Just when I thought I had distilled the secret of happiness down to some 12 bullet points after stumbling on one social media message that led me to another 99 within the hour, came this study that left me unhappy.
Elizabeth Dunn, professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, and Dunigan Folk, a PhD student in Dunn’s lab, had happily accepted all the common happiness strategies when modern science grumbled and called for more stringent studies and interpretation.
So, they lined up the strategies: gratitude, social interactions, mindfulness or meditation, time in nature, and exercising.
Then, as researchers often do, they ploughed through 22,000 papers involving these methods. Only 494 of those were right about the method and out of that only 57 were constructed right to yield reliable statistics. See the smiles fading?
They went on to discover that even the two strategies that best withstood the rigors of scientific testing—gratitude and social engagement—could at best yield short-lived happiness.
The verdict? Those tips might not work for all, and when they do, the smile might not last very long.
Interestingly, the Harvard Study of Adult Development has been at it really long. It started in 1938 and has covered 2,000 people across three generations. What did the current director of the study, Dr Robert Waldinger and his team conclude?
The happiest subjects through the study had two major factors in common—they took care of their health and built loving relationships with others.
As one report of the study put it, “good things happened to those who had given up on changing their situation, and good news appeared when they least expected it.”
I decided to ask the “scientist” accessible to everyone these days. First, ChatGPT shot 10 bullets embedded in 377 words at me. When I pleaded for a shorter answer, I got this. “The secret of being always happy is to cultivate gratitude and focus on the present moment.” Nothing artificial about that piece of intelligence, right?
Bobby McFerrin almost got it right in his song. Better yet, when it comes to being happy, don’t query, just be.