Our contemporary society is so focused on deficiencies and failures that it scares children, states Dr. Mia Leijssen , Professor at the University of Leuven, Belgium specialized in happiness.
Advisory tips in happiness increase the chance of actually becoming happy. That’s one of the most striking results of the Big Happiness Research carried out by the University of Leuven in 2014. Professor Leijssen and her team researched the happiness level of 11,000 participants.
The central question in the Great Happiness Research was: “Can advice on happiness actually contribute to becoming happy?”
The participants were divided into three groups: the first group received a few happiness tips on a daily basis. The second group got advice every week and the third group, the control group, didn’t receive any advice at all. The main conclusion was: positive interventions do work and incite to reflection in the quest for happiness. 73% of the respondents has changed his/her view on life and 83% started to effectively reflect on life itself.
Interview with Professor Leijssen:
How did you come to this particular research?
“We had previously done a lot of research on several positive emotions like e.g. gratitude, sense of purpose and love in diverse forms. Gratitude is one of the simplest ways to foster bliss and a meaningful life.”
What advice on happiness did you give to the participants?
“The tips were very specific: “This evening, make a list of three things you can be grateful for”. This has an immediate effect on the quality of sleep. Our society focuses too much on deficiencies and things that can go wrong. It scares children. When you put a child to bed and you ask him what he liked about the day, then you help this child to focus his attention to positive things. It genuinely helps them to fall asleep immediately. “
What’s the reason for that?
“A lot of research has been made into this. It’s been proven that positive emotions reduce a person’s stress level. It’s comparable to the placebo effect that has been ridiculed by doctors for a long time. Whereas research has shown that the placebo effect is about positive feelings that decrease stress hormones and increase a person’s resilience against illness.”
Happiness tips work. But do they work for everybody?
“No, they don’t. Our investigation shows that perfectionists and people who suffer from a depression do not respond as well to positive interventions. Perfectionists quickly start to focus again on what’s wrong in their lives and easily criticize happiness tips. People with a depression require a more profound approach than a few standard happiness tips.”
Are happiness tips the most ideal way to become happy?
“I wish! The tips are a tool, a first way to help people reflect. They give you a good push.”
Why are certain people still thinking in a negative way?
“That has to do with the snowball effect. If you think negatively, then your snowball tends to roll towards negative emotions. Whereas the opposite is also true: a positive attitude attracts positive experiences.”
Have you experience that our society emphasizes happiness too much? Are we pushed to become happier?
Yes, absolutely. The western media have a tendency to over-emphasize happiness and to make it a hype. Whereas our research shows that people are more looking for a meaningful life. A meaningful life however doesn’t really fit our western culture, because of its materialistic character and a tendency to label other values as “old fashioned”.
Can you give us the ultimate happiness tip?
“There isn’t something like the ideal way to become happy. It differs from human being to human being. Our investigation has taught us that people want to make their own individual choice to give shape to their lives.”