Happiness can be Learned!!!

Decades of studying depression has helped millions become less sad, but not necessarily more happy - a crucial distinction. Researchers are finding that happiness is influenced not by a single "happy gene", but by inborn predispositions toward qualities that help or hinder happiness, such as optimism or shyness. Personality doesn't fluctuate that much over an average life span. People have "happiness set points" – base lines that moods drift back to after good or bad events.

If you're a gloomy, pessimistic person, you're probably never going to be deliriously happy, but you can get into the high end of your possible range of happiness set points and stay there. Happiness can be learned; you practice it day in and day out. If you want your happiness at the higher end of the set range, you have to commit yourself everyday to do things to make you happy.

One way is to find the right goals and to pursue them. By setting and achieving a progression of goals, you can boost your well being. Even when you fail, you can better maintain that higher level next time you reach it, though you'll probably top out at the high end of your range.

Another path to greater happiness is cultivating positive emotions. Good feelings broaden thinking and banish negative emotions. Negative emotions narrow thought, by necessity. Most people cannot feel positive emotions at will. Positive emotions and broadened thinking are mutually building on one another, making people more creative problem-solvers over time and even better off emotionally. Coping well with one problem can make people more resilient next time trouble comes along.

One of the worst enemies of positive emotions is feeling threatened. A safe environment is the key. This is crucial, especially in relationships. A husband, wife or significant other cannot replace any of the things that are missing from your life. They can, however, provide the sanctuary needed to find them.

Some emotions aren't that hard to feel, if you take the time. Take gratitude...people who take the time to be grateful for events in their lives are not only more joyful, they are healthier, less stressed, more optimistic and more likely to help others. Additionally, gratitude could help ward off mindless materialism.

Anyone who has witnessed a touching good deed will recognize the heartwarming tingling in the chest that follows. Researchers at the University of Virginia dubbed this uplifting emotion "elevation". Such feelings break down mental barriers and help people see the world in new ways. Even mild feelings of elevation can change minds.

The feeling of hope is one reason spirituality may correlate with well being. Hope fosters optimism, and faith is, by definition, hope for the future. This is not to say that atheists can't be happy, but it helps to explain why so many do find happiness in faith and why researchers continue to find connections between faith, optimism and physical health.

Nurturing optimism is a key way to help hope and happiness flourish. Optimism predisposes people toward positive emotions, whereas pessimism is a petri dish for depression. Pessimists blame themselves for problems, figure they will last forever, and let them invade every corner of their lives. Good events are freak occurrences. Optimists look for outside causes of bad events and assume they will be fleeting and take credit for good events and bet they'll keep coming. By learning new ways to explain events, pessimists can become more optimistic and more resilient, leaving them better equipped to appreciate the good and cope with the bad.

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Bonnie Morét is an award-winning photographer recognized by The Georgia Council of the Arts as "an exceptional representation of contemporary Georgia art work." Her photography is featured on Georgia Public Broadcast's Georgia Traveler. Her exhibitions include Fifth Annual Exposure Awards at Musee du Louvre in Paris, France, Art Takes Miami at Scope Art during Art Basel Miami, Metro Montage XIII at the Marietta/Cobb Museum of Art, World of Water at the Georgia Aquarium, Open Walls at Black Box Gallery in Portland, Oregon, Wholly Georgia: A Look at the Effects of Southern Religious Culture, sponsored by the Art History League and Georgia State University, at Mint Gallery in Atlanta, Georgia, 6x6 at the Rochester Contemporary Arts Center in Rochester, New York, @Phonography: Dialogue in the Wireless Age, at 3 Ring Circus in New Orleans, Louisiana, and About Lands and Lives of the Civil War at the 6th Cavalry Museum in Ft. Oglethorpe, Georgia. Her photography appears in Modern Luxury/The Atlantan, Jezebel Magazine, and hangs in the executive offices at the Georgia State Capitol as part of the Art of Georgia exhibit. Corporate clients include Atlanta Ballet, Atlanta History Center, Chanel Cosmetics, Christian Dior Cosmetics, Sharp Mountain Vineyards, PM Realty Group, Granite Properties, Road Atlanta, Patrón Tequila, Georgia's Own Credit Union, StubHub, CBM Records and The Washington Auto Show.