Ask: How to be happy

01/15/2013 12:01 AM

02/04/2013 3:05 PM

Now is when we start to see whether our new year's resolutions will become new lifelong habits or just empty words. But before you berate yourself for skipping the gym or watching TV when you should be organizing your junk drawer, psychologist Susan Orenstein offers some thoughts on what our resolutions should be if the aim is happiness.

I started off the New Year watching the documentary “Happy” on Instant Queue in Netflix. As I was thinking of how to write this article about making New Year's resolutions stick, the movie played in my head. In the documentary, neuroscientists, psychologists and other social science researchers reveal what they've  learned about happiness through the relatively new field of positive psychology. Turns out that most Americans think that external rewards (such as prestige, material wealth or image) will make them feel good, but the research shows that attaining happiness actually comes from somewhere else.

What makes people happy? The documentary takes us around the world, viewing a tribe in Namibia, a co-housing development in Denmark, a fry cook in America, a group of centenarian women in Japan and a rickshaw driver in India, among others, who all appear very happy. The researchers share the common threads of happiness among these people: a sense of community and belonging, giving of themselves, and complete immersion in an activity (coined "flow" by the Hungarian psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi).

With this in mind, I was conflicted about writing an article about traditional New Year’s resolutions. Before we think about losing weight, making more money, or buying that big-ticket item, we should remember what “Happy” emphasized: making connections, doing good works and being fully present as we participate in our life. And for some inspiration, please check out the movie “Happy.”  It will make you just that.


If you have a question about your child's health or happiness, ask Dr. Orenstein or any of our experts by sending email to




Dr. Susan Orenstein is a licensed psychologist and the founder and director of Orenstein Solutions in Cary. She specializes in treating adults with depression, anxiety, and relationship issues, as well as couples who are seeking better communication and increased intimacy. Drawing from a solution-focused, practical approach, Dr. Orenstein provides her clients with useful information and new skills they can implement right away to enhance their mood and improve their relationships. Contact Orenstein Solutions at (919) 428-2766 ext. 0 for more information.

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