By Dr. Robert J. Wright
If you want a happy New Year, learn what really makes people happy and do what these happy people do. Current research by psychologist, Martin Seligman identifies three happinesses: the good life, the engaged life, and the life of meaning. Guess which brings the greatest happiness? Of course, it is the life of meaning.
As you make your New Year's resolution, remember that meaning-why you are doing what you are doing-is more important than the goals themselves. In other words, why you do what you do matters most. Whatever it is you choose to do, do it in order to learn and grow. Research also demonstrates that those who are happiest engage in learning and growing, so make sure to plan challenges that lead to learning and growing and develop yourself this year.
Perhaps the greatest barrier to you having a happier year in 2010 is our illusions about what progress and happiness really are. Most of what we call progress-getting ahead at work, making more money, buying a house, etc.-while useful, actually have little to no effect on our greater happiness. We are really unconsciously conditioned to stay the way we are no matter what changes in the exterior. That is why the American Dream does not lead to happiness by itself. No matter what we accomplish on the outside, without changing on the inside, happiness stagnates.
To increase your happiness, pay attention to the trap Nobel Prize-winner Daniel Kahneman calls the hedonic treadmill. This is your innate happiness "set point" that keeps your enjoyment of life at the same level, whatever you do. His eye-popping research shows that external changes from winning the lottery to losing the use of your limbs make no difference in enjoyment of life-winners and losers report exactly the same enjoyment of life in less than two years. The trick to getting off the treadmill and increasing enjoyment is to live with greater meaning and engage in personal growth and development.
Just one of the many research studies that shows personal development as the road to increased happiness and enjoyment of life is Professor Edward Deci's study that shows how those who pursue the American Dream of external achievement experience little to no increase in happiness while those who focused on intrinsic goals such as personal growth, enduring relationships and helping in the community "showed substantial increases in life satisfaction, well-being and happiness."
Remember, whatever you do, get off the hedonic treadmill and on to your next level of happiness-choosing goals where you are learning and growing-winning at the inner game is the key to enhanced enjoyment of life, and the coming year.
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