#DolphinsLiveWell: Learning Happiness


Getty Images

Girl drawing smiley face on to a wall

March 20th has been established as the annual International Day of Happiness. All 193 United Nations member states have adopted a resolution calling for happiness to be given greater priority.

In 2011, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution which recognised happiness as a “fundamental human goal” and called for “a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes the happiness and well-being of all peoples”.

In 2012, the first ever UN conference on Happiness took place and the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution which decreed that the International Day of Happiness would be observed every year. It was celebrated for the first time in 2013.

If any of you are familiar with positive psychology, or have had the pleasure of taking Dr. Cristina Michaelson’s course in positive psychology, you may be familiar with the concept that happiness can be learned.  

Psychologist Martin Seligman asserts that happiness is not solely derived from external, momentary pleasures. He provides the acronym PERMA to summarize Positive Psychology’s correlational findings. Humans seem happiest when they have:

  1. Pleasure (tasty food, warm baths, etc.)
  2. Engagement (or flow, the absorption of an enjoyed yet challenging activity)
  3. Relationships (social ties have turned out to be extremely reliable indicators of happiness)
  4. Meaning (a perceived quest or belonging to something bigger)
  5. Accomplishments (having realized tangible goals).

Notice that money or materialistic objects are not on this list.  A profound shift in attitudes is underway all over the world. People are now recognising that “progress” should be about increasing human happiness and well-being, not just a growing economy.  

As humans, there is no way we are able to be happy all of the time. There are roadblocks, stumbles, and situations which can put a dampener on one’s life.  Much of the time, a lack of perceived happiness stems from feeling overwhelmed. When we feel overwhelmed whether it’s because of a bad grade, loss of a relationship, or even the death of someone close, we can choose how we process these emotions. We can allow the negative thoughts to spiral out of control and consume us, leading to a negative feedback loop of depression and anxiety. Or, we can live in the moment and focus on what will best support us in that moment. We can get very caught up in the minutia of the moment and forget that in the general scheme of life, most of us meet at least some of Selig’s criteria for happiness.

When we are faced with something overwhelming we can say, “Do I want to be overwhelmed or do I want to be happy? If I want to be happy then I have to live in the here and now. I can deal with things as I need to, and I will; but mostly, I’m going to just live in the here and now because I have a choice. I can be happy or I can let my mind overwhelm me with the story it creates.” However, remember that it is a choice. Let’s choose happiness.

So may I encourage everyone to just live in the present moment and when these overwhelming events occur, let’s just take them one moment at a time. Mostly, choose to be happy by living in the now and being present with what is.