For those of you still not convinced, Sonja Lyubomirsky elaborates on some of the evidence for why we should be happy in this excerpt from her seminal book, The How of Happiness. In this passage, you'll find references--and links--to some key studies on the topic.
The following is excerpted from The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, by Sonja Lyubomirsky (Penguin Press, 2007), pp. 24-26. Reprinted with permission of the author.
Why should we put forth all this effort in order to be happier? In case anyone needed convincing, the scientific evidence reveals many compelling reasons to aspire for greater happiness and fulfillment. My collaborators Ed Diener and Laura King and I have documented a large and growing psychological literature showing that becoming happier doesn't just make you feel good. It turns out that happiness brings with it multiple fringe benefits. Compared with their less happy peers, happier people are more sociable and energetic, more charitable and cooperative, and better liked by others. Not surprisingly then, happier people are more likely to get married and to stay married and to have richer networks of friends and social support. Furthermore, contrary to Woody Allen's suggestion in Annie Hall that happy people are "shallow and empty, and . . . have no ideas and nothing interesting to say," they actually show more flexibility and ingenuity in their thinking and are more productive in their jobs. They are better leaders and negotiators and earn more money. They are more resilient in the face of hardship, have stronger immune systems, and are physically healthier. Happy people even live longer.
Consider just two of the examples from above: money and marriage. Comedian Henry Youngman once quipped, "What good is happiness? It can't buy money." He was very funny, but he was wrong. One study has shown that those who were happy as college freshman had higher salaries sixteen years later (when they were in their mid-thirties) without an initial wealth advantage. In another study, which also followed undergraduates over time, women who expressed sincere joy in their college yearbook photos were relatively more likely to be married by age twenty-seven and more likely to have satisfying marriages at age fifty-two.
Indeed, happiness is so important that an entire country--admittedly a very small country, the size of Switzerland--has made its goal to increase the well-being of its citizens. The king of Bhutan, the last Buddhist kingdom in the Himalayas, nestled between Indian and China, decided that the best way to foster economic development would be to boost his nation's gross domestic happiness--that is, to focus on the GDH rather than the GDP.
Bhutan's emphasis on the happiness of its people above all else appears to have produced society-wide benefits. Although most people in this tiny country are subsistence farmers, they have what they need--food on the table and universal health care--and have refused to make money from commercial ventures that might compromise the health and beauty of their environment and their egalitarian existence.
In sum, across all the domains of life, happiness appears to have numerous positive by-products that few of us have taken the time to really understand. In becoming happier, we not only boost experiences of joy, contentment, love, pride, and awe but also improve other aspects of our lives: our energy levels, our immune systems, our engagement with work and with other people, and our physical and mental health. In becoming happier, we bolster as well our feelings of self-confidence and self-esteem; we come to believe that we are worthy human beings, deserving of respect. A final and perhaps least appreciated plus is that if we become happier, we benefit not only ourselves but also our partners, families, communities, and even society at large.