As empty nesters, many of us retired and often widowed or divorced, life has changed radically for us. And, it is hard work to keep our equilibrium. In “O, The Oprah Magazine,” Gabrielle LeBlanc queried prominent experts on what happy people have in common. Following are some excerpts from her commentary, all pointing toward why we should follow their lead.
1. They find their most golden self. Cobbled from the Greek eu (“good”) and daimon (“spirit” or “deity”), eudaimonia means striving toward excellence based on one’s unique talents and potential—Aristotle considered it to be the noblest goal in life. Today it is called “personal growth,” meaning confronting new challenges, thereby fulfilling our inherent purposes in life.
“Eudaimonic well-being is much more robust and satisfying than hedonic happiness, and it engages different parts of the brain,” says Richard J. Davidson, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “The positive emotion accompanying thoughts that are directed toward meaningful goals is one of the most enduring components of well-being.” Eudaimonia is also good for the body. Women who scored high on psychological tests for it (they were purposefully engaged in life, pursued self-development) weighed less, slept better, and had fewer stress hormones and markers for heart disease than others—including those reporting hedonic happiness—according to a study led by Carol Ryff, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
If you could return to childhood, what personal daimon might you find? Could you awaken this self today?
2. They design their lives to bring in joy, as in taking proactive strides toward their goals and overall happiness rather than passively accepting circumstances. Even tiny steps toward more fun, less drudgery are beneficial.
3. They avoid “if only” fantasies. If only I get a better job…find a man…lose the weight…life will be perfect. “Happy people don’t buy into this kind of thinking.”
Current research shows that we are poor at predicting what will make us happy, as in “the focusing illusion,” which is when someone concentrates on only one aspect of their life to the exclusion of others.“Hedonic adaptation“ is the other mistake we often make. An example is thinking that ‘if only I had a boyfriend, I’d be happy,’ then losing interest after a year of being in a committed relationship.
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