Tuesday, January 24, 2006

USA Today announced this week that "unhappiness in the United States has risen in the last decade." Does this seem at all surprising to you?

Are there more concerns and troubles? Are there less coping skills than previous years? Is the world/society increasing in complexity? I'm not sure anyone can truly answer these questions. But this much I do believe...

We find ourselves in a society which perpetuates its ever-increasing focus on satisfaction and happiness. Beyond our basic needs (food, shelter, etc.), it is our lack of satisfaction and our percieved unhappiness that motivates and stimulates our whole economic structure. Truth be known, if we are told to spend our time scanning our physical existence, we will always come up short in terms of our satisfaction and we will always want to be just a little bit happier. Perhaps it's simply a remnant part of our instinctual nature that so many centuries ago motivated us to get up and get out of our cave, hunt our daily meal and survive another day in the wild. And perhaps it's a remnant part whose time has come to be reevaluated.

As for me, I try to live my days outside of the realm of just simple satisfaction and happiness. You might agree that no given day - within the scales of satisfaction and happiness - is complete wedded bliss, glorious parenthood or grand social servanthood. Rather, I choose two other words, two other scales, by which to assess my daily life and journey: HOPE and THANKFULNESS.

Are people less hopeful than ten years ago? Possibly. Are people less thankful than ten years ago? This is possible as well. But I have tried to commit myself to a daily discovery of the hopeful aspects of my life; to seek them out, to examine them, to follow them. I've continue to commit myself to a daily focus of thankfulness for the blessings - great and small - in my life as well. And when I'm able to stay focused throughout any given day, it makes all the difference in the world. It is this hope and thankfulness that allows me to feel a greater sense of wedded bliss, glorious parenthood or grand social servanthood.

Are we each truly happy and satisfied with our life? Perhaps a better question remains: Are we truly hopeful and thankful for our life? We may find that delving into and grasping these elements in our life will allow us to slake our satisfaction and whet our happiness. For satisfaction does not always mean happiness and being happy does not always lead to satisfaction. But hope and thankfulness are intricately connected. A hopeful life is a thankful life is a hopeful life is a thankful life is a hopeful life...

Dare to hope and dare to give thanks today. It can make all the difference in your world.


Post Note: For those that may be interested in perusing the article mentioned above, I've placed it below.


There's more misery in people's lives today than a decade ago - at least among those who will tell you their troubles.

So says a new study on life's negatives from the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center, which conducts social science research for government agencies, educational institutions, non-profit organizations and private corporations.

The researchers surveyed 1,340 people about negative life events and found that the 2004 respondents had more troubles than those who were surveyed in 1991, the last time the study was done.

"The anticipation would have been that problems would have been down," says Tom Smith, the study's author. He says good economic years during the '90s would have brought an expectation of fewer problems, not more.

Overall, the percentage who reported at least one significant negative life event increased from 88% to 92%. Most of the problems were related to increased incidents of illness and the inability to afford medical care; mounting bills; unemployment; and troubled romantic relationships.

On a more positive note, fewer of those surveyed reported having trouble with crime or the law.

The University of Chicago report is part of a larger study known as the larger General Social Survey, which is supported by the National Science Foundation and financed through grants. It includes in-person interviews with more than 2,800 randomly chosen people 18 and older.

Those questioned about their negative life events were asked about 60 specific problems, and they could each list up to two additional problems. By weighting each problem and using a formula, Smith says, the troubles could be compared.

Some of the problems outlined in the study were more complicated than just a single bad event. For instance, the inability to afford health care rose from 7% in 1991 to 11% in 2004. Those who said they lacked health insurance increased from 12% to 18%. On the romantic front, the percentage who reported breaking up with a steady partner doubled from 4% to 8%.

But people shouldn't despair even if there is trouble around them. Bad experiences don't necessarily make people unhappy, says Jonathan Haidt, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and author of the new book The Happiness Hypothesis.

"Happiness has a very weak relation to the events in our lives," Haidt says. "Your happiness level is determined mostly by the structure in your brain - not by whether good or bad things happen to you. Negative events hurt or feel bad, but they are not usually as bad as we think and don't last as long as we think."

Happiness is an individual thing, he says, like a thermostat in our brains with a baseline that's predetermined by genetics. "We all move around, up or down, around our set point" depending on life events, he says. "The key to the psychology of happiness is to move to the upper range of your potential."

He advises a three-point check-up on the state of personal relationships, the work environment and control over daily life, because improving those areas will boost happiness.