Consider these categories developed by Shimoff:
When we're happy for no reason, according to Shimoff, we bring happiness to our outer experiences, rather than trying to extract happiness from them. We don't need to manipulate the world around us to make ourselves happy. We live from happiness, rather than for happiness.
People with high happiness set points don't have special powers. They just have different habits. Psychologists say at least 90 percent of all behavior is habitual. So, to become happier, we need to look to our habits.
Some books and programs tell us we can simply decide to be happy. Just make up our minds to be happy, and we will be. That's too simplistic and unrealistic. All our habitual thoughts and behaviors in the past have created specific neural pathways in the wiring of our brains, like grooves in a record. When we think or behave a certain way over and over, the neural pathway is strengthened and the groove becomes deeper.
Unhappy people tend to have more negative neural pathways. That's why we can't ignore the realities of our brain's wiring and just decide to be happy. To raise our happiness set point, we have to create new grooves.
Scientists used to think that once a person reached adulthood, the brain was fairly well set in stone and there wasn't much we could do to change it. But new research says that when we think, feel and act in different ways, the brain changes and actually rewires itself.
Leading brain researcher Dr. Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin says, "Based on what we know of the plasticity of the brain, we can think of things like happiness and compassion as skills that are no different from learning to play a musical instrument or tennis ... it's possible to train our brains to be happy."
As Benjamin Franklin said, "The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself."
I've been asked to put together a collection of my past columns. If you would be interested in this, please drop me a note or an e-mail; I'll keep you informed about this possibility. And a special note of thanks on this first anniversary to my editor, Rosalie Earle, the copy editors who guide me, and the Sunday Gazette-Mail for the opportunity to exercise my passion through this column. Here's to many more!
Linda Arnold is a certified wellness instructor and founder and chairwoman of The Arnold Agency, an integrated marketing communications firm in Charleston. Reader comments or questions may be mailed to Linda Arnold, The Arnold Agency, 117 Summers St., Charleston, WV 25301, or e-mail livinglifefu...@arnoldagency.com">livinglifefu...@arnoldagency.com.