Whole Living Daily

The Secret Revealed: What Makes Us Happy

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"Lunch Outdoors" painting by Bob Dornberg. Courtesy of artistwebsites.com

On an unseasonably warm spring day this past month, I was lunching with my college roommate in a small coffee-and-sandwich shop.

“I was glad I found out about the new tumor during the middle of the yoga retreat,” Kate said to me, “because despite the incredible spinal pain, I was better able to cope in an environment of balance and peace than if I had been at home dealing with the usual hectic runaround.”

It was disorienting to be enjoying a warm breeze and the best hummus I’d ever tasted while discussing such devastating news.

My friend is an amazing and inspiring woman -- even before I tell you how she spent her college years juggling a demanding athletic training major with caretaking of her mother with multiple sclerosis.

Before I tell you that she has battled this cancer not once but twice, and has met this second diagnosis not with defeat or despair but a whirlwind of a beautiful ocean-side marriage to a true soul mate, a series of trips to Broadway and to the tropics with her seven-year-old daughter, and the beginning of not one but two businesses aimed at increasing people’s health and happiness (for those in R.I. looking for a fabulous workout!).

I’m a professor at Assumption College, a small liberal arts college in Massachusetts, and I teach and research in the area of positive psychology.

In both my teaching and my scholarly work, I am again and again stunned how many psychological theories and areas of research and therapies converge on the same idea: that it isn’t the events or circumstances of our lives, but rather the meaning or interpretation we ascribe to these events and circumstances, that is the primary determinant of our happiness.

In this blog I hope to bring many of the newest and most exciting findings in the world of positive psychology to your computer screen, distilled into a format that you can take and apply to your life.

But this fact is the most basic and the most critical: How we interpret the meaning of the events in our lives determines our emotional reaction to them, and our overall level of well-being. So simple, so elegant, and so utterly in our control.

Which brings me back to my lunch with Kate, whose glowing skin and warm bright eyes completely belie her diagnosis. She is the exemplification of this principle. Not of how to face down cancer -- for how can that ever be anything but a personal journey? -- but rather, of how to live life.

Sarah Rose Cavanagh, Ph.D., is professor of psychology in affective science at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts. To learn more about her research, please visit LacasaEdu.com.

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Comments (2)

  • Your friend is an inspiration for all. I look forward to reading your forthcoming blog posts about the science behind positive psychology!

  • Hi Sarah, good reading - your blog...

    As your grandfather used to say, "most people who go fishing completely miss the point... because they think the reason one fishes is to catch fish."

    I have since found out that golf is very similar. Very often, at the end of a round, when the sun is low and the shadows are long, the colors intensify, the birds become very noticable as they noisely prepare for night and one switches from trying to hit the perfect golf shot to just marveling at the beauty of the place we have been given to live.

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