Happiness: Investigating Its Causes and Conditions Reflective Journal

Reflect on your present blessings, on which every man has many, not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.

Charles Dickens (M. Dickens, 1897, p. 45)

 

With all the stresses and pressures associated with completing a university degree, I chose to enrol in Happiness: Investigating its causes and conditions because I wanted to pick up a class that would not only teach me skills that will assist me in obtaining a career, but skills that will contribute to my overall happiness and wellbeing. In Sonja Lyubomirsky’s book, The How of Happiness (2007), she describes happiness-increasing activities that aim to transform the way people think about their lives. The first Happiness Activity that Lyubomirsky recommends is expressing gratitude (p.88). After completing the ‘Person-Activity Fit’ Diagnostic questionnaire in Chapter 2 (adapted from Sheldon), I discovered that expressing gratitude is one of the happiness activities that ‘fit’ me best. To practice recognising and expressing gratitude, for the past five weeks, I have kept a Gratitude Journal in which I have recorded the things for which I am grateful.

Lyubomirsky (2007) describes gratitude as not only saying ‘thank-you’, it is wonder, appreciation, and ‘counting blessings’. It is savouring, not taking things for granted; it is coping, and it is present-orientated (Lyubomirsky, 2007). Emmons and Shelton (2001, p.460) have defined gratitude as ‘a sense of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation for life’. Gratitude can be felt or expressed towards other people, as well as towards impersonal and nonhuman sources (Emmons & Shelton, 2001). Although researchers, writers and authors have offered their own take on the definition of gratitude, it is a concept that defies a simple classification as it has been ‘conceptualised as an emotion, an attitude, a moral virtue, a habit, a personality trait, or a coping response’ (Emmons & McCullough, 2003, p.377; Froh, Sefick, Emmons, 2008).

A number of life experiences can stir feelings of gratitude, however it typically stems from a person’s positive outcome, that was not necessarily earned or deserved, and was the result of the actions of another person (Emmons & McCullough, 2003; Emmons & McCullough, 2004).

Considering gratitude is a commonly occurring affect studied by philosophers, theologians, and popular writers, it is a wonder that psychologists, especially those specializing in the study of emotion, have largely disregarded the concept and its benefits up until recent years (Emmons & Shelton, 2001; Emmons & McCullough, 2004). It wasn’t until the positive psychology movement (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000; cited in Emmons & McCullough, 2004) that attention was directed toward human strengths and virtues, such as gratitude (Emmons & McCullough, 2004). Since the movement, the plethora of positive effects associated with expressing gratitude have been recognized as a powerful psychological tool. Gratitude is powerful antidote for negative emotions, neutralising envy, hostility, worry and irritation (Lyubomirsky 2007; Emmons and McCullough, 2003; Emmons & McCullough, 2004). Research suggests that people who are consistently grateful have been found to be relatively happier, more energetic, more hopeful, more peaceful, and experience more frequent positive emotions and positive relationships (Lyubomirsky 2007; Emmons and McCullough, 2003; Emmons & Shelton, 2001). Knowing how to recognize, recall and express gratefulness in life circumstances is important to the way people positively interpret everyday experiences, from the miraculous to mundane (Emmons & McCullough, 2003; Emmons & Shelton 2001; Lyubomirsky 2007). Gratitude has been proven to have important implications for enduring physical and mental wellbeing (Lambert, Fincham, & Stillman, 2012; Kaczmarek et al., 2015)

In her book, Lyubomirsky (2007) suggests keeping a Gratitude Journal as a way of practicing gratitude and positive thinking. She recommends choosing a time of the day where you have time to sit peacefully and reflect on three to five things for which you are grateful. Lyubomirsky’s lab results from her gratitude intervention suggests that, on average, people who completed the Gratitude Journal activity once a week were most likely to experience a boost in happiness (Lyubomirsky, 2007). There is further evidence suggesting that people who keep gratitude journals on a weekly basis are more likely to be physically and mentally healthier, feel better about their lives, and be more optimistic (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).

