The Science of Happiness
by Ann Recine, RN MSN APNP, Louis Recine, S.F.O., Koreen Schultz, BSN
Have you ever considered the health benefits of forgiveness? Most of us agree with C.S. Lewis who said, “Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.” OK. Let’s say someone is rude to you in the grocery store, or you get a nasty e-mail. I bet that: “Is this a great opportunity for forgiveness, or what?” is not the first thought that enters your mind. Well, after you read what science has to say you’ll probably be much more likely to have that response.
There’s been an explosion of research in the field of psychoneuroimmunology. Psycho…neuro…what?? Psychoneuroimmunology is the science that shows how positive emotions affect your nervous system and your body defense system to fight disease and heal itself. And hard on its heels, there’s been a surge of interest in Positive Psychology, which, let’s face it, is easier to pronounce.
Eight years ago the American Psychologist devoted its millennial issue to the emerging science of Positive Psychology, the study of positive emotions, positive character and positive institutions. Today, Positive Psychology continues to gather together the best theory and research to study what makes life worth living. Is that not cool? The research methods and designs that have advanced medical science have been used to create evidence-based practice to help people have lasting happiness. And who wouldn’t like that?
These scientists created a handbook and classification system of six Virtues and 24 Character Strengths that increase human well-being. They developed reliable methods to assess these traits in people. Interestingly enough, they discovered an amazing similarity of common character strengths in all 50 states and in 40 different countries around the world from Azerbaijan to Venezuela.
One of the twenty-four Character Strengths identified by scientists that help humans to thrive, is forgiveness. How does a quality like forgiveness help a person to thrive? Research has shown that people who forgive unconditionally have more resistance to illness, less fatigue, better sleep, better general health, and they age well. People who are forgiving have less anxiety, depression, and anger.
Happiness research not only tests what emotions increase human well-being but how to learn to increase or exercise these qualities. For example, research shows that in order to learn to forgive more it helps to focus on examples of people who are good forgivers or people you have never met but whom you admire for their ability to demonstrate forgiveness.
It is also important to pay attention to the physiological states that help you to be able to forgive – being tuned into how your body feels at any given time and knowing how to adjust it and make it calmer can help. Yoga or mindfulness meditation can aid you to develop this presence of mind and body. A calm body and mind make it possible for you to more accurately see the choices you are making. For example, when you have a calm mind and body you can see that in choosing not to forgive you may actually be choosing a life goal of revenge, or self-protection that leads to negative emotions of anger, fear, and hate.
When you are calm you can see that choosing to forgive yourself and others is choosing a life goal of giving an unconditional gift to yourself, others, and maybe God, too. You can see that this leads to emotions of peace, joy, and love. When we are struggling to increase a positive quality in ourselves, the most important thing is to remember your past success with the particular quality and know that you can do it again.
Forgiveness is just one of the 24 Character Strengths that will increase your happiness, help you feel that your life is worth living, and give you the tools to respond to nasty e-mails, cranky shoppers and all those other cool experiences. If you want to discover great ways to increase your happiness and health and possibly also become part of the internet-based research work of the University of Pennsylvania, go to: http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/