Ahead of International Happiness Day on March 20, UBC’s Mark Holder sheds light on what you can learn from science about being content
International Happiness Day is Thursday, March 20 – blissfully coinciding with the first day of spring. Psychology professor Mark Holder leads a research team that identifies factors that contribute to happiness in children such as temperament, social relations, and spirituality. His team also investigates strategies to enhance happiness in adults.
“Traditionally, psychology has focused on what is wrong with you and how do we fix it,” says Holder. “We study what is right with you and how we promote it.”
What does the research tell us about how to be happier?
There is no one-size-fits-all strategy. What makes one person happy may not work for another person. However, in general those who emphasize and nurture their personal relationships are happier. More important than the number of friends is the quality of those friends. Additionally, those who are happier are people who interact with and appreciate beauty in nature; people who exercise, volunteer, and have hobbies; people who have clearer goals that involve helping others and improving their community; and people who finish what they start – they complete their goals. Spirituality is also linked to happiness.
Based on the research, what can a person do today achieve a greater sense of well-being?
Engaging in activities that touch on several factors related to happiness is a great place to start. For example, you can go cross-country skiing with a friend or cycling with a family member. This will allow you to get exercise while sharing time with others and experiencing the beauty of nature.
What is “the science of happiness?”
This represents a new approach to research referred to as positive psychology. Traditional approaches in fields such as psychology and medicine tend to focus on deficits and dysfunction. Researchers ask, “what is wrong with you and how do we fix it?” This is very valuable and has led to important new ways to identify problems, and help people manage their struggles. However, people in positive psychology believe we should do more than this. They ask, “what is right with you and how do we enhance it?” It is the study of strengths, not weaknesses.