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Looking for happiness

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We’re just slightly more than a week off from wishing nearly everyone in the world Happy New Year. But, have you ever wondered why? Why is it important to have a Happy New Year or a Happy Birthday? In a country whose very foundation is built around a few simple ideals the most important of which include “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” why haven’t we as a nation truly developed what that means?

Thomas Jefferson when he penned the original document didn’t spend any time defining what happiness meant, perhaps because he considered the ideal of happiness to also be self evident. Perhaps 200 plus years ago, no one questioned what lay contained in another’s box of happiness.

Can scientists quantify happiness? What we know is that governments around the world are attempting to measure happiness. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) using GDP as a measuring tool for a country’s success is passé. Instead, quite a few countries, both developed and developing, are moving to measure happiness as an indicator of their success rate. Bhutan for instance has been measuring happiness since the 1970s. “One economic reason why politicians are examining mental well-being,” says a bulletin from WHO, “is the growing body of research that happiness preserves good health.”

George Vaillant, the current director of a study that began in 1938, says that, “Warm, intimate relationships are the most important prologue to a good life.” His study finds that to be the case, even for those “late bloomers” who don’t find those sorts of relationships until later in life.

After forty years, social scientists from another study attributed happiness to three components: genes, events and values. That study found that a third of Americans consistently rate themselves as very happy, half of them rate themselves at pretty happy and between 10 percent and 15 percent say they are not too happy.

To get a grip on why one person can be happy and another not so much, scientists have studied twins who were separated at birth. What they’ve found is that a significant part of our happiness quotient (48 percent) is wired into our genes.

A significant and isolated event such as the birth of a child or getting a dream job can enhance happiness by up an additional 40 percent but the happiness created from that lasts only for a short time-frame. This is what makes us appreciate the reaching for a goal far more than the actual achieving of the goal.

Unlike those first two criteria which are mostly determined by factors outside of our control, the remaining 12 percent is completely under the control of the individual. Multiple studies attribute happiness to the faith, family and friendships we develop in life and to one final criteria: work. If meaningful work is such an important part of pursuing happiness, a retirement in which you don’t have that leg of the equation runs the risk of failing to be successful. So what are you doing to have meaningful work in your life?

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