How do you define a happy person? I mean, are we looking for someone who’s always smiling and saying hello? Or how about the friendliest neighbour on the block? Maybe that colleague who always sees the bright side in everything?
Looking for answers, I called Dr. Mark Holder — an associate professor at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan, where he studies the science of happiness — to see if he could nail down a definition.
Q: What are some common traits of happy people?
A: In terms of personality, happy people tend to be more extroverted — so they like the company of others. They’re energized by the social world. They prefer the company of others versus being alone with a book.
Also happy people are highly extroverted and are low in neuroticism. That really means they’re people who aren’t anxious, who do not worry. The key component to it all is the social aspect — happy people tend to have several friends they can confide in with their successes and set backs. And when I say friends, I don’t mean 17,000 Facebook friends. That’s not what I’m referring to. I’m referring to the Scottish saying that we can count the true friends in our lifetime on the fingers of but one hand.
Q: How do you define a happy person?
A: Those are some of the traits. But happy people tend to be more spiritual and they tend to engage in more active leisure — so things like dancing and joining a sports team. And they’re less likely to engage in passive leisure, so being on the computer or watching TV.
Happy people tend to volunteer more and they engage in acts of kindness — so they tend to do pro-social behaviour. With money, they’re happier when they’re spending their money on others as opposed to on themselves. So if I gave you $100, you take a friend out to lunch rather than buying yourself the latest trinket.
Q: Any thoughts on how we in general we can become more happy?
A: First, I’d start with a cautionary note — one size does not fit all. So I can’t give you a “recipe” for happiness because different things work for different people. That said, this works for many people. That is: get out and physically exercise. Nurture your close relationships. Volunteer. Go out in nature. Express and experience gratitude. And savour the small blessings in life.
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