Happiness

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Our state of happiness or unhappiness colors everything. Happy people perceive the world as safer and feel more confident. They make decisions, cooperate more easily, and are more tolerant. They rate job applicants more favorably, savor their positive past experiences without dwelling on the negative, and are more socially connected. They live healthier and more energized and satisfied lives (Briñol et al., 2007; Liberman et al., 2009; Mauss et al., 2011). When your mood is gloomy, life as a whole seems depressing and meaningless—and you think more skeptically and attend more critically to your surroundings. Let your mood brighten, and your thinking broadens and becomes more playful and creative (Baas et al., 2008; Forgas, 2008b; Fredrickson, 2006). This helps explain why college students’ happiness helps predict their life course. In one study, women with natural, happy smiles in 1950s college yearbook photos were more likely to be happily married in middle age (Harker & Keltner, 2001). In one study, which surveyed thousands of U.S. college students in 1976 and restudied them at age 37, happy students had gone on to earn significantly more money than their less-happy-thanaverage peers (Diener et al., 2002). When we are happy, our relationships, self - image, and hopes for the future also seem more promising.

Moreover—and this is one of psychology’s most consistent findings—happiness doesn’t just feel good, it does good. In study after study, a mood - boosting experience (finding money, succeeding on a challenging task, recalling a happy event) has made people more likely to give money, pick up someone’s dropped papers, volunteer time, and do other good deeds. Psychologists call it the feel - good, do - good phenomenon (Salovey, 1990). (The reverse is also true: Doing good also promotes good feeling, a phenomenon harnessed by some happiness coaches as they assign people to perform a daily “random act of kindness” and to record the results.)

William James was...
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