This year I deliberately bought a daily planner with a space to record my thoughts and musings, with the hope that it would encourage and enable me to be more reflective. I decided that I would use this planner as a place to record my appreciations. Each week I would hand-write my appreciations and at the end of each week I would sit down and reflect on the things I had written during that week. I would then write a blog post on the overall weekly experience in my online ‘diary’. In accordance with the research (Emmons & McCullough 2003; Lyubomirsky 2007), initially I only wrote my gratitude’s once a week, however I found that I was neglecting the little things for which I was grateful. As the weeks progressed I found myself sitting down and hand-writing my gratitudes more often, usually three times a week.

In my experience, I agree with the majority of academic evidence that I have read. I feel that I am overall happier, more peaceful, more reflective, and my personal relationships have benefitted from this exercise (Lyubomirsky 2007; Emmons and McCullough, 2003; Emmons & Shelton, 2001). Research also suggests that expressing gratitude can benefit your overall health (Emmons & McCullough, 2003), however I cannot comment on how my health has improved because I have not been documenting it in relation to this exercise. I may note, however, that usually when I am faced with extended periods of stress, as I have been, I am more susceptible to headaches, and the flu, neither of which I have experienced in the past two weeks.

After undertaking this activity for five weeks, I know that I am happier because of the way I have been reacting to everyday situations and stresses. I have been able to establish positive habits that have allowed me cope with the pressures and stresses of university life. For example, in the past two weeks, I have had to submit seven assignments. Instead of feeling overwhelmed and disheartened, I was able to look at each day as having something to offer. If the day didn’t go my way, then I was able to at least be grateful that the next day would be a new one. This increase in happiness is also reflected in my increased ‘Subjective Happiness Scale’ score (Lyubomirsky 2007, p. 33). Before starting this task, on March 2, 2016 my happiness score was 5 and upon completing this task my score is now 5.25.

I am grateful that I had the opportunity to undertake this course, and appreciate the new skills it has taught me that I will be able to utilise for the rest of my life. Even if I do not continue writing down my gratitude’s on weekly basis, I have found myself simply reflecting during the day on the things for which I am grateful.

Finally, I will conclude with a beautiful quote on gratitude and appreciation from Benedictine monk, Brother David Steindl-Rast (in Schwartzberg, 2011), that emphasises the need to be grateful for the things we receive, no matter how insignificant they may seem, “Open your heart to the incredible gifts that civilization gives to us. You flip a switch and there is electric light. You turn a faucet, and there is warm water and cold water and drinkable water. It’s a gift that millions and millions in the world will never experience.

 

Reference List

Froh, J. J., Sefick, W. J., Emmons, R. A., 2008, ‘Counting blessings in early adolescents: An experimental study of gratitude and subjective well-being’, Journal of School Psychology, vol. 46, issue 2, pp. 213-233.

Emmons, R. A., McCullough, M. E. 2003, ‘Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 84, no. 2, pp. 377-389.

 Emmons, R. A. & McCullough, M. E. 2004, The Psychology of Gratitude, Oxford University Press, USA.

Emmons, R. A. & Shelton, C. M. 2001, ‘Gratitude and the Science of Positive Psychology’, edited by C. R. Snyder & Shane J. Lopez, Handbook of Positive Psychology, Oxford University Press, USA, pp. 459-471.

Kaczmarek, L. D., Kashdan, T.B, Drazkowski, D., Enko, J., Kosakowski, M., Szaefer, A., Bujacz, A. 2015, ‘Why do people prefer gratitude journaling over gratitude letters? The influence of indivudal differences in motivation and personality on web-based interventions’, Personality and Individual Differences, vol. 75, pp. 1-6.

Lambert, N. M., Fincham, F. D., Stillman, T. F., 2012, ‘Gratitude and depressive symptoms: The role of positive reframing and positive emotion’, Cognition and Emotion, vol. 26, issue 4, pp.615-633.

Lyubomirsky, S 2007, The How of Happiness, Sphere, Great Britain.

Schwartzberg, L 2011, Gratitude | Louie Schwartzberg | TEDxSF, YouTube Video, 11 June, TEDx Talks YouTube channel, viewed 15 April, 2016, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gXDMoiEkyuQ>.

