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The science definition of happiness-more than just shallow emotion

Our culture and media lead us to believe that happiness means a life of constant inner cheerfulness. Not a care in the world. Going through life like a constant ‘oh what a feeling’ Toyota commercial.

Thankfully the fields of positive psychology and neuroscience have a very different definition of happiness (wellbeing, flourishing) based on research and evidence. Science instead of sensationalism.

Here are 5 facts based on science and extensive research relating to happiness and wellbeing:

  1. People whose brains are in a ‘positive state’ perform better and their intelligence and creativity rises. I start most workshops asking people to share something they look forward to. The aim is to elicit a positive brain state.
  2. Positive emotion is only one element of happiness. The other elements are: purpose, meaning, engagement, being part of something bigger than yourself, positive relationships and a sense of achievement.
  3. The formula of ‘if I work hard, I’ll be successful and then I’ll be happy’ is backwards. Science tells us happiness leads to success not the other way around.
  4. Shawn Achor tells us that our external world and circumstances are a predictor of only 10% of our happiness (wellbeing). 90% of our happiness (wellbeing/flourishing) is based on how our brain processes the world.
  5. Happiness is not about having no setbacks. It is about how we interpret them, how we view them and how we recover from them. Some setbacks can increase our happiness. Researchers have discovered ‘post traumatic growth’ which is not simply a return to baseline from a period of suffering, but moving beyond it. Harvard Professor Tal Ben-Shahar says, ‘Give yourself permission to be human.’


Listen to Shawn Achor, (formerly from Harvard) talk about the happiness advantage. The link to his video is : Happiness the Secret to Productivity

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