Happiness is real and can be created through good emotional habits: psychologist

Happiness is real and can be created through good emotional habits: psychologist

Bad headlines have many feeling down about life.

But a world renowned psychologist says there is scientific proof that happiness can be found no matter where or how you live.

He also says happiness will lead to better health.

Ed Diener, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, the University of Utah and a senior scientist for the Gallup Organization, was speaking in Kelowna Thursday night as part of the UBC Okanagan Distinguished Speaker Series.

“We see resilience in happy people,” Diener said.

That means if you’re in a positive frame of mind prior to a traumatic event, like the recent tragic shooting in Las Vegas, you will return to that state in the days following the event.

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“You bounce back. Your heart rate recovers more quickly. You come back to normal. Of course you’re going to be unhappy when your mother dies or when you’re in the middle of a hurricane or somebody in your family is killed in Las Vegas,” Diener said. “It’s appropriate to be sad in such circumstances. But how long should that last? What we know is that people who generally feel meaning and enjoy life are going to come back to their old state more quickly.”

Diener says happiness is also something that can’t be faked.

“Phoney happiness, which they call happiness work, where you have to act happy and they tell you to smile every minute, that can be counterproductive. That can exhaust you.”

The psychologist says 30 years of research into what makes people happy has revealed good emotional habits that can be practiced by anyone.

“Certain things like meditation, gratitude, compassion, going out of your way to help others not just wait for people to help you but be one of those people who helps others,” Diener said. “And we know that that’s a very good way to make yourself happier… no matter where you live.”

Diener, an American, believes Canadians should be more grateful for their country.

“You already won the lottery living in Canada! It is a great place: one of the best countries in the world,” Diener said. “My gosh, you have to appreciate that. Don’t just look at the little problems in Canada. Look at all the good things in Canada.”

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Volunteering with family or friends and through community organizations also gives people a sense of contentment, according to Diener.

“It starts to make you feel meaningful and you have purpose,” he said. “You know you’re doing good things and also it makes you worry a little less about your own personal problems when you start focusing on helping other people.”