.

SOURCE: David Myers, “The Pursuit of Happiness”

© 2009, The Modesto Bee (Modesto, Calif.).
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.