Both links/excerpts come from Eric Barker at the reliably stimulating Barking up the Wrong Tree.
First, strong relationships.
In a study appropriately titled “Very Happy People,” researchers sought out the characteristics of the happiest 10 percent among us. Do they all live in warm climates? Are they all wealthy? Are they all physically fit? Turns out, there was one—and only one—characteristic that distinguished the happiest 10 percent from everybody else: the strength of their social relationships. My empirical study of well-being among 1,600 Harvard undergraduates found a similar result—social support was a far greater predictor of happiness than any other factor, more than GPA, family income, SAT scores, age, gender, or race. In fact, the correlation between social support and happiness was 0.7. This may not sound like a big number, but for researchers it’s huge—most psychology findings are considered significant when they hit 0.3.The point is, the more social support you have, the happier you are. And as we know, the happier you are, the more advantages you accrue in nearly every domain of life.
You know? This makes me feel lousy. If I had to name my single greatest flaw, I’d say it’s dereliction of friendship. I don’t actively cultivate new friendships. They either happen to me or they don’t, and mostly they don’t because I don’t put in much effort from my side. I’m not sure why, but I think it’s mostly because I find the idea of extending a hand stressful. Worse, I’m terrible at keeping in touch with old friends. After too much time without calling or emailing or texting or anything, I feel really embarrassed. And then, perversely, that embarrassment makes me more not less averse to reestablishing contact. Then a really long time passes and I’m sort of mortified by myself, but at this point there’s no way I’m calling because that would mean facing up to the fact that I’m a terrible friend. This makes no sense. If a friend I haven’t spoken to for years suddenly calls me up, I’m delighted. So why should I hesitate to delight old friends? Maybe they’ll be mad at me? I really need to get over this. Anyway, go get a drink with a friend tonight! Call an old friend this weekend! (That’s right. Later. Not today.)
When 577 volunteers were encouraged to pick one of their signature strengths and use it in a new way each day for a week, they became significantly happier and less depressed than control groups. And these benefits lasted: Even after the experiment was over, their levels of happiness remained heightened a full months later. Studies have shown that the more you use your signature strengths in daily life, the happier you become.
Here are my top five strengths from the long survey:
Your Top Strength – Forgiveness and mercy
You forgive those who have done you wrong. You always give people a second chance. Your guiding principle is mercy and not revenge.
Your Second Strength – Love of learning
You love learning new things, whether in a class or on your own. You have always loved school, reading, and museums-anywhere and everywhere there is an opportunity to learn.
Your Third Strength – Creativity, ingenuity, and originality
Thinking of new ways to do things is a crucial part of who you are. You are never content with doing something the conventional way if a better way is possible.
Your Fourth Strength – Appreciation of beauty and excellence
You notice and appreciate beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in all domains of life, from nature to art to mathematics to science to everyday experience.
Your Fifth Strength – Judgment, critical thinking, and open-mindedness
Thinking things through and examining them from all sides are important aspects of who you are. You do not jump to conclusions, and you rely only on solid evidence to make your decisions. You are able to change your mind.
I’m at a loss about how I’d go about actively using my top strength. I guess I’ll double not hold grudges. (DO NOT TAKE THIS AS AN INVITATION TO WRONG ME!) I do need to spend more time making art, which touches on my 3rd and 4th strength in a big way. I guess it’s a good thing I’m about to do an MFA program in creative writing.