This was the question posed by The Wall Street Journal in a recent piece that has many women talking. The article by Shirley S. Wang looks at the growth of the “positive psychology” field and its findings on the role happiness can play in health. For years the common logic has been that happiness can keep a person healthy. However, new research suggests that the relentless pursuit of happiness itself might actually cause more harm than good.
Since 1995, the Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago has studied how patients battle with the disease. Their early research found that happier patients were 57 percent less likely to die, confirming what many in the medical community and in shelf-help books everywhere believed. But this year in a separate analysis, researchers decided to look at the group of 950 Alzheimer patients who had an average age of 80 again. They found that many of the patients who were coping with the disease included those who faced depressive symptoms, neuroticism, other serious medical conditions and had low-income.
So if happiness was not the defining factor in survival- what was? According to the researchers, the one thing all of those who lived to fight the disease had in common was a higher sense of purpose and self. And get this- the group of researchers studying the group said those who were focused on trying to get to happy, found that the pursuit “in and of itself can become a psychological burden.”
This is not to say that happiness is irrelevant, but that it is not the only thing worth striving for. Often times when we speak about “getting to happy,” what we really are searching for is some kind of state of elation. It’s a tiring pursuit and futile, as life will always prove an interruption.
You can’t be a real woman without facing real challenges. There’s no avoiding it- whether you’re losing your mind at 80 or 25- it’s part of the game. But if we shift our focus from the way we feel to who we are, we will find the things that sustain us through it all.
Today, choose to focus on your purpose and anchoring your self to something more. Realize that happiness isn’t a feeling- it’s a choice. And if you want to be happy, then be.