Happiness Diary Entry #5

This week was our final week of our Happiness Activities.

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This week, I was grateful for:

12/04/16:

  • I am grateful that we had nice weather, warm weather yesterday, and appreciated that it didn’t start raining until we were driving home, and that it had stopped before we had to get out of the car.
  • I am grateful that Alex stood in line and ordered my hot chocolate for me.
  • I am grateful that my Dad is up in Wollongong and that my sisters, Alex and I all got to share a nice family meal together.

15/04/2016:

  • I am so grateful that I was able to catch up with my friend Lucy, who I haven’t seen in months, as she lives five hours away. I am also grateful for the encouragement to reach out to Lucy and arrange to catch up, from the CST228 group assignment on Friendship.
  • I am grateful that I have finished a very stressful week at uni and feel that I have done well with all of the assignments I have had to submit.
  • I am grateful that today I was able to have a little bit of a sleep-in after an exhausting week.

Happiness Diary Entry #4

This past week (04/04 – 10/04) has been an extremely stressful and busy week at uni. I had a number of assignments due during the week and in the next couple of days. These circumstances made journaling more difficult than in the previous weeks. I still enjoyed sitting down and reflecting and writing the entries, however I felt that I dedicated less time to journaling and felt that I had less to write during this week, because I was in a stressed state of mind.

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This week, I was grateful for:

07/04/16:

  • I was grateful that I had the opportunity to sit outside at Panizzi cafe, in the beautiful, warm sun yesterday, during my break at uni.
  • I was grateful for the girl who posted in the UOW Buy and Sell page on Facebook that Priceline was having a 40% off their cosmetics.

08/04/16:

  • I am grateful that I have a good, reliable group for the MARK333 group assessment. The cooperation of the girls in our group has helped to elevate a little bit of the stress that I have been experiencing.

10/04/16:

  • I am grateful that the MARK333 exam is over with, and I feel that I did well.
  • I am grateful that Part A of the MARK333 assessment is submitted.

 

Happiness Diary Entry #3

I apologise for my delay on my third Happiness Diary entry. I usually post on a Sunday night so that I can reflect on the week that has past, but last night my boyfriend decided to take me out for dinner, and I thought that would be of better value to my overall wellbeing.

This week I continued writing my gratitudes more than once a week. Again, I wrote in my journal three times, and these were my entries.

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31/03/16

  • I am grateful for my boyfriend, Alex, for cooking me dinner after I got home from uni. Even though it was a simple meal, it was a lovely gesture, as I was tired and sore.
  • I am grateful for my strawberry body wash, because it smells delicious, and makes getting up and getting ready for the day more enjoyable. I am also grateful for my friends, Sam and Lauren, who gave it to me for my birthday.
  • I am grateful for my colleagues who were caring and supportive during my first shift back at work.
  • I am grateful for the flowers Alex bought me, because I surpassed 100 subscribers n YouTube.

01/04/16

  • I am grateful for Alex buying me a coffee because I had no money on me. It was a small, but very generous and kind act.

03/04/16

  • I am grateful for the way Alex always gives me a kiss when he leaves for work and I am still asleep in bed.
  • I am grateful for my mum inviting me over for dinner, and for the family meal we had together with my grandparents.
  • I am grateful for Alex’s spontaneity in his decision to take me out for dinner.

I have continued to enjoy writing down my gratitudes on a frequent basis, however, until Wednesday, I did forget to actually write them down in my journal.

I also tried something new this week, and shared what I had written with Alex, because I am so often grateful for the things that he does. Since beginning this exercise I have tried to be more grateful for the people, things, and opportunities in my life, and have started to be more vocal about my gratitudes. I frequently tell Alex that I appreciate what he does for me but I wanted to share what I had taken the time to write down. This gave me a great deal of satisfaction and happiness, and have since considered giving the link to my blog to my friends and family who have appeared in my Gratitude Journal, so they too know how much I appreciate the things they do, however big or small.

