Allowing yourself to feel emotions appropriate to a situation—whether or not they are pleasant in the moment—is a key to long-lasting happiness.
How do we make life meaningful? That question is at the core of a growing multidisciplinary movement focused on empathy, compassion, gratitude, and how to invite them into our daily lives. At the close of 2013, a crew at Greater Good—the online magazine of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center—culled and summarized the findings of ten notable happiness studies published last year. “The Top 10 Insights from the ‘Science of a Meaningful Life’ in 2013” originally appeared at Greater Good. This is part six of ten (parts five and seven).
Who doesn’t want to be happy? Happy is always good, right?
Sure. Just don’t be too happy, OK? Because June Gruber and her colleagues analyzed health data and found that it’s much better to be a little bit happy over a long period of time than to experience wild spikes in happiness. Another study, published in the journal Emotion, showed how seeking happiness at the right time may be more important than seeking happiness all the time. Instead, allowing yourself to feel emotions appropriate to a situation—whether or not they are pleasant in the moment—is a key to long-lasting happiness.
In a study published earlier in the year in the journal Psychological Science, Sonja Lyubomirsky and Kristin Layous found that not all research-approved happiness practices work for everyone all the time. “Let’s say you publish a study that shows being grateful makes you happy—which it does,” Lyubomirsky recently told us. “But, actually, it’s much harder than that. It’s actually very hard to be grateful, and to be grateful on a regular basis, and at the right time, and for the right things.” She continued:
So, for example, some people have a lot of social support, some people have little social support, some people are extroverted, some people are introverted—you have to take into account the happiness seeker before you give them advice about what should make them happy. And then there are factors relevant to the activity that you do. How is it that you’re trying to become happier? How is it that you’re trying to stave off adaptation? Are you trying to appreciate more? Are you trying to do more acts of kindness? Are you trying to savor the moment? The kind of person you are, the different kinds of activities, and how often you do them, and where you do them—these are all going to matter.
The bottom line might be that if happiness were really that simple, we’d all be happy all the time. But we’re not, and that appears to be because there is no rigid formula for happiness. It’s a state that comes and goes in response to how we’re changing and how our world is changing.