‘Positive scientists’ say you can learn to be happier

For WHYY’s THE PULSE:

‘Positive scientists’ say you can learn to be happier

Research shows keeping a journal about things we’re grateful for makes us happier, and that’s good for our health. Reporter Shuka Kalantari shares how journaling about skipping rocks on the beach with her toddler makes her happy. (Shuka Kalantari/for WHYY)

Research shows keeping a journal about things we’re grateful for makes us happier, and that’s good for our health. Reporter Shuka Kalantari shares how journaling about skipping rocks on the beach with her toddler makes her happy. (Shuka Kalantari/for WHYY)

When the architects of America wrote about the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence, they were designing to protect citizens’ life, liberty, and prosperity. Later Congress defined happiness as “internal peace, virtue and good order.”
Despite relative prosperity and peace, depression and anxiety are common among Americans. Lots of people are chasing happiness these days, and brain researchers have lots of suggestions on ways to achieve it.A gigantic research field has sprung up, investigating  what could make us happier.The takeaway? We can learn to be happy. It’s a skill we develop with time, like mastering yoga, or chess. So I decided to try one of these happiness suggestions to see what all the hype was about: I started a gratitude journal.I’m a pretty happy person. I am also the mother of an active toddler, and I work. I get stressed out. I have my unhappy moments.So for a week I wrote a daily list of things I’m thankful for — like the sound of my kid throwing pebbles into the marina by our house. I’m also grateful for his love of music, for my husband’s smile, and for all the other stuff that Hallmark cards are made of.

It’s probably no surprise, I found in my journaling that the people I love make me happier.

Decades of research echo this: Strong social relationships are a key to happiness, and that’s good for our health.

Dacher Keltner teaches psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and he’s a leading researcher in this field. He says these happy feelings are good for our bodies.

“Feeling good about life and feeling like you have purpose and meaning and happiness, adds years to your life expectancy,” Keltner said. “They affect your nervous system, affect levels of cortisol. They lower your stress hormones. They influence the vagus nerve, which is a big bundle of nerves in your body that calms your body down and helps you connect to others.”

Read More at WHYY’s The Pulse

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