What is it? Oh we know what this is! This is that morning when we wake up and just feel in our soul that the world is in its place… that life is worth living, that there is space and time for something good to happen. We like this feeling. And though we may hear that nagging voice, somewhere in our head, reminding us that not everything is as it should be… still, we choose to linger, just for a moment, breathing in this… goodness. It seems to land on us by surprise in unexpected moments, and then it seems to leave, just as unannounced.
Feeling Good is the emotional component of happiness, defined by Sonja Lyubomirsky as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.” This definition captures the fleeting positive emotions that come with happiness – the feeling good component – along with a deeper sense of meaning and purpose in life—(Greater Good Science Center, Berkeley) Feeling good is the emotional indicator that we are happy!
Why does it matter?
Happiness is very important for Harmon and me. Even in the midst of grief or challenging circumstances, we monitor our ability to feel moments of happiness along the way as a strong indicator of our holistic health. When the experience of happiness is too far away, for too long, it gets our attention. In her groundbreaking research on positivity, psychologist Barbara Fredrickson has found that:
- Positive emotions “broaden our thinking in ways that make us more flexible, more able to see the big picture, and more creative.” Throughout our marriage and even in the messiness of life, we’ve found that we are most able to explore solutions, strategize creatively and be effective when our ‘happiness meters’ are healthy.
- Positive emotions “accumulate and compound over time, transforming us for the better by building the resources—strength, wisdom, friendship, and resilience—we need to truly thrive.”
- Positive emotions “are the most important ingredient in determining a person’s resilience in hard times.” Happiness is our way of saving health for a rainy day.
- Positive emotions “help both our bodies and our minds cope with stress, challenge, and negative feelings.” Neuroscience has proven that positive emotions chemically change the environment in our brain… it’s one of the best ways to manage stress.
In addition, GGSC Berkely research indicates that happy people:
- Are healthier, live longer and less likely to get sick.
- Are more likely to have fulfilling marriages.
- Have more friends.
- Are more productive at work.
- Are more generous – more likely to give to others.
- Cope better with stress and trauma.
- Are more creative and are better able to see the big picture.
What Can I Do About It?
So, does God want me to feel happy? Good question! As I read through the following, science-based activities for cultivating happiness from the Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley, I find it fascinating that every one of these are key components of Jesus’ teachings (challenge: find a Bible verse that supports each of these principles). Isn’t it amazing when Science affirms what Christ has been saying all along?
- Build relationships: Perhaps the dominant finding from happiness research is that social connections are key to happiness. Studies show that close relationships, including romantic relationships, are especially important, suggesting we should make time for those closest to us—people in whom we can confide and who’ll support us when we’re down.
- Give thanks: People who keep “gratitude journals” feel more optimism and greater satisfaction with their lives. Research shows that writing a “gratitude letter” to someone you’ve never properly thanked brings a major boost of happiness.
- Practice kindness: People report greater happiness when they spend money on others than when they spend it on themselves, even though they initially think the opposite would be true. Similarly, neuroscience research shows that when we do nice things for others, our brains light up in areas associated with pleasure and reward.
- Give up grudges: Groundbreaking studies show that when we forgive those who have wronged us, we feel better about ourselves, experience more positive emotions, and feel closer to others.
- Get physical: Studies show that regular physical activity increases happiness and self-esteem, reduces anxiety and stress, and can even lift symptoms of depression. “Exercise may very well be the most effective instant happiness booster of all activities.” (Lyubomirsky)
- Get rest: Research has consistently linked lower sleep to lower happiness. What’s more, a study of more than 900 women, found that getting just one more hour of sleep each night might have a greater effect on happiness than a $60,000 raise.
- Pay attention: Studies show that people who practice mindfulness—the moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and external circumstances—are more likely to be happy and enjoy greater life satisfaction, and they are less likely to be hostile or anxious.
- Don’t focus on material wealth: After our basic needs are met, research suggests, more money doesn’t bring us more happiness. Perhaps that’s why, in general, people who prioritize material things over other values are much less happy, and comparing ourselves with people who have more is a particular source of unhappiness.
As a follower of Christ, living in the freedom of forgiveness and the reality of daily dynamic relationship with him, I have every reason to celebrate this life and cultivate happiness! I love this video of 13 year old Carly Rose Sonenclar as she sings with abandon, “Feeling Good,” and it inspires me to see that “it’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life”… every day and that’s a great reason to Feel Good!!
— Cindy Schmelzenbach – Regional Member Care Coordinator