In the 21st century, the question of the nature of human happiness has moved from philosophical writings to scientific laboratories around the world.
Thousands of scientists are researching happiness, conducting experiments, and writing articles and books on ways to make their lives better.
They have found that much depends on the personality traits of the individual. Some people are lucky enough to be born with the right traits, but others have a chance to develop them and be happier.
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Extroversion and introversion were first described by Carl Gustav Jung in 1921. Since then tens of thousands of scholarly papers and popular articles have been written about them.
It is well known that introverts focus on inner experiences and extroverts focus on the world around them. Introverts need time to process events, whereas extroverts try to participate right away. Some need time alone to recover, others need more interaction. While introversion and extraversion are probably among the most researched personality traits today, scientists have not lost interest in the topic.
One recent finding concerns life satisfaction levels: extroverts tend to be happier than introverts. Some scientists have even offered this definition: "Happiness is a stable extroversion.
Apparently, relationships with other people are a necessary component of happiness. Since extroverts themselves seek companionship, it increases the chances of pleasurable contacts and deep connections with others.
From an evolutionary point of view, the privileged position of extroverts is understandable: for a long time human life depended on the group. Connections with others increased the chances of survival, and ostracism was a serious threat. The brain has learned to reward a person for behaviors that promote connection with others. For example, to produce the neurotransmitters oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine during communication, which are responsible for feelings of joy, calmness and safety and motivation to do something, in other words - for happiness.
The longest study in the history of science, the Harvard Happiness Study, came to the same conclusions - it began back in 1938 and covered three or four generations, about 700 people in all. Data from nearly 90 years of observation showed that happiness, as well as physical and mental health, is most influenced by close personal relationships, not at all by career achievements and healthy lifestyles.
But that doesn't mean introverts are doomed to be unhappy. Happiness researchers Sonja Lubomirsky and Seth Margolis conducted an experiment with 130 volunteers. First, the participants were asked to take a test to establish their personality traits as well as baseline measures of health and life satisfaction. They were then asked to behave as extroverts one week and as introverts the next. Regardless of which personality traits were predominant.
The results of the experiment showed that introverts, having changed their behavior to extroverted, felt significantly happier. Researchers concluded that introverts can raise their level of happiness if they consciously behave like extroverts more often. For example, pushing themselves to communicate more, be persistent, and act spontaneously. This takes effort, but it can be rewarding.
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In 2016, researchers Norman Lee and Satoshi Kanazawa decided to look at happiness from the perspective of evolutionary psychology. This field studies how human behavior changes in order to maintain the ability to adapt, survive, and procreate.
According to this theory, human intelligence has evolved and continues to evolve as a psychological mechanism for dealing with the challenges - which life presents in today's environment. People with a high level of intelligence have a greater ability to solve evolutionarily new problems. For example, they are better adapted to living in urban environments with high levels of stress and population density. They also need less communication to feel happy.
The hypothesis that the smart ones are happier is supported by research. A group of scientists processed a database on health, aging and retirement in Europe. It found that people with higher cognitive abilities have, on average, higher levels of internal well-being as well.
A similar study was conducted by American scientists. It involved 3,856 people from 18 to 99 years old. Participants performed various tasks: spatial visualization, memory, speed of information processing. In addition, their vocabulary was assessed. Those who did better on the tasks tended to rate their level of happiness higher.
Intelligence can be developed through neuroplasticity - the brain's ability at any age to create new neural connections by doing new things, and to strengthen existing ones if used frequently and regularly.
The easiest way to get smarter is to read. As scientists have found, neural connections are actively formed both during and after reading. This was shown in a study where participants read while in an MRI machine. Apparently, this is due to the fact that reading provides food for further reflection.
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Every year the UN publishes The World Happiness Report, in which experts analyze the data of numerous studies on the subject of happiness. Last year they pointed out an important detail for understanding happiness: to be happy does not mean to be joyful.
The range of emotions that make up a feeling of happiness is much broader than just being happy. Equally important are calmness and a sense of harmony. All of these are indicators of emotional stability.
As scientists point out, emotional resilience is the result of successful adaptation to difficult life experiences and external circumstances through mental, emotional, and behavioral flexibility. It is what allows one to withstand bad news, daily stress, and increasing pressure, and therefore makes one happier.
Emotional resilience is formed in childhood, but it can be both lost and developed in adulthood. It depends on how one looks at and interacts with the world; on one's social connections; and on one's strategies for coping with stressful situations and crises.
