Q. I read that happiness is genetic. Is that true?
A. Recent research hypothesizes that approximately 50 percent of our ability to be happy is genetic, 10 percent is determined by events beyond our control, but 40 percent is up to us. It may be slightly distressing to learn that not everyone can achieve the same level of happiness, but it should be no more upsetting than learning that not everyone can be thin or can be a genius. Instead, these statistics should motivate us to look for happiness and find ways to create it in our lives.
In her book “The How of Happiness”, Dr. Sonja Lyubomirksy hypothesizes that happiness is found in everyday activities. She suggests that we show more acts of kindness, avoid dwelling on our problems, and savor our time with friends and family. Sit and enjoy your morning coffee, take time for lunch and dinner, and don’t become oversaturated with mindless activities such as playing computer games or watching television.
Research tells us that happiness comes through self-acceptance and concern for others. According to a study conducted by Dr. Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin, Buddhist monks who spent an hour daily thinking about kindness and compassion experienced a noticeable brain change in two weeks and a greater feeling of life satisfaction. Conversely, people who win money through the lottery or other gaming ventures report an initial surge of happiness, but it is short-lived. Once we have enough money to pay our bills and provide for our needs, research studies surmise that money does not improve our emotional state.
If you are interested in becoming happier, there is now an app called “Live Happy.” It allows people to track their happiness levels and practices strategies to increase life satisfaction.
Q. I am taking medication for depression, but I still feel depressed. I saw a therapist for a few years, but that didn’t help. I know my friends think all I do is complain. They probably don’t want to be around me, so I usually go places late or don’t show up. Can you offer suggestions?
A. My first suggestion is to be certain that you have an evaluation by a psychiatrist to determine if you are on the right medication. Treating any mental health issue is an art as well as a science, and people have different reactions and responses to anti-depressants. If your medication is not working, address that issue with your doctor immediately.
You do not mention the type of psychotherapy that you had in the past. Many people do not know that there are various schools of therapy, and some work better for depression than others. I suggest that you try Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). It is an active, problem-solving approach that encourages patients to examine their irrational beliefs and dysfunctional thinking.
Therapists trained in CBT believe that a thought always comes before a feeling. In other words, most people do not suddenly feel depressed. They feel depressed because they feel neglected, overlooked, unloved. If you have those thoughts, challenge them. Let’s say you believe “my friends are tired of me.” Instead, maybe your friends are tired of your complaining, not being prompt, not showing up. However, this does not mean they are tired of you.
It’s time to stop your suffering and do some work toward feeling better. Get your medication re-evaluated. See a CBT therapist or do some work on your own. I suggest two books: The Feeling Good Workbook by David Burns and Mind Over Mood by Dennis Greenberger. Both of these books will help you understand dysfunctional thinking and give you ways to overcome the often learned habit.
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Nancy Ryburn holds a doctorate degree in psychology from Yeshiva University in New York City where she maintained a private practice. She now teaches psychology at Southeast Arkansas College. E-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. The questions will not be answered personally, but could appear in a future column. There will be no identifying information and all e-mails remain confidential.