Monitoring someone's Coke consumption isn't the most scientific way to gauge happiness. But the Africa anecdote is an example of the relationship between emotional states and behavior. It's well understood that our feelings often impact actions. Confidence, for instance, breeds socialization, and apathy fosters withdrawal.
Interpreting the emotions behind the exhibitions isn't always simple. When asked, most people will concede that they're happy. They may not be over the moon in rapture, but they're far more likely to describe themselves as at least slightly happy than as unhappy. At the same time, the National Institutes of Health report that more than 20 million people in the United States suffer from depression.
While you can't equate depression with run-of-the-mill unhappiness, there does seem to be a disconnection between reported and actual happiness. In that case, certain behaviors can raise red flags that negative emotions are taking a toll. After recognizing them and taking action, folks can get back on track toward joy.
5: Too Much TV Time
Sometimes, a stressful day simply calls for a night of indulgent television. Kick back, relax and let your mind melt in the sea of reality shows and hospital dramas. But if this is your routine night after night, it may be wise to abandon the remote for a while. According to a 2008 study, excessive boob-tube time is a possible sign of unhappiness.
4: Troubled Relationships
The happier people included in the General Social Survey spent more time with others in one way or another. That result echoes throughout the vast body of happiness research; consistently, those with the deepest and widest social connections report the highest levels of life satisfaction. For instance, surveys demonstrate that married people are generally happier than singles. Yet, happier folks may be more likely to get married in the first place.
Reaping the benefits of bonding with friends and family can happen through online social media as well. The Virtual Happiness Project, which is evaluating the relationship between happiness and online social networking, has so far found that building relationships via online platforms can boost happiness.
3: Uncontrollable Stress
One recent example of the stress effect is the paradoxical shift in happiness among American women in the past 35 years. Despite the progress women have made in recent decades, their rates of subjective well-being have declined overall. Researchers have attributed this to the rising stress levels women must manage while juggling a family and career. A separate comparison of how people spend their time concluded that men may be happier today because they spend less time on unpleasant tasks than women.
While we can't entirely eliminate stress from our lives, some tenets of positive psychology can help alleviate it. Specifically, positive thinking, mindfulness and optimism serve as emotional stress antidotes. When stress strikes, fight the urge to park in front of the television and try out relaxation techniques instead.
2: Constant Pleasure Seeking
In the case of the lottery winners, a sudden jolt of wealth didn't improve their happiness in the long run. Instead, people can get trapped on what Brickman coined a hedonic treadmill, or an endless search for bigger and better material goods to bring pleasure. The problem with this pathological pleasure-seeking is its intrinsic emptiness. By definition, pleasure is momentary and fleeting -- leaving us wanting more. Contentment, on the other hand, means appreciating present circumstances and surroundings.
1: Sleepless Nights
Also, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan calculated the happiness boost people get from sleeping an extra hour each night as equivalent to receiving a $60,000 annual raise. This impressive effect likely relates to brain chemistry. The brains of sleep-deprived people are more sensitive to the effects of cortisol, a stress hormone.
The link between sleep and happiness begs the question of correlation versus causation. Does poor sleep make us unhappy, or is unhappiness hindering sleep? It probably depends on individual situations. Someone working 60 hours per week may be suffering from overwork and sheer lack of sleep time. On the other hand, symptoms of unhappiness, such as stress and television, don't promote quality rest, either.
Tackling the sleep issue may require a multi-pronged approach. Evaluating stress levels and exercise routines are smart places to start. After all, when you don't prepare your body for bedtime, nodding off can prove challenging no matter how happy you feel.
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Article originally published on Discovery Health, by Cristen Conger