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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

The X Factor in Happiness

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Aug 8th 2008

angry man smashing laptop computerPart of what I’ve been thinking about and studying for years has been the area of happiness, what is it? Who has it? How does it relate to stress, anxiety, depression, addiction, etc…Is there a science behind it?

So many people I have come across think that if they just made a bit more money that would make them happy. Do we agree? Well, in one major study, the Maasai tribe in East Africa who have no electricity, no running water, and live in huts made out of dung, were equally as satisfied with life as the top 400 on Forbes richest Americans. This tells us that high financial success is not necessary for life satisfaction.

Another bit of research says that 50% of our happiness is genetically determined, 40% is affected by how we relate to setbacks, and only 10% is determined by what’s going on in our lives.

In other words, whether we are swimming in millions and living in a penthouse on 5th avenue in New York or having no electricity or running water and living in a house made out of dung in East Africa makes almost no difference.

What do we make of this and what about that 40%? This is the critical factor and something we must pay attention to. How we relate to our pain and stress makes a huge difference in our happiness, including our level of depression and anxiety. Here is an example that I often give to my clients to help clarify this:

Let’s say you were hammering a nail into a wall and all of a sudden, bam the hammer hits your thumb. In one scenario your reaction is, "Oh *&^%, I can’t believe I did this, I’m such an idiot, this is the worst pain in the world, will it ever go away, oh the throbbing…aaahhhh". In this scenario, your perception of the pain increases, it actually hurts more in your mind. In the next scenario, the hammer hits your thumb and instead of relating to the pain with self-judgment and complaint, you intentionally turn your attention to the actual sensation of the pain, acknowledging it while saying in your mind "pain, pain, pain" and noticing the sensations as they ripple and resonate, coming and going as they naturally do. In this scenario, while the pain is still there, your perception of its intensity is less and you don’t suffer as much through the process. This works the same for our emotional pain.

So what’s the take home message? We might say our attitude toward life, the way we relate to life, our pain, and our stress can make a great difference in our level of happiness, depression, anxiety, addictions, and other afflictions.

For those of you out there that have had success with happiness or for those who it has been a struggle, please share with us what has worked, what hasn’t worked, so we can connect and all learn from one another.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

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