Every day, it seems, there's more and more research coming out about happiness.

So Really: What is Happiness?

It's confusing. First there are all the studies saying it's all in your genes and in the hardwiring of your brain. You can't really control it. Either you're happy or you're not. The bottom line of this line of thinking is: Some folks are just happier by virtue of who they are. They come out that way. Optimists. People who see the silver linings. The sun'll come out, kinds of people. Something about the way their brains work makes them resilient, forgiving, patient, hopeful.

I get depressed just thinking about them.

And then there's the school of thought that argues happiness can be learned. You can choose to live a happy life. You can will yourself to think happy, hopeful thoughts. There are quotes on happiness, poems, mantras, affirmations you can say to train yourself into happiness. You can re-train your negative-minded mind to turn that frown upside down. You can change your thoughts, rewrite your unhappy internal scripts, find the good.

Happiness on/in the Brain?

I've got happiness on the brain because in an attempt to avoid grading papers I somehow stumbled onto a Happiness Test, and since I cannot resist a challenge like that, I took it.

And I failed. Failed miserably.

Don't laugh. You take it. Go ahead. Take the True Happiness Test. Take it and come back. I'll wait.

How'd you do? I won't laugh, I promise. Glass houses over here.

(I shouldn't have admitted to the occasional nap. Maybe that was it.) Anyway, for whatever reason, I failed the test of being happy. After I got my 'grade' they gave me 'personalized recommendations,' so I could get happy.

My Unhappy Results:

"You scored relatively low in both remembered and experienced happiness. You might not feel very successful lately, but that doesn't mean you don't already have the tools and potential to be happy. Take the initiative to make some changes to your living space, and spend some time on activities that interest you and keep you busy. Keep reminding yourself of your accomplishments as you go, and soon you'll be more optimistic and ready to thrive."

And then they offered the following 5 Steps To Happiness:

Step 1: Find a Partner

Really? That's their first recommendation? That's the best they've got? I just need a boyfriend? Puhleez. I'm getting suspicious that my Mom's behind this quiz.

Tip: "People in a long-term, loving, and committed relationship are three times more likely to be happy than divorced, single, or widowed people."

Step 2: Sleep 7-9 hours

Seriously? Does any working mother you know sleep 7-9 hours? Can you freakin' imagine NINE HOURS OF ANYTHING???

Tip: "Research from psychologists shows that you need 7.5 - 9 hours of sleep a day to maximize your well-being. Getting fewer than 6 hours a night can make you 30% less happy than you could be. Optimize your bedroom for sleeping by relieving it of clutter, lowering the thermostat to 62 degrees, eliminating all light sources, and banning all TV or computer screens."

***I'm fascinated. How on earth did they quantify that less sleep makes you 30% less happy?

Step 3: Make Time to Meditate

Not to be negative, but my brain is too wild to be tamed. I've tried every form of mediation there is. My brain is so wild, I've been in yoga studios where a whole class is meditating and my brain is so, what is the word, resistant, that it sends out distracting signals to all the other brains in the silent room and everybody in the class freaks out and runs out screaming. True story.

Tip: "Regular meditation has been shown to activate areas of the brain that register pleasure and to inhibit parts of the brain that register pain. Establishing a dimly lit, quiet space where you can sit comfortably will make daily mediation, even if it's just as simple as counting breaths, more accessible."

Step 4: Spend Smarter

Talking about money totally stresses me out. NEXT!

Tip: "People who avoid debt are happier than those with bills hanging over their heads. Avoid stress by using cash instead of credit cards whenever possible, and enroll in an automatic savings or investment plan for long-term, worry-free happiness."

Step 5: Hang Out with Happy People

I love this one. I now have to share the sad news with all of my sharp-tongued, wit-infused, gigantic-hearted, cranky friends that despite 30 years of loyal, devoted and, I might add, hilarious times together, I must drop them immediately because apparently they are not happy enough and are bringing me down.

Tip: "Certain moods and behaviors are contagious. Keeping this in mind, consider how positive or negative the people you spend the most time with are. If you can't think of a friend with positive attributes, then it's time to widen your social circle."

Luckily, if I dump all my friends, I'll have a lot more time to find a boyfriend, sleep, mediate and balance my checkbook. Wait a minute. Did I just find the silver lining? Did I just look on the bright side? Looks like it's working already!

About the Author

Pam Cytrynbaum

Pamela Cytrynbaum teaches at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

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