Dr. Seuss, perhaps the world’s most beloved author of children’s books, enchanted young readers with clever rhymes, encouraging messages, and charmingly absurd illustrations. While Dr. Seuss may have written his books with children in mind, his pages are full of wisdom, relevant for any age. And though Dr. Seuss wasn’t really a doctor, when it comes to being happy, his messages align with the consensus of doctors in the fields of psychology and sociology.
So, if you want to be happier, check out these Lessons on Happiness from Dr. Seuss:
1Gratitude Helps You Be Happy
Gratitude is the acknowledgement and appreciation for things we receive, whether material or intangible. Gratitude demonstrates the recognition that goodness, at least a portion of it, lies beyond oneself, and is given by outside sources, whether it be from others, God, nature, or life circumstances. Feeling that goodness, at least some fraction of it, comes from outside oneself, helps an individual feel more connected to something bigger than themselves, a feeling that contributes to happiness.
According to Harvard Health, positive psychology theories posits “gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”
3Helping Others Helps Yourself be Happier
In an article by USNEWS, Mark Snyder, a psychologist devoted to the study of happiness, touts research that connects volunteering with “higher self-esteem, psychological well-being, and happiness.” Volunteering contributes to happiness in numerous ways: it helps the volunteer feel like they’ve lived a more meaningful life, it “runs against the strong dynamics of self-interest” (ironically, research shows that people who are less preoccupied with themselves tend to like themselves better,) and finally, volunteering helps incorporate an individual into their community, increasing a person’s “feelings of social connectedness,” which as previously shown, is important to feeling happy.
If you need a little inspiration to get out there and volunteer, check out this amazing compilation of everyday heroes, which reveals ordinary people doing extraordinary things for others.
4Pursue Experiences, Not Possessions
Turns out you can buy happiness…when you spend your money on making memories. Researchers specializing in the psychology of happiness, have long touted that experiences provide more enduring happiness than possessions.
Experiences contribute to happiness in numerous ways. First, simply anticipating the experience makes us happier. According to an article in the Atlantic “when you can’t live in a moment…it’s best to live in anticipation of an experience. Experiential purchases like trips, concerts, movies, etc., tend to trump material purchases because the utility of buying anything really starts accruing before you buy it…Waiting for an experience apparently elicits more happiness and excitement than waiting for a material good…By contrast, waiting for a possession is more likely fraught with impatience than anticipation.”
Second, experiences turn into memories, an inexhaustible reserve of happy thoughts. “Experiences — preserved as memories — stand out from the details of our daily grind, while acquisitions or lifestyles eventually become the details of our daily grind.”
One police officer took this to heart, when he took a month off of his job to pursue an experience of a life time, and the pictures he took of it all are jaw dropping.
5Exercising Helps You Be Happy
The positive benefits exercise and healthy eating have on both the mind and body are well documented, and researchers even point to exercise as a source of happiness. Besides being a natural painkiller, exercise triggers our body to release feel good hormones, such as norepinephrine.
6Happiness is a Balancing Act
We have all heard how important it is to have balance in our lives, especially when it comes to allocating our time and thoughts between work and family, education and entertainment, relationships and self-improvement, etc. But According to Thomas Merton, a renowned Trappist monk and author, happiness is also dependent on a balance between good times and bad, saying “We cannot be happy if we expect to live all the time at the highest peak of intensity. Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance and order and rhythm and harmony…Music is pleasing not only because of the sound but because of the silence that is in it: without the alternation of sound and silence there would be no rhythm.” From “No Man Is an Island.”
So next time things tough, remember the hard times are as important as the good times to your overall happiness.
8Developing What You Do Best = Happiness
The renowned psychologist Martin Seligman believes that each individual has a unique disposition towards moral traits, which he terms “signature strengths.” Signature strengths are different than talents. Talents tend to be inherent, and can be magnified through cultivation, like the vocal talent of this 4 year old boy. Signature strengths are the character strengths that compose the essence of who we are. These characteristics can be learned and developed, eventually evolving into virtues.
It is through the recognition and cultivation of signature strengths as well as the implementation of these strengths in daily living that leads to authentic happiness, as Seligman explains in his book “Authentic Happiness:” “The good life consists in deriving happiness by using your signature strengths every day in the main realms of living.” (2002, p. 161).
9You Have Some Choice Over Your Own Happiness
Nature v nurture is a common argument in the world of psychology. It debates the root causes of a person’s behavior. Nature enthusiasts believe a person is mostly shaped by their genetics. On the other hand, nurture purist believe that people are a product of their environment. Most psychologists believe that most people are a byproduct of both nurture and nature. So where does that leave happiness? Are we born happy? Are we made happy or unhappy by life experiences? Does a person have any choice over their happiness?
According to psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, in her book “The How of Happiness,” 50% of a person’s happiness is genetically predetermined. 10% of a person’s happiness is effected by their life experiences. That leaves 40% of a person’s happiness, left up to the individual.
As Lyubomirsky explains “Although on the face of it… data appears to suggest that we all are subject to our genetic programming, that we all are destined to be only as happy as that “programming” allows, in actuality they do not. Our genes do not determine our life experience and behavior. Indeed our “hard wiring” can be dramatically influenced by our experience and our behavior… Even the most heritable traits like height, which has a heritability level of .90 (relative to about .50 for happiness), can be radically modified by environmental and behavioral changes.”
10Happy People are Able to Roll with the Punches
According to psychologist, flexibility and resiliency is crucial to happiness.
Flexibility is a strength that preserves our sense of happiness despite unhappy events and situations that occur in life. Flexibility, in the psychological sense, is a person’s ability to cope with life’s challenges and think about problems in creative and productive ways. This is especially beneficial to a person’s happiness when they encounter situations that are unexpected and stressful and require a person to change the way they see things.
Resiliency is a person’s ability to bounce back after experiencing difficult or traumatic experiences. It is manifest through a person’s perception of the control they have over their emotions and perceptions. While some people seem innately more resilient than others, resiliency is an inner strength that can be developed according to psychologists at the UAB Research Group on Stress and Health, who explain “Some of the characteristics of being resilient can be worked on and improved, such as self-esteem and being able to regulate one’s emotions. Learning these techniques can offer people the resources needed to help them adapt and improve their quality of life.”
Perhaps there is no greater example of people who can roll with the punches then these inspirational athletes, who show just how flexibility and resilient a person can be when they are determined to overcome challenges.
11Relationships Help You Be Happy
Individuals who have tight-knit relationships, people to laugh and spend time with, whether with family or friends, tend to be happier people and can navigate through the stormy situations of life, with more hope and optimism. Relationships foster happiness in many ways, one of which is through the stimulation of “feel good chemicals.” Science has demonstrated that the body releases oxytocin when a person is in the presence of loved ones. Oxytocin produces feelings of love, connectedness, well-being, and can provide pain relief.
Not only do relationships make us happier, they also make life easier, especially when the “sun is not sunny.” According to the psychologists behind the Social Baseline Theory, being alone is hard. Really hard. Not just emotionally. Going solo demands more resources and more effort to get along in the world, which often leads to unhappiness. So call your mom, hang out with your friend, nurture and develop the relationships in your life, because they are a big part of your happiness.