 

 

 

 

 

Living on Social Media

On Android’s alone, ninety-three million selfies are taken each day. 93 MILLION! And people were checking their phones 100 BILLION times per day. On Apple devices, such as my iPhone 5, there is an automatically generated Selfies folder in the Photos’ App. Embarrassingly, mine currently has 1,058 photos. My only saving grace is that they are not all of my selfies… some are of my dog. Latest data estimates that millennial’s, such as myself, will spend approximately 54 hours per year taking selfies. This equates to more than 25,000 selfies during their lifetime.

When studying the media, we often reflect on how we look at the media, and more inwardly, how we look at ourselves in the media. In doing so, for this particular topic, we have been looking at social media and the phenomena of the quantified self. Basically, this means talking about selfies. In particular, how selfies have been linked to three specific cultural shifts.

The first shift is online media’s ability to determine status (Evans, 2015). In his book, Status Anxiety, Alain de Botton (2005) explains this shift as ‘one’s value and importance in the eyes of the world.’ The second shift is the rise of the ‘attention economy’ (Goldhaber, 1997; cited in Evans, 2015). On the internet, attention in the new currency, and it is a scares and precious resource (Evans, 2015). The third shift, and arguable the most prevalent in 2016, is the increasing shift in celebrity culture (Evans, 2015). As explained by Joshua Gamson, in his article, The Unwatched Life Is Not Worth Living: The Elevation of the Ordinary in Celebrity Culture, (2011: 1062) “celebrity culture is increasingly populated by unexceptional people who have become famous and by stars who have been made ordinary”.

The age of social media has given rise to the ‘microcelebrity’ – celebrities who obtain their fame on social media platforms (Evans, 2015). Ordinary people are sharing their lives, hobbies and talents online, and becoming incredibly wealthy and famous as a result. These people are using celebrity strategies to build a profile, reach out to their followers and fans, and have a willingness to reveal personal information about themselves (Evans, 2015).

From my personal experience, the social media platforms where I find this most prevalent are those like YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat.

Most people of my generation and younger, namely Gen Y and Gen X, spend more time watching YouTube then TV. Since launching ten years ago, YouTube has acquired over a billion users, who watch hundreds of millions of hours and generate billions of views. The platform has allowed anyone with a camera to post content, resulting in an immeasurable variety of content to be created, uploaded and watched. Some of the most successful of that content revolve around gaming, DIY, education, beauty, skits, and general entertainment. YouTube has created household names for our generation, including Jenna Marbles, Tyler Oakly, Pewdiepie, the Vlog Brothers, Smosh, and Jaclyn Hill, who all found or consolidated their fame on YouTube.

As well as creating content, these internet celebrities ‘skillfully juggles Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube to build a deeply loyal connection with fans’. This is, arguably, the distinct difference between mainstream and internet celebrities; celebrities who found their fame on social media are often (but not always) more connected with their fans, as they realise the fan’s importance to their success.

Instagram fame is, arguably, less about creative ability, but just as formulated. When researching this topic, and searching Instagram Fame on Google, there are numerous results for How To Quickly Get Popular On Instagram and Cracking the Instagram algorithm for fame. There is even a wikiHow on gaining Instagram Fame. There are fewer articles about it’s impact on the younger social media generation.

In relation to this topic, the phenomena of the ‘quantified self’ was also discussed. The Quantified Self movement is ‘self knowledge through numbers’ (Evans, 2015). Although this was discussed in relation to personal health and medical tracking, I think it has relevance in our culture of social media. Success and self-worth are becoming increasingly intertwined with our social media numbers; the number of followers, the number of views, and the number of likes.

I, myself, am an aspiring YouTuber (shameless plug) and experience a lot of these things. I spend a lot of time filming, editing, uploading and promoting the content for my growing YouTube channel and linked social media accounts, such as my Instagram account. Social media has created new careers and opportunities, not only for people who create the platforms, but for the people who appear on the platforms. I found this topic very interesting, and so relevant in 2016, that this could quite possibly be the topic I pursue for my research project.

 

References:

de Botton, A 2005, Status Anxiety, Penguin UK, United Kingdom.

Evans, N 2016, ‘Looking at Ourselves: Social Media and the Quantified Self’, lecture, UOW, presented 16 March, 2016.