Deborah Barnett, Ph.D.


The Hope for Happiness

Is it really possible to become lastingly happier? Scientists have discovered that while a portion of our happiness is a genetically determined, a large percentage of our happiness, approximately 40%, we have the ability to change. Before World War II, psychology had three goals. These included curing mental illness, making the lives of all people more fulfilling, and identifying and nurturing high talent. When the National Institute of Mental Health was created in 1947, the ailments of the human mind, such as anxiety, depression, paranoia, and trauma became the topics of study for the field of psychology. As a result of this focus on what fixing what was “wrong” with humans, the other goals of psychology were forgotten

For the past 10 years a new movement has begun called Positive Psychology. Born from the inspiration of Martin Seligman, and now researched by prominent psychologists around the world, the field of Positive Psychology is, according to the International Positive Psychology website, dedicated to “the scientific study of what enables individuals and communities to thrive.” What has the research learned about what can make us happier?  Surprisingly, becoming wealthy doesn’t seem to increase our level of satisfaction.  Religious faith and having friends, on the other hand, can increase our level of happiness.

Positive psychology does not just research what makes people happier. It also researches interventions such as how to increase hope, optimism, gratitude, the capacity to experience the state of flow, and how to live an engaged, meaningful life. One very effective positive psychology interventions is keeping a gratitude journal. Researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky had study participants write in a gratitude journal once a week, for six weeks, about five things that had happened to them in the past week for which they were grateful. Results indicated that cultivating gratitude not only increased happiness, it also increased self-esteem, the ability to cope with stress, and greater connectedness with others.

Can we learn how to be happier? The science of Positive Psychology shows that the answer is yes.  This research has shown that it is possible to be happier and feel more satisfied.  You can have more hope, regardless of your current circumstances. This doesn’t mean that there won’t still be some dips and bumps in the road of life, but there can be more laughter and smiles. The skills and techniques from Positive Psychology can help us to become happier.