Why living life to the fullest is possible

What does happiness mean to you?

It may seem like a simple question at first glance, but the truth is often complicated.

“Happiness can be a philosophy, the way we approach life, or a value system,” said Dr. Karen Lawson, a psychologist at Baylor College of Medicine. “While you might feel it’s important to live life to its fullest, achieving this goal often looks different for everyone.”

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Can you buy happiness?

In 2010, Nobel Prize-winning economists Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton studied 1,000 U.S. households to determine the connection between money and happiness. The study found that those with higher incomes reported more emotional well-being – but only up to a certain point.

Money gives us access to services and items that make our lives more convenient and existence more pleasant. However, this study found that caps out at an annual income of about $75,000,” Lawson said. “After that, the relationship between money and happiness is purely theoretical.”

Of course, not all of the factors that contribute to happiness are in our control. In her book, “The How of Happiness,” Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., proposes that 50 percent of happiness is determined by genes, 10 percent is determined by circumstance and 40 percent is determined by thoughts and actions.

Conceptualizing happiness
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Karen Lawson, Ph.D.

So how do we best make use of our thoughts and actions? One approach is to make a ‘business plan,’ using these criteria as a guide:

  • What are my life goals?
  • How can I get there?
  • What are the risks and benefits of certain actions?
  • Sort out what works and what doesn’t

While there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ concept of happiness, Lawson says practicing these actions usually benefits most people, regardless of circumstances:

  • When struggling, be nice to yourself
  • Be open to unexpected learning moments
  • Learn how to forgive (or at least go on)
  • Keep things in perspective
  • Give yourself permission to embrace your age
  • Decide what brings you pleasure. What makes you thrive? Build these things into your life

 Lawson also notes that these concepts are universal and can be adopted to help maintain happiness:

  • Laughter: This has been studied scientifically and is connected to physiological healing processes
  • Family: Being connected with family is important across societies and cultures
  • Relationships: One good friendship can be powerful and healthy
  • Personal growth: Having a passion or harnessing a talent
  • Health: Some aspects of health are predetermined, but there are things in our control such as nutrition and exercise
  • Faith: When life isn’t reaffirming, faith can guide us through rough times
Recommended reading

Looking for some extra inspiration? Lawson recommends these books:

  • The Four Agreements – Don Miguel Ruiz
  • The Fifth Agreement: A Practical Guide to Self-Mastery – Don Miguel Ruiz and Don Jose Ruiz
  • Extreme Forgiveness – Dr. Kent Haralson
  • True to Your Core – Jay C. Rifenbary
  • Mindfulness – Hazel Iverson

Dr. Lawson is an assistant professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor.

-By Nicole Blanton

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