Happiness is hard, personal, and among the quirkiest of human subjects. At least that's what you'd think. But that's not exactly what several decades' worth of scientific research says. While the elusive quality can't be broken down to a cut-and-dried formula, there are several firm rules that are fundamental to living a happy life.
That was the message of a talk by Dr. Miriam Tatzel at the American Psychological Association's 122nd annual convention, which was held recently in Washington, D.C. Presenting her research to the assembled psychologists, Tatzel stressed the importance of playing down consumerism as a route to fulfillment and boiled down the research on the subject into a handful of scientifically validated principles to follow for greater happiness. PsyBlog rounds them all up if you're interested in the complete rundown, but here are a few key points to get you started:
1. Cultivate your talents.
You could think that a passive acceptance of circumstance is the route to happiness (even though that feels like an impossible goal for plenty of folks), but according to psychological research, some degree of striving is actually key to self-fulfillment. The essential thing here is to identify your talents and work on those. It will be a source of deep satisfaction, the PsyBlog write-up of the presentation contends, but "be aware: Often these talents will not earn you any money."
2. Accept yourself.
While a degree of self-improvement is fundamental to happiness, beating yourself up or wishing you were someone else or somehow different is antithetical to it. So yes to cultivating your talents, no to feeling bad about yourself. Is this the easiest balance in the world to strike? Ummm, definitely not. But no one said implementing these rules would be a cakewalk.
"Strive to improve yourself, look for ways of learning, growing, and so on; but at the same time appreciate how good you already are," advises PsyBlog.
3. Seek out new experiences.
Buying more stuff is one thing that science pretty much can guarantee won't make you happy. But apparently buying experiences can increase your well-being. If you think about this for a moment, it makes sense--that new TV quickly blends into the background while the amazing trip to Thailand produces pleasurable memories that last for years. Research shows people understand this but often fail to act on it, so this rule bears repeating.
"Experiences live long in the mind, they tend to be shared with others, they make us who we are," sums up PsyBlog. So if you're going to open your wallet and splurge, research suggests you do it to fund activities, not buy material goods.