What Is Joy?
Psychologists long believed that each person has a happiness “set point,” a degree of satisfaction and enjoyment of life that is his or her baseline level of emotion. The theory: Life events can temporarily alter that level of emotion, but after you adjust to a huge setback or a joyful development, your happiness level returns to about the same place that it was initially. But more evidence is showing that we can alter our happiness baseline by learning better ways of coping with life's challenges and maximizing its pleasures. Happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky, of the University of California, Riverside, has shown that the simple acts of counting our blessings or consciously stating the positive aspects of a stressful situation help keep our mood elevated. In one of her study, the people who took these simple steps—expressing gratitude and optimism—had higher levels of happiness and less depression than those in a control group. This effect remained clear 6 and 9 months after the study begin.
Researchers' terminology for happiness is “subjective well-being.” It points up an aspect of happiness research to keep in mind: Most of the information is reported by people in studies, assessing their own mood. This method has its shortcomings, scientifically speaking. But as technology enables us to see what's happening in the brain's limbic system, where emotions are regulated, researchers are able to gather more objective information about happiness. LESS
OptimismGenerally expecting good things to happen rather than bad things seems to come naturally to some people. Psychologists measure optimism with questionnaires, focusing on hypothetical situations and outcomes. In a nutshell, optimists tend to see positive events as the result of living in a world where good things happen, and believe that their actions can overcome bad circumstances. Pessimists are more likely to describe such events in terms of their “luck” or “timing,” and think negative outcomes are likely. They are also more likely to consider negative events their own fault, and feel helpless to change that. Martin Seligman, a lead researcher in the field of positive psychology and author of the book Learned Optimism, constructed one such tool to measure optimism. (You can try an adapted version here: www.stanford.edu) READ MORE
Evidence shows that most of us have a tendency toward optimism. In a 2007 survey, 10% of Americans reported that they plan to live to be 100 years old. (Only .02% live that long.) Similarly, few people expect their marriage to end in divorce or expect to contract a terminal illness, even though statistics show that such things will happen to many people. Our optimism may be a survival mechanism that keeps us moving forward, instead of falling into a pessimistic depression. However, some amount of pessimism gives us a more realistic view of life, and may keep us from taking unwise risks. LESS