Wednesday, 28 December 2011



Psychologists have now come up with a formula for happiness. 

Pleasure + engagement + meaning = happiness. 

We all know what brings us pleasure. But the trouble is all too often it is fleeting and it just does not last. 

A new school of psychology, called positive psychology, suggests that we need two other vital ingredients if we want to achieve more lasting happiness. 

First, they suggest we need to be really engaged and engrossed in what we do. In the jargon it is called "flow". We have all experienced it. It is that feeling we get when we just do not even bother to look at the clock because we are so into what we are doing. 

Second, positive psychologists suggest we need meaning in our lives. We can get this from doing an interesting job, or working on a project we really believe in, or by doing something worthwhile. While we adapt quickly to more money and material possessions, it seems we adapt less quickly, if at all, to meaningful things. 

Problems with the formula 

However, this simple formula hides a number of important issues. 

The undervalued component of happiness.

It turns out you can have too much engagement and it does not necessarily lead to more happiness. 

For example, you can become engrossed in work and become a workaholic and less happy. 

You can experience flow in gambling but it will not necessarily make you happy. 

The formula is not exhaustive or comprehensive. 

As psychologist points out, the formula fails to take account of contentment. The danger of relying on any formula is that it may actually make us unhappy, by putting yet more pressure on us to live the perfect life. And what is more there is another problem that one form of happiness often conflicts with other sources of happiness and may even make other people unhappy. So some people argue we should not even contemplate trying to make ourselves happier. 

A little extra happiness 

Positive psychologists counter this by saying that their suggestions are not miracle cures and they accept that you cannot turn a grump into a deliriously happy person. 

Staying happier for longer  

They maintain it is possible to make someone a little happier, as much as 10-15%, if someone works at it. 

This article explains some of the exercises you can do to make yourself happier. 

Research is now trying to test how well these exercises work. The exercises include disputation, which involves challenging negative thoughts and analysing whether you need to be as negative, playing to your strengths and counting your blessings for the things that go well in your life. 

Scientists clearly do not have all the answers. There is as yet no simple and comprehensive formula for happiness. 

However, the new emphasis on human relationships, flow and meaning does offer an interesting insight into what really makes us happy and challenges us to think whether it might be possible to live happier lives. 

Societies, religions and individuals have various views on the nature of happiness and how to pursue it.

In modern western society, especially in North America, it is widely believed that happiness is attained through being successful, healthy and having beautiful family; creating monetary wealth and success; being physically attractive even through old age; and maintaining one's intelligence and wit. Some of these are not supported by empirical evidence; for example, money does not appear to increase happiness (other than for the impoverished) and having children does not on average increase or decrease happiness.

As well, a portion of the uneducated population believes that happiness is achieved by following the latest cultural fads, such as keeping one's clothes in fashion or keeping them in fashion as much as humanly possible, going to the latest clubs, restaurants or bars, buying consumer products seen as trendy or cool, or changing a hair style so that it is current. However, most people disagree with these preceding ideals because they consider them too superficial, consumerist and unsatisfying.

For Americans, the happy or ideal life is sometimes referred to as the American dream, which can be seen as the idea that any goal can be attained through sufficient hard work and determination, birth and privilege notwithstanding. While many artists, writers and scholars can and do consider their work to fall within the American dream, it is usually thought of as relating to financial success. 

Positive psychology
The positive psychology definition of happiness as consisting of both positive emotions (like comfort) and positive activities (like absorption). 

The three categories of positive emotions:

Past: feelings of satisfaction, contentment, pride and serenity. 
Present (examples): enjoying the taste of food, glee at listening to music, absorption in reading, and company of people you like e.g. friends and family. 
Future: feelings of optimism, hope, trust, faith and confidence. 

There are three categories of present positive emotions:

Bodily pleasures, e.g. enjoying the taste of food. 
Higher pleasures, e.g. glee at listening to music. 
Gratifications, e.g. absorption in reading. 

The bodily and higher pleasures are "pleasures of the moment" and usually involve some external stimulus. An exception is the glee felt at having an original thought.

