Currently, I am participating in an online course on the Science of Happiness organised by University of California, Berkeley. In the next couple of articles, I will share some of the teachings and latest scientific findings that can help us to live a happier life.
Who doesn’t want to be happy? I believe, we all wish that one day we will achieve this state of pure joy and happiness and never turn back. How do we get there is of course the next question and the Science of Happiness looks at latest research to find some answers.
What is happiness?
What does it mean to be happy? Let’s have a look at some of many definitions of happiness. According to Aristotle, it was “a life lived in virtue”. In his book Happiness the Hard Way, Darrin M. McMahon states “Happiness is never simply a function of good feeling—of what puts a smile on our face—but rather of living good lives, lives that will almost certainly include a good deal of pain.”
Happiness is never simply a function of good feeling—of what puts a smile on our face—but rather of living good lives, lives that will almost certainly include a good deal of pain
Sonja Lyubomirsky, a positive psychology researcher, describes happiness as “ the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.” She also argues that 50% of our happiness comes from our genes, 10% from life circumstances, 40% from intentional activity.
Is Happiness our Natural State?
Thinking of happiness as a natural state creates some important problems. Is it even possible to be happy all the time? If I don’t feel happy, does that mean there is something wrong with me? We need to be mindful of how we define happiness and reassess our expectations on this feeling.
According to Dacher Keltner and Emiliana Simon-Thomas, from UC Berkeley, happiness does not mean; having all our personal needs met, always feeling satisfied with life, feeling pleasure all the time, never feeling negative emotions, pain, sadness, anger. And also there is not a uniform prescription for happiness.
I think that happiness is more than just having a smile on our face. It is linked to what we do with our limited time and how we effectively use it to cultivate a life aligned with our core values. True happiness, according to latest research, comes from fostering kindness toward others—and toward ourselves.
In her article “Four Ways Happiness Can Hurt” June Gruber makes a valid point by stating that happiness is not for every situation and our emotions help us to adapt to new challenges and circumstance. Each of our emotion is suited to for specific situations. Feeling happy when your life is under threat won’t be as helpful as anger or fear. Therefore, happiness has a time and place.
Emotional balance is crucial. Life is difficult and challenging at times. Different experiences, however, add richness and flavour to our life, no matter how difficult they might have been at the time. Mindfully accepting our current emotional state can be more beneficial than chasing after happiness.
Gruber J. (2012), Four Ways Happiness Can Hurt, [Online], Available http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/four_ways_happiness_can_hurt_you
Lyubomirsky S. (2007), The How of Happiness, Sphere, Great Britain
McMahon D.M.(2009), Happiness the Hard Way, [Online], Available http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/happiness_the_hard_way