October 22, 2006 Happiness is an emotion that means different things to different people. Researchers have long sought clues to find the keys to happiness. One finding relates to wealth. There is a popular saying, "money cant buy happiness." Studies now show theres a lot of truth to the adage. Money is needed to supply basic needs, like housing, food, clothing and medicine. But once those needs are filled, the effect of money is less significant. Overall, wealthy people are more likely to report being happier than those with lower incomes. However, when asked to rate happiness throughout the course of a day, there are only minor differences in the degrees of happiness between the two income groups. In fact, people in higher income levels were more likely to report intense negative emotions and stress than those at lower income levels. Lottery studies have also found that while big winners may initially report high levels of happiness, the intensity of the emotion eventually wanes. And in some cases, winners eventually report their lives to be worse off than they were before receiving their prize money. What about marriage? Depending on who you talk to, marriage is either the best thing in the world or their worst nightmare. However, surveys show that overall, married people tend to be happier than single people. Some researchers theorize just the act of getting married increases levels of happiness. Its uncertain whether happy people tend to marry other happy people, or if simply being married increases happiness. Age may influence happiness. Studies show older people tend to be happier than younger people. Many people believe as people age, they are more likely to roll with the punches and take life events in stride. When negative events occur, many older people have learned to deal with bad situations as best as possible and focus on positive aspects of their lives. For many Americans, faith is an important part of what makes them happy. A belief in God or a higher power provides hope, comfort and assurance during periods of stress and uncertainty. Churchgoers also usually have an active support system. Some people say they are born happy. Researchers believe genetics may account for about 50 percent of how people respond emotionally to their circumstances. However, family upbringing can lead to a learned response and influence happiness. While many factors influence degree of happiness, the emotion in turn also seems to have a positive effect on a persons life. Generally, people who say they are happy tend to be healthier and live longer. Negative emotions are associated with an increase in levels of stress hormones. High levels of cortisol, one type of stress hormone, has been linked to an increased risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and some autoimmune disorders. Happiness and Resilience Resilience is the ability to "bounce back" when faced with adversity. It involves changes in thoughts, behaviors and actions and often takes time and several steps to accomplish. When faced with a life-changing or major event in their lives, some people say they are unable to cope and may become despondent - further inhibiting their ability to deal with the situation. University of Michigan Psychologist, Peter Ubel, M.D., says people who are less resilient often focus solely on the single event. The most resilient patients make the best of the circumstances and manage to turn the situation around. It doesnt always happen quickly. There may be some initial struggles and obstacles, but eventually, patients regain their level of happiness. In some cases, patients are even happier than they had been before the life-changing event. Happiness can affect how people respond to an event. People who think negative thoughts often have a hard time coping or coming up with a way to change their situation. In some cases, they may feel powerless to make any positive changes. On the other hand, resilient people look beyond the immediate problem, focusing instead on what they have and can do - or perhaps can learn to do. Ubel has written a book that describes several scenarios of people who have faced serious and sometimes drastic changes in their lives and have overcome those obstacles to make better lives for themselves. In each story, Ubel explains how the person overcame the adversity and suggests methods that may help others become more resilient. The book, Youre Stronger Than You Think, is published by McGraw-Hill and is available through local and online book stores. It lists for $14.95. AUDIENCE INQUIRY Peter Ubels book, Youre Stronger Than You Think, is published by McGraw-Hill and is available through local and online book stores. It lists for $14.95. 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