Why is happiness important?
For starters, it can make you healthier. It can also make you more successful, lead to better relationships, increased tolerance, higher creativity and a longer life.
That’s an impressive pedigree for a human emotion.
Mark Holder, a professor of psychology at UBC Okanagan, was at Revelstoke Secondary School last Wednesday morning to give a talk on the science of happiness.
“Everything that comes out of my mouth is evidence-based,” he told the gathering of teachers, administrators and various other people from the community.
Holder leads a research team at UBC Okanagan that focuses on the science of happiness, particularly in children. His talk was highly polished, engaging and funny. It had the feeling of a TED talk; in fact, Holder has spoken at a Kelowna TEDx conference.
What’s so great about being happy?
First, happiness is linked to improvements in the immune system. Happy people are less likely to get sick, they’re less likely to pass on their illness, and they recover faster. “The results were explained by happy people showing physical changes in their immune system,” Holder said.
Happy people have increased career success. Happy 19-year-olds have been shown to have better job success in the future.
Investing in so-called happy companies leads to better investment returns.
Happy people have better relationships. They have more friends and they’re more likely to get married. They’re more likely to show forgiveness and they’re more tolerant of others. They’re also more creative and are judged better by others. They’re considered more competent and better looking.
They live longer, and when they die, “In one study, happy people were considered more likely to get through the gates of heaven,” said Holder.
Those are pretty big selling points for happiness, and it’s why having happy children is important.
“Its important to get rid of negatives. It’s important to minimize and hopefully end bullying in schools, but just getting rid of bullying isn’t good enough,” said Holder. “Helping children thrive is part of the equation.”
VIDEO: Watch a version of this talk Mark Holder gave at TEDxKelowna.
What else do we know about happiness?
For one, it doesn’t matter what your living conditions are. A study on happiness was conducted on children in Canada, India and Zambia and the results were similar in each country — children everywhere were mostly happy.
Income and happiness also show limited links. Winning the lottery will make you happier for a few months, but that’s it. More money will make you happier if you’re poor, but if you’re family income is over $75,000, getting richer doesn’t matter.
“The amount of happiness explained by income is less than one per cent,” said Holder.
Spending money on experiences rather than “things” is important. While buying something will lead to a temporary boost in happiness, enjoying experiences produces longer-lasting effects. As well, many small experiences improve happiness, rather than just several big experiences.
“We think it’s the big things in our life that make us happy. It turns out it’s the small things that really matter,” said Holder. “It’s the frequency of positive emotions that’s most important to your happiness. It’s not the intensity of them, it’s the number of them.”
How do you make yourself happier?
Unfortunately for some, genetics contributes to 40-50 per cent of one’s happiness. Since you can’t choose your parents, that means you can impact 50–60 per cent of your happiness, said Holder.
You can do this by improving your social relationships. Married people tend to be happier and happy children have friends they see frequently. Even imaginary friends can contribute to happiness, said Holder.
“When we talk about how important social engagement and relationships are to happiness, we don’t mean quantity, we mean quality,” he said.
Holder recommends engaging in conversations with people, celebrating their successes, complimenting friends, volunteering, limiting online social networking, giving thanks, and setting goals you can then accomplish.
“Happy people have clear and more complex goals because happy people, their goals involve others,” said Holder. “Their goals involve the community.”