The secret to happiness … is not really a secret

SALT LAKE CITY — Ed Diener knows the secret to happiness. That’s why he’s got a seat on the United Arab Emirates’ World Happiness Council. That’s why he’s been called “Dr. Happiness,” although the title doesn’t make him happy.

“It sounds kind of silly,” he said.

Diener is a psychology professor at the University of Utah and the University of Virginia. He’s a pioneer in the field of positive psychology and the study of happiness, or, as he calls it, “subjective well-being.”

Diener began studying happiness 36 years ago because of his mom, who he describes as a particularly happy person.

“My parents were quite happy and I looked around and I saw some of their friends who were much less happy,” he said. “You wonder was it genetics? Was she just born happy?”

The secret isn’t really a secret at all.

Diener said there is a genetic component, but there are things under our control, such as what we pay attention to — the good or the bad in our lives, how we interpret what happens to us, and what we remember of the past.

“One of the things people can get into is habits of positivity and habits of negativity,” he said.

Happy people, Diener said, tend to have work they enjoy and devote themselves to a higher purpose, “whether it’s your family or religion or some bigger things in life.”

Diener said most happy people also have one thing in common – good, supportive social relationships.

“Among the happiest people, the top 5 or 10 percent of people, every one of them, no exceptions, have strong supportive relationships,” he said. “It also means that they are a supporter of other people. We find that is a very big predictor of happiness, being somebody who others count on.”

Would you prefer a more expensive apartment with a shorter commute or a less expensive apartment with a long commute? That’s one of the many real world questions researchers at the University of British Columbia asked more than 4,600 participants in the latest study on happiness.

Marina Price said she didn’t think she was a “people person” until she and her husband moved into the Wasatch Commons Cohousing Community in Salt Lake City. Residents there live in private homes but share common areas and share chores — such as gardening and maintenance, and, up to three times a week, eat meals together.

Price said she’s private and introverted, but now happier because she’s part of a small, close-knit community.

“It’s easy to think that you don’t need it because you can get accustomed to not having it, but if you have it, you notice the difference right away,” she said. “It’s almost like it’s in our DNA and we’ve denied it. That pack animal instinct is inside of us and we have come to kind of do without it because it’s inconvenient.”

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