What Is the Science of Happiness?
For decades, the field of psychology has largely focused on addressing the negative—investigating what was “wrong” with us, or relieving suffering from depression, trauma, and addictions. But over the last decade, we’ve seen a significant shift: Scientists are now turning their attention to what makes people thrive.
What thoughts, actions, and behaviors make us more productive at work, happier in our relationships, and more fulfilled at the end of the day? That is the focus of the field of positive psychology, often referred to as the science of happiness. Its goal? To investigate what makes us flourish, according to Dr. Martin Seligman, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a pioneer in the field. Positive psychology doesn’t turn a blind eye to suffering or psychological illness, but it does encourage individuals and even communities to adopt practices that can boost optimism, increase resilience, and live happy, engaged lives.
Learn about the 6 essential skills for well‑being and how you can apply them to your life.
We Can’t Change Our Genes, But We Can Change Ourselves
So, can we really train ourselves to become happier? The science says yes. Our happiness level is a result of a complex interaction of genes, behaviors, and what’s going on in our lives at a specific moment in time. And while each of us has a genetic set point for happiness in the way we do for weight, we have the ability to offset it, which brings us to the most important takeaway from the scientific research: You have the power to take control of your happiness by choosing your thoughts, behaviors, and actions. Recent research into the types of interventions, or exercises, designed to promote positive emotional qualities, such as kindness and mindfulness, suggests that such qualities may be the product of skills we can learn through training—in the way that practice improves our musical or athletic abilities. Over time, we can build lasting habits that increase our resilience and improve our happiness levels.