U.N. Day of Happiness (March 20): Is There a Smile on Your Horizon?

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March 15, 2016

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WACO, Texas (March 15, 2016) — Feeling less than ecstatic as the United Nations-decreed “Day of Happiness” approaches? Should you just plaster a smile on your face on March 20 (Sunday), or can your grin be more genuine — and longer-lasting?

Baylor University researchers, while allowing that there is no surefire “how-to” for happiness, share some findings — about issues ranging from relationships to fashion to technology to faith — that may help chase the blues away. These are, after all, folks whose research gets published in such venerable publications as the Journal of Positive Psychology and Personality and Individual Differences, so listen up.

  • Gratitude, Not ‘Gimme’
  • People who are materialistic are more likely to be depressed and unsatisfied — in part because they find it harder to be grateful for what they have, according to a Baylor University study on gratitude.

    “Gratitude is a positive mood. It’s about other people,” says lead author Jo-Ann Tsang, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology and neuroscience in Baylor’s College of Arts and Sciences. “We’re social creatures, and so focusing on others in a positive way is good for our health.”

    “As we amass more and more possessions, we don’t get any happier; we simply raise our reference point,” adds study co-author James Roberts, Ph.D., professor marketing in Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business. “That new 2,500-square-foot house becomes the baseline for your desires for an even bigger house. We continue to purchase more and more stuff, but we don’t get any closer to happiness; we simply speed up the treadmill.”

    Take a tip from Elvis and say: “Thank you. Thank you very much.”

  • ‘Let It Go’ — and We Aren’t Talking about the Song from ‘Frozen’
  • Forgiving — and being forgiven — are good for your emotional health, Baylor researchers have found. Try letting bygones be bygones. And if you’re the offender — gossiping, betraying a romantic partner or walloping someone in the jaw — making amends gives you emotional permission to forgive yourself.

    Why does that matter? Because the inability to self-forgive can be a factor in depression, anxiety and a weakened immune system, according to a Baylor study on forgiveness.

    "One barrier people face in forgiving themselves is that they feel they deserve to feel bad. Our study found that making amends gives us permission to let go,” says Thomas Carpenter, a Baylor psychology researcher.

  • Roses Don’t Always Cut It
  • So now we know that making amends is good for you and others. So when you are at odds with your significant other, an “I’m sorry,” a floral arrangement or a candlelit dinner are in order to make things happy again, right?

    Actually, the most common thing that couples want from each other during a conflict is not an apology, but a willingness to relinquish power, according to a study on couples' conflicts conflict by Keith Sanford, Ph.D., Baylor University associate professor of psychology and neuroscience.

    That can mean giving a partner more independence, admitting faults, showing respect and being willing to compromise, he found in studies of couples. Also on the wish: show more of an investment in the relationship by sharing thoughts or feelings, listening, and sharing chores and activities; stop acting like an opponent; be affectionate; and finally, apologize.

  • Taking God to Work
  • People who see God as a “safe place” for intimacy and attachment are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs, according to a Baylor study about attachment to God. They’re also more likely to be emotionally committed to their workplaces, the Baylor study found — and that might bring a little joy to their bosses.

    “Attachment to God may relate to a sense of safety and confidence that encourages exploration of the world — and as adults, our primary form of exploration is work,” says lead author Blake Kent, a doctoral candidate in sociology at Baylor and author of the study on attachment to God and effect on the job.

    In an emotional commitment, employees keep their jobs because they want to rather than because they need or ought to, he said. Such commitment is linked to lower absenteeism and turnover, less conflict and higher productivity. And attachment to God also may buffer against negative emotions and help cope with workplace challenges.

  • Put Down the Phone
  • If you want continued happiness in your romantic relationship, drop your cellphone.

    Research by James A. Roberts, Ph.D., The Ben H. Williams Professor of Marketing, and Meredith David, Ph.D., assistant professor of marketing, confirms that cellphones are damaging romantic relationships and leading to higher levels of depression. The study of “phubbing” – or phone snubbing – showed:

    • 46.3 percent of the respondents reported being phubbed by their partner

    • 22.6 percent said this phubbing caused conflict in their relationships

    • 36.6 percent reported feeling depressed at least some of the time

    “When you think about the results, they are astounding,” Roberts said. “Something as common as cellphone use can undermine the bedrock of our happiness – our relationships with our romantic partners.”

  • Ahead of the Curve with the New Curvy Barbie (and Her Pals, Petite Barbie and Tall Barbie)
  • Self-acceptance is one key to happiness, and the new line of Barbies — including short, tall and Rubenesque — are good news for society — women in particular — as “a tangible reflection of how much more open our society has become,” said Lorynn Divita, Ph.D., associate professor of apparel merchandising at Baylor and co-author of “Fashion Forecasting.”

    “The runaway success of Adele has proven that someone with amazing talent does not have to meet a certain cookie-cutter image to become a pop icon,” she said.

    Fashionable clothing for plus sizes is available from brands such as Eloquii, providing exactly the same trends as the standard-sized market, and non-retouched photos of models even are being used in some retailers’ ads.

    “Brands such as Spanx are struggling to reinvent themselves because society’s concept of the ideal body is no longer what it once was,” Divita said. “Things like compression garments now seem outmoded with this new acceptance of diversity of body types and embracing curves.”

    ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY

    Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.

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