Joco Diversions

Happiness doesn’t have to be so elusive, and science can help

Finding focus is easy to do when you commune with nature at a place like Powell Gardens.
Finding focus is easy to do when you commune with nature at a place like Powell Gardens. File photo

Not long ago, my husband and I sat down to watch the 2011 documentary called “Happy.”

The 75-minute documentary explores the science behind happiness, offering revelations, tips and hope for all of us seeking to make the most out of our lives.

Since my first viewing, I’ve watched it several times, sharing the movie with friends and family, hoping they’ll find the same encouragement the movie has given me. Chock full of rich, practical advice, it’s given me a daily boost, and a new outlook on little tweaks I can make in my own lifestyle.

Five of my favorite take-aways from the movie include:

▪ Once basic needs are met, more money does not increase happiness. I found this so freeing — to know that there’s no difference in happiness levels between someone who makes $50,000 and $500,000. If people can just believe that money won’t buy happiness, we can start living a richer life.

▪ Variety is the spice of life, and seeking out new experiences, even little diversions from our usual paths, can enrich our lives. I often find myself rushing from task to task, never taking time to stop and enjoy.

The other day, as I passed by an antique mall I’ve seen a million times, I parked the car and spent 20 minutes walking around. I looked at the items, imagined their previous owners, considered their histories.

Immediately, my week became more colorful. The simple stroll through someone else’s history made a mundane day seem much more interesting.

▪ One of the most important factors in happiness is connectedness. Our friendships, families and other close relationships are key, and should be prioritized and cared for.

Community can come in many forms, and should be nurtured with care. I felt a jolt, as I considered whether I’m nurturing my relationships.

Again, I’m oh-so-busy, spending less time with my children as they become more independent, engaging less with my friends. Fewer conversations, less face-to-face laughing and fun.

▪ “Flow” is the state of getting so engrossed in a task, action or project, that everything else around us melts away. You can experience flow when working, exercising or anything else where we get lost in what we’re doing.

The more someone engages in activities where they find flow, the happier they report being.

▪ Setting goals and working on things that are hard, just for the sake of accomplishing those tasks, are excellent ways to increase our happiness.

People who set out to climb a mountain, run a marathon or sail around the world, are setting themselves up to fulfill a key component of happiness.

▪ When we help someone else and feel compassion for others, we help ourselves just as much. Is this not the answer to all our problems? Those who can help do so for those who need help, to the mutual benefit of both parties.

The concept of choosing to engage in activities that are scientifically proven to increase happiness was novel to me. I once chalked up happiness almost entirely to circumstance and chemical makeup, yet now understand there’s a wealth of opportunity that anyone can claim, contributing to an overall sense of happiness and well being.

For more information about the science of happiness, check out The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley’s website for science-based tips and practice for living a happier life.

Emily Parnell lives in Overland Park, and can be reached at