There are no universal recipes on how to increase emotional resilience. But it is obvious that it is facilitated by a moderately positive outlook on the future, acceptance of change as an integral part of life, the presence of quality social connections, and taking care of one's health.
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The tendency to see and emphasize the positive aspects of all life events, not to get discouraged by troubles, and to believe in a happy ending are typical manifestations of optimism. And they seriously help to increase the level of happiness.
In the 1970s, Martin Seligman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and the founder of positive psychology, studied depression. To better understand its causes, he conducted a series of experiments on dogs: their brain is similar to the human brain. First, he rang a bell, then exposed the dogs to a light electric current - and repeated it until the dog began to react to the bell as if it were already in pain.
The scientist then placed the dogs in cages separated into two parts by a partition. In the part where the dog was, it was electrocuted every now and then; the second part was safe. However, the dogs did not try to save themselves - they simply accepted their fate, lay there and endured the pain. At the same time, the other dogs - those that had not been electrocuted before entering the cage - jumped over the partition wall and were safe.
Seligman concluded that by going through a negative experience over and over again and not being able to change anything, humans, like the dogs in his experiments, stop trying to avoid pain. The scientist called this condition learned helplessness. And later he discovered that some people are more successful than others in resisting this condition.
Optimism - a tendency to consider negative events temporary and accidental, not related to him personally and focused in a particular area, rather than extending to all areas of life - helps such people maintain the ability to act. In the case of failure, the optimist will say, "Just bad luck, unfortunate circumstances, not my fault, the fault of chance or other people."
At the same time the optimist believes: good events are the norm, they happen inevitably and always. They are the rule, and all the bad - the exception. And because of this he better copes with stress and feels happier than the pessimist.
However, completely abandon pessimism is also not worth - in some circumstances, it is much more useful than optimism. For example, when it comes to health. As studies show, an overly optimistic person tends to succumb to bad habits like smoking and drinking alcohol, without thinking about the dramatic consequences.
To become more optimistic, Martin Seligman suggests: to become more optimistic, be critical of your pessimistic thoughts. For example, challenge them the way cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy teaches - by checking whether they correspond to the real facts.
In practice, it might look like this. You draw a table with four columns. In the first, you write the pessimistic thought. In the second, the arguments in its favor, and in the third, everything that indicates that the thought does not correspond to reality and will not benefit you. After completing these boxes, go to the fourth and write in it an alternative thought that is less catastrophic, closer to reality, and useful for your purposes.
Feeling gratitude stimulates the production of neurotransmitters that regulate and improve mood - dopamine and serotonin - and significantly reduces levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Neurophysiologists also found out that feeling gratitude activates the reward center in the brain.
And some people experience gratitude regularly - it is a trait of their character and way of life. They can rejoice in things that others may consider ordinary and take for granted. They even manage to be grateful to fate for trials and setbacks - and thus find the strength to overcome difficulties, learn useful lessons from them, and think more optimistically.
All of this is likely to make grateful people happier, scientists believe. They advise others to consciously cultivate this character trait. A gratitude diary helps to do this - from time to time write down a few things for which you are grateful to yourself and other people, the world and fate, just the day that passed.
Researchers tested how effective it was with an experiment: they asked participants once a week to note something good for which they wanted to say thank you - and the level of happiness of those who did it actually increased.
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Curious people tend to feel happier more often, according to a study by Croatian scientists. They asked more than 300 students to take two tests -- curiosity and life satisfaction. When they analyzed the results, they saw a clear correlation between high scores on both tests. In other words, curious students are happy and non-curious students are dissatisfied with life and obsessed with depressive thoughts.
The opposite is also true-the happier a person is, the more curious he or she is. This is most likely due to the fact that in order to learn something new you need to feel safe. Therefore, the first advice to those who want to become more curious and happier is to provide yourself with a "strong rear," a close and calm relationship with people who will give enough confidence.
In addition, you should regularly show curiosity - so that it became a habit. For example, often go to new places and talk to different people, especially those with whom you usually do not talk, such as waiters in cafes.
It is also useful to study topics that are out of your area of interest. Let's say you're used to programming at work, and in your spare time you take courses to improve your skills. Sometimes you can replace professional reading with something as far removed as possible from your usual interests, such as lectures on astronomy and books about design and architecture.