The Pursuit of Happiness

Richard Citrin Ph.D., MBA
Richard Citrin Ph.D., MBA

One of our inalienable rights as Americans is to pursue happiness and certainly if we are building resilience in the face ofchallenging life events, the goal surely must be to find that elusive state.

Opinions differ about exactly what makes happiness. Most research has focused on overcoming our negativities (as we discussed a few weeks ago on the Negativity Bias) which can include ideas to deal with everything from anxiety to depression. Happiness definitions vary but typically include the idea that happiness relates to the overall enjoyment of our life through engagement and meaning as well as the momentary pleasures we derive from life’s little gifts.

Research is showing that about 50% of our ability to be happy is genetically linked which means that we are able to control about half of what contributes to our happiness. Defining in a concrete manner, what brings you joy, may provide the greatest opportunity to be happy.

In a recent study at Stanford by psychologist Jennifer Aiker, people who were able to identify a specific goal they were working towards achieving reported a higher level of “concrete happiness” than those who had a more “hazy” objective for themselves. Her research, drawn from interviewing patients undergoing bone marrow treatment showed that those patients who focused on finding a specific donor for the treatment had a higher level of happiness than those patients who just had the more abstract idea that a bone marrow treatment would give them a “greater hope” for survival.

Some ideas for increasing happiness:

  • Set specific objectives for what you want to achieve today. Make them reachable and attainable and then be certain to celebrate them, even if it is just a quiet, personal “YES”.
  • Consider how you could be helpful to someone else. Bringing a little happiness to another person is a great way to “share the wealth” and it almost certainly means that some joy will be coming back your way.
  • Talk to others about what makes them happy. We tend not to focus on good things so bringing up the topic can help demystify and authorize happiness as a way of living.

To join the discussion on The Pursuit of Happiness, please go to my blog at:

© Richard Citrin, 2014


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