Difficulties in defining internal experiences.
It is probably impossible to objectively define happiness as we know and understand it, as internal experiences are subjective by nature. It is almost as pointless as trying to define the colour green such that a completely colour blind person could understand the experience of seeing green. While we can not objectively express the difference between greenness and redness, we can certainly explain which physical phenomena cause green to be observed, and can explain the capacities of the human visual system to distinguish between light of different wavelengths, and so on. Likewise, in the following sections, we will not attempt to describe the internal sensation of happiness, but will instead concentrate on defining its logical basis. Importantly, we will try to avoid circular definitions for instance, defining happiness as "a good feeling", while "good" is defined as being "something which causes happiness".

In animals
For animals, happiness might be best described as the process of reinforcement, as part of the organism's motivational system. The organism has achieved one or more of its goals (pursuit of food, water, sex, shelter, etc.), and its brain is in the process of teaching itself to repeat the sort of actions that led to success. By reinforcing successful decision paths, it produces an equilibrium state not unlike positive-to-negative magnets. The specific goals are typically things that enable the organism to survive and reproduce.

By this definition, only animals with some capacity to learn should be able to experience happiness. However, at its most basic level the learning might be extremely simple and short term, such as the nearly reflexive feedback loop of scratching an itch (followed by pleasure, followed by scratching more and so on) which can occur with almost no conscious thought.

In humans
When speaking of animals with the ability to reason (generally considered the exclusive domain of humans), goals are no longer limited to short term satisfaction of basic drives. Nevertheless, there remains a strong relationship of happiness to goal fulfilment and the brain's reinforcement mechanism, even if the goals themselves may be more complex and/or cerebral, longer term, and less selfish than a lower animal's goals might be.

Philosophers observe that short-term gratification, while briefly generating happiness, often requires a trade-off with negative repercussions in the long run. Examples of this could be said to include developing technology and equipment that makes life easier but over time ends up harming the environment, causing illness or wasting financial or other resources. Various branches of philosophy, as well as some religious movements, suggest that "true" happiness only exists if it has no long-term detrimental effects. Utilitarianism is a theory of ethics based on quantitative maximisation of happiness.

From the observation that fish must become happy by swimming and birds must become happy by flying, Only man has the unique abilities to the route of happiness. Of all the animals only man can sit and contemplate reality. Of all the animals only man can develop social relations to the political level. Thus the contemplative life of a monk or professor, or the political life of a military commander or politician will be the happiest.

Only man is endowed with the ability necessary to generate complex language and through that can be used to distinguish between things and form dichotomies. These dichotomies then formed, man tries to find reasons to like one side of things and hate the other. Hence, he loses his ability to rove freely, in true happiness, unlike the rest of animals.

In artificial intelligence.
The view that happiness is a reinforcement state can apply to some non-biological systems as well. In artificial intelligence, a program or robot could be said to be "happy" when it is in a state of reinforcing previous actions that led to satisfaction of its programmed goals. For instance, imagine a search engine that has the capacity to gradually improve the quality of its search results by accepting and processing feedback from the user regarding the relevance of those results. If the user responds that a search result is good (i.e. provides positive feedback), this tells the software to reinforce (by adjusting variables or "weights") the decision path that led to those results. In a sense, this could be said to "reward" the search engine. However, even if the program is made to act like it is happy, there is little doubt that the search engine has no subjective sense of being happy. Current computing technology merely implements abstract mathematical programs, which lack the causal and creative power of natural systems. This does not preclude the possibility that future technologies may begin to blur the distinction between such machine happiness and that experienced by an animal or human.

Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.

Happiness comes when your work and words are of benefit to yourself and others

Happiness cannot come from without. It must come from within. It is not what we see and touch or that which others do for us which makes us happy; it is that which we think and feel and do, first for the other fellow and then for ourselves

When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.

Happiness is a prolonged or lasting emotional or affective state that feels good or pleasing. Overlapping states or experiences associated with happiness include wellbeing, joy, sexual pleasure, delight, health, safety and love, while contrasting ones include suffering, sadness, grief, and pain.

For everything there is a season,
And a time for every matter under heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, And a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to seek, and a time to lose;
A time to keep, and a time to throw away;
A time to tear, and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate,
A time for war, and a time for peace.

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