Dubbed “Dr. Happiness,” Ed Diener has researched human emotion for 30 years. The University of Illinois psychology professor emeritus concludes that “subjective wellbeing” contributes to overall life satisfaction.
Those of us who experience greater subjective wellbeing aren’t immune from disappointments. Loneliness, misery and suffering afflict everyone, but Diener argues that some people remain happy and productive despite such hardships.
He compares wellbeing to movies.
A diverting film might feature well-staged action sequences and moment-to-moment sex, suspense and plot developments.
Truly great cinema, by contrast, delivers a more holistic, fulfilling experience to the viewer. These classics include sadness and proceed slowly at times, but they also convey lasting meaning.
For Diener, the goal is for the movie of your life to be classic cinema rather than a fleetingly entertaining film. To pull that off, start with a sense of purpose.
In his research, Diener found that having purpose in life—such as meaningful work—drove happiness more than daily highs and lows. Because the most productive people derive meaning from their activities, they can withstand less satisfying days and focus on what matters most.
You’ll also get more accomplished with a better attitude if you sugarcoat bad memories. Don’t try to remember every detail of an upsetting event; instead, selectively highlight positive aspects of negative occurrences. If you botched an assignment last year, focus on the valuable lessons you’re now applying.
Diener also warns people not to smile too much—and worry a bit. Investing a few anxious minutes imagining what can go wrong helps you take steps to guard against harm.
— Adapted from “Dr. Happiness Is In,” Patty Onderko, www.success.com.