On Friday night 20/20 did a theme show about happiness, exploring who has it (denizens of Demark, Singapore and Asheville, NC) and how to get it (stop shopping / quit complaining / get on a bicycle).
I prefer the word "contentment," since it's less loaded / manic.
But it's their show.
The found that having children does not make people happier. Ha!
Being married does. Wah!
So does having connections with other people, doing meaningful work and thinking positive thoughts.
They're also happy in Denmark because they don't spend all of their time shopping and they're not afraid of the future. If something happens, they know they'll be taken care of (the government pays for health care and spends more per capita on children and the elderly than any other country). Also, even the worst jobs seem to bring in a good salary, and 92 percent of Danes belong to some sort of hobbyist club. Plus they trust their government and ride bicycles.
I think we're unhappy in the US because we're isolated from each other and our culture is based on fear and accumulating useless dreck. We'd rather watch people abuse each other on our flat-screen TV than see our friends. (Also, the people here seem to think that the right to "the pursuit of happiness" means they are should be happy all the time - and if they're not, they're missing out on something everyone else has. This thinking breeds a very dangerous sense of entitlement.).
The most amazing thing about the show was this:
They said that 50 percent of a person's "happiness" is based on genes (this was bad news for me, considering the forebears' attempts at hari kari). Ten percent is based on current circumstances, and a whopping 40 percent is in our control.
Forty percent! In our control!
And then they dropped the biggest bomb of all: If you spend a half hour every day sitting quietly and thinking about kindness and compassion for two weeks, your perspective will change and you will start to become happy. It's actually been scientifically proven:
"The happiness activities are not going to surprise anyone," Lyubomirsky said. "I mean, they're things like gratitude, forgiveness, relationships, savoring the present moment, meditation. I try to sort of determine to what extent those things are supported by research."
Davidson would agree. He has studied the brains of Buddhist monks, men who spend their lives deliberately forcing positive emotions, and their happiness is off the charts. His new data claims that if a person sits quietly for a half-hour a day just thinking about kindness and compassion, their brain will show noticeable changes in just two weeks.
"In many ways, this is the most important idea in neuroscience in the last decade," he said. "Our brains are just waiting to be transformed, and they're always being transformed. But we can take responsibility and change the brain in more positive ways."
"Research is showing pretty convincingly now that happiness is really within us, it's not outside of us," said Lyubomirsky. "It's in what we do. It's sort of how we act, how we think every day of our lives."
One can only magine what would happen if people watched 30 minutes less TV each day, and used that time to sit.....
GlaxoSmithKline and Eli Lilly would go out of business.
Part I of the 20 / 20 piece is here.
Part II (with the monks) is here.
(Funny - I don't remember them talking to any nonwhite Americans for the show).
More on Denmark here.
I can't help but wonder about their immigration policy, being a quarter Dansk and all....
*Santosh = Hindi for contentment or happiness