Studio 5 Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Liz Hale, shares tips to passionate living…and the keys to lifelong bliss.
While there are no known keys, there are several vital components. I warn against always looking to feel passionate about something because passion is an emotion that waxes and wanes. But when we seek out those underlying factors that contribute to our happiness, we are closer to the end-goal.
For instance, people who have strong relationships with family and friends are overwhelmingly happier than those who don’t have those close relationships. This is even the case with children: those with tight family bonds and friend bonds are the main shared characteristics of the happiest 10% of children surveyed.
Marriage and religion are also strongly related to happiness. Forty percent of married people rank themselves as “very happy” compared to only 24% of singles. Religious Americans are less likely to divorce, abuse drugs, commit crimes, and they also live longer. Both the marriage and religion findings are complex, however. For instance, married people might have had a happier disposition before marriage, and perhaps that’s what attracted a partner to them, and religious individuals may benefit as much, if not more from, the strong bonds of community support rather than a belief in a divine power.
It’s also interesting to note that happiness is 50% genetic! This research comes from fraternal versus identical twin studies that found genetics far outweighs any other happiness predictor; it’s called positive affectivity. This supports the theory that we are all born with a set range of happiness – in other words, you can’t make a giggler a grouch any more than you can make a grouch giggle all the time. But there are things we can do, skills that we can learn, to rest on the higher end of our happiness set points.
So what can we do here to increase happiness and passion? When it comes to increasing our happiness and passion, positive psychology research has determined that there are three pathways to happiness.
The Pleasant Life
Think of “Hollywood Happiness” when you think of this path. The Pleasant Life consists of having as many pleasures as possible and obtaining the skills to amplify those pleasures. We can cultivate gratitude and forgiveness as we examine the past, increase savoring and mindfulness in the here-and-now, and we can increase hope and optimism as we look to the future. But remember, we can only boost our pleasure range so far due to our genetics. This path is often used as a shortcut to pleasure – like eating ice cream, having a massage, using drugs or alcohol; but these often empty short-cuts are also short-lived.
The Engaged Life
The Engaged Life absorbs us. We find gratification in participating in a great conversation, fixing a bike, reading a great book, teaching a child, playing a guitar, or accomplishing a difficult task at work. There are no short-cuts to gratification. We must involve ourselves fully, and draw on character strengths, such as creativity, sense of humor, perseverance, and an appreciation of beauty and excellence.
Gratification is not always accompanied by positive emotion. Let’s say you were training to run a marathon. At any point during this grueling event you might be discouraged, exhausted, or even in physical pain. However, you would likely describe the overall event as intensely gratifying! So, keep in mind you won’t always feel so passionate as you hit the treadmill to get in your daily 5-mile training run but the end result will be seen as well worth the effort.
The Meaningful Life
This third route gives life meaning. It’s directing our signature strengths towards something larger than ourselves. There are a large number of positive institutions: religion, family, community, politics, or justice. It satisfies a longing for a purpose in life. A consistent theme throughout meaning-making research is that the greatest benefits come to those who use meaning to transform circumstances from unfortunate to fortunate.
We differ in our tendency to rely on one route to happiness than another. An individual who uses all three pathways to happiness leads the “full life,” and recent empirical evidence suggests that those who lead the full life have greater life satisfaction.
There are some positive exercises that we can do to improve our level of a happy and passionate life.
Identify Strengths: Take a Strengths Inventory to assess your top 5 strengths. (Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman; www.authentichappiness.com)
Three Good Blessings: Every evening, write down three good things that happened and why you think they happened.
Obituary/Biography: Imagine you have passed away after living a fruitful and satisfying life. Write a summary of what you would like to be remembered for the most.
Gratitude Visit: Think of someone you are grateful for who you have not properly thanked. Compose a letter describing your gratitude, and make an appointment to read the letter to them either in person or on the phone.
Savoring: Once a day, take the time to enjoy something that you usually hurry through, i.e., eating a meal, taking a shower, walking to work, etc. When it’s over, write down how you did it differently and how it felt compared to when you rush through it.
Active/Constructive Responding: Visibly, positively, enthusiastically respond to someone else’s good news every day!
A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman;
Dr. Liz will be back next week discussing how to put passion back into your marriage. You are invited to participate and may win one of three terrific prizes: either a dinner to your favorite Gastronomy restaurant, a night’s stay at The Anniversary Inn, or a spa experience for two at The Kura Door. You can qualify by answering the following question: How have you brought passion back into your marriage? Some of those ideas may be shared on next week’s program, along with the names of our lucky winners! Submit your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please click here (www.drlizhale.com) for more information and to add your comments to this discussion!