05 January 2012

Thrivancy: The Practice of Happiness

My apologies to those who have been looking for new posts from The Green Skeptic. I've been on a brief hiatus the past few weeks for the holidays and to sort out some personal issues. I'll be back at it soon.

Meanwhile, I want to share with you some words of wisdom from my good friend Jack Ricchiuto, whose new book, The Joy of Thriving is coming out on January 15th (to correspond with his 60th birthday). You can read more about Jack and his work at DesigningLife.com and @zenext and about the book at JoyofThriving.com:

Happiness: The New Face of Thrivancy
Jack Ricchiuto

In societies where success is measured in units of economic advantage, happiness is talked about more as pursuit rather than practice.
Even though the US has lost its world leader status in more categories than most faithful nationals are willing to admit, it still retains global dominance in how to make the symbols of happiness more significant than the experience itself.
Since the 1950s, personal wealth in the US has doubled and happiness has declined. People with over $125 million in net worth are barely happier than the norm. Americans making more than $10 million annually are not significantly happier than the average. In the US and globally, 75% of employees are unhappy in their work at annual costs of over $300 billion. In the meantime, the country launched by Puritans annually spends $1.2 trillion on things they don't need, yielding ephemeral satisfaction that wanes before the next cycle of the moon.
In the recent survey I conducted with 300 people from around the world, the happiest people report that happiness is about practice rather than purchase, doing rather than debt.
92% of the happiest people say that their happiness is about what they focus on in the present. 96% report that happiness is a choice and as a practice, it can be learned. All of the evidence from the neurosciences strongly agree.
Peer reviewed neuroscience research empirically demonstrates that individuals can be trained to be 25 percent happier through various training programs in six weeks. As much as marketers would like to have us believe, there is little empirical evidence that authentic happiness can be measured in square feet, per capita income or big boxes per square mile.
"We can make Gross National Happiness more inspiring and engaging than Gross Domestic Product."
All demographic variables combined, including age, sex, income, race, and education, are responsible for only 15 percent of the difference in happiness levels between individuals. From my research, happiness flows from the prime practices of appreciation, generosity, interest, lightness and easy.
Appreciation is a grateful and passionate heart. Generosity is sharing what brings mutual joy. Interest is discovering new people, spaces, and things. Lightness is a sense of aliveness. Easy is the grace of simple. At least one practice is possible in every moment of your life however it is.
Happy people savor the pleasure of moments. They do not limit life's simple pleasures by multitasking them into seconds rather than minutes. They are thankful and delighted in joyful vision of the future. In measuring abundance from a happiness perspective, they shift from net worth to net gratitude.
They freely offer and invite sharing what brings mutual joy without the strings of reciprocity. With a desire to liberate themselves from the clutter of anxiety in their relationships, they share more from generosity than reciprocity. Happy people know that generosity is not where we lose ourselves. It is where we find ourselves.
They love their questions for the wonder unpeeled. Each of us has a different tolerance and love of questions, mystery, and the unknown. The happiest people on the planet are ridiculously in love with their questions. They decide how interesting their life and world is.
They have a delicious sense of humor and play in the abundant space of serendipity. They love by the principle that life does not necessarily get better by taking everything, including ourselves, too seriously. Happiness becomes more accessible by making our smile the most worn item in our wardrobe.
They do whatever they can to turn difficult into easy and complicated into simple. They reclaim authorship over the way things are easy and difficult. It is clear to them that when we make things easier, we have more courage to take on what we call the impossible.
In the study I conducted, the number one source of happiness for the happiest people is by far the joy of discovering new people, places, and things. 67% of the happiest people believe you cannot become "too happy" and 80% report that if they did, it would lead to a greater life of being caring and passionate. As it turns out, happiness profoundly shapes the contours of our life and world.
In over 200 studies, author of "The How of Happiness," Sonja Lyubomirsky, and her research colleagues find that happiness leads to being more productive, generous, creative, courageous, realistic, passionate, resilient, and healthier. What other qualities do you want to have and have around you in your life, work, and world?
9/11 victims who practiced gratitude were the quickest to be resilient and return to optimism. Higher gratitude people are consistently more helpful toward others in their life, work, and communities.
University of Wisconsin-Madison neuroscience research shows that happiness practices restructure the brain in ways that elevate our set-points. Set-points are the normal levels of happiness we personally experience and do not change with any kind of welcome or unwelcome events.
Harvard studies tracking 4,700 people over twenty years find that happiness spreads across three degrees of connection in personal and social networks for up to a year. When we understand the power of networks and the contagious character of joy, it becomes clear that happiness is a personal, social, and political act.
Each additional happy connection in our life is worth an increase of 9% in happiness where a $10k raise would increase happiness by 2%. British researchers find that a single smile releases the same brain stimulation as 2,000 pieces of chocolate. University of California at San Diego study, researchers find that because of these dynamics, the increased happiness of a friend's friend is worth the happiness of a $5,000 raise.
All of this has important implications for how we think about happiness as practice in our life, relationships, workplaces, and communities.
Happiness has unique power beyond classic economic indicators. Now that we have the science to support the efficacy and possibility of happiness, we can have conversations about happy workplaces and happy communities. We can shift from average household income to average household happiness. We can make Gross National Happiness more inspiring and engaging than Gross Domestic Product.
The Joy of Thriving
No era since the beginning of recorded human history has been so poised for making happiness the prime indicator of our thrivancy. When happiness is finally understood as a practice, we start becoming more innovative in designing our personal and shared spaces for happiness as a design principle rather than naively expect it to be the byproduct of wishful thinking.
Happy communities have more civic celebrations than public hearings. Happy workspaces become vibrant cultures of talent engagement, discovery, and generosity.
The realization that happiness is not about things but about the practices of happiness, creates profound implications for the design of public policy, civic spaces, workplaces, social networks, technology. how we raise and engage the next generation, how we go about our well-being, and how we become a happier planet.
The promise is transformative. Happier people are better friends and lovers, leaders and peers, neighbors and citizens. When happiness becomes a choice, all kinds of new doors open up to our personal and collective thrivancy. --Jack Ricchiuto, author of The Joy of Thriving, reprinted by permission of the author.