Every Sunday I look forward to reading Dayton Psychologist, Gregory Ramey’s article in his Family Wise Column in the Dayton Daily News. A few weeks ago, he wrote a very interesting piece about “the pursuit of happiness” but not from the legal perspective as contemplated by our forefather’s in the Declaration of Independence, but from a psychological viewpoint.
“Happiness” can no doubt be elusive and its meaning can be very different to each of us. In some fashion or form, it is an issue that many clients either considering a divorce or having gone through a divorce must confront. Genetics and life events are no doubt factors, but according to Dr. Ramey, each of us can take steps which will have a major impact on our own “happiness”. I think that you might be a bit surprised by both his opinion and his candid common sense suggestions!
Happy People Enjoy an Upbeat Approach to Living
I really enjoyed watching Will Smith portray a determined dad in the “Pursuit of Happyness.” Based upon the real life story of Chris Gardner, Smith’s character goes to extraordinary lengths to improve himself financially while remaining dedicated to caring for his 5-year-old son as a single dad.
The title of the movie was based upon the misspelling of a sign outside the young child’s day care center. Can we intentionally pursue happiness, or is it the result of our genetics or life’s events?
I was intrigued by the research of psychologists such as Dr. Nancy Sin and Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky who have spent years trying to answer a very simple question — can people truly influence how happy they feel?
Lyubomirsky concluded that about 50 percent of happiness is determined genetically and 10 percent by life’s events. However, that means that 40 percent of how we feel is determined by how we act.
Sin and Lyubomirksy analyzed 51 scientific studies designed to help people increase their happiness and concluded that several strategies are effective.
Replay positive experiences
Our mind is not the passive receptacle of our experiences. We tend to remember certain events while ignoring or forgetting others. The practice of actively remembering and celebrating good events makes us happier people. People do this by keeping a journal, talking about positive things with friends or celebrating even minor achievements.
A friend told me something she did in her family, and I’ve used her idea for over 20 years with my wife and children. When we sit down for dinner, we hold hands and say one good thing that happened to us that day. It is a great way to set the tone at the dinner table, while encouraging us to acknowledge that every day brings us special gifts.
Accept what cannot be changed
Happy people have that special ability to distinguish those things that they cannot control from events they can influence. They accept the former and act on the latter.
Stay connected with friends
Happiness is more likely to come from people and experiences rather than things. Happy people make it a high priority to work at relationships. They help other people, remember birthdays, write notes, share feelings and stay connected with family and friends.
Practice positive thinking
Abraham Lincoln remarked that “people are just as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Happy people think positive thoughts, and act as if they can make a difference. They tend to attract other people with their upbeat approach to life.
Keep track of good events
We all experience myriad emotions every day, but some people are more likely to focus on problem situations rather than positive events. Happy people pay attention and celebrate good things in their lives.
You could always go see a therapist to learn how to apply these principles in your own family, but they really aren’t very complicated, are they? They all start with a decision you can make right now — a decision to live a happier life.
To subscribe to receive Dr. Ramey’s Family Wise monthly E-newsletter, click here.
[Reprinted by permission from the March 26, 2010, edition of the Dayton Daily News, “Happy People Enjoy an Upbeat Approach to Living”, Family Wise, Gregory Ramey, PhD.]
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Robert L. Mues
Robert Mues is the managing partner of Dayton, Ohio, law firm, Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues, and has received the highest rating from the Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review for Ethical Standards and Legal Ability. Mr. Mues is also a founding member of the "International Academy of Attorneys for Divorce over 50" blog.