Happiness : What's in a Word?
Do Happy Be Happy #3 (published July 22)
THANK YOU FOR BEING HERE
This newsletter aims to offer some ideas, thoughts and scientific perspectives on what we call "happiness". In doing so, we will slowly discover ways to find happiness in our lives.
One of the issues we need to address is how we can find happiness in a world where terrible things are happening.
I hope that over the coming months, you will be able to address that issue for yourselves and recognise that happiness and being happy is not about living in some kind of state of ignorance or denial but comes from the search for practical ways of avoiding being sucked into a pit of helplessness and despair.
If you want to make the world a better place, you have to start with yourself.
Why we think happiness is a rare commodity.
Last time we looked at the neurochemistry of our moods and emotions. We saw that a particular mix of brain chemicals produced the experiences we call emotions.
It’s interesting to reflect on the idea that our brains could become “addicted” to certain mixes of chemicals. Our beliefs, attitudes and mindsets can become habits, which could create a bias in the neurochemicals we produce.
As was noted last time, there are activities we can engage in that help us change some of our less desired habits and, by extension, influence the chemical bath our brains sit in.
So, that’s something to think about.
This time, I thought we could challenge the idea that happiness is a rare commodity and dependent upon our fortunes, environment or luck.
Happiness - The Word
Etymologists see the word is linked to the Old English “gehaep” (fit, convenient) or the Old Norse ”hap” (chance, good luck).
The root of the word Happy is Hap (happe) which means ”chance”, “luck” or “fortune”. The word “hap” or “happ” is found in Icelandic and Old Danish all meaning “luck”, “fortune” or “fortunate”.
Consider the word “happenstance”, which means a coincidence, and “happening”, which relates to an event or occurrence.
We can thus consider that “happiness” is about fortuitous events, having good luck or fortune.
All of this means that happiness can be thought of as something external to ourselves and, potentially, reserved for the lucky or fortunate few.
In 1938 an advertisement in the Bolton Evening News, readers were asked to answer the question 'What is happiness?'.
A total of 226 people sent letters in reply, and they were asked to help compile a happiness index by rating the importance of ten factors ranging from beauty to security and religion.
In 2014, Sandie McHugh and Professor Jerome Carson repeated the survey by asking people from the town via the Bolton News to complete a questionnaire that repeated the questions from 1938 as closely as possible. (reported May 4, 2015, British Psychological Society)
A comparison between the answers given is really interesting.
In 1938, security, knowledge and religion were seen by participants as being the three most important aspects of happiness.
In 2014, security was still in the top three, but good humour and leisure were in first and second places.
Religion, which was seen as the third most important factor in 1938, had fallen to tenth (and bottom) place in 2014.
In 1938, the majority of people said they were happiest when they were in Bolton, but in 2014, 63 per cent said they were happier away from the town.
In both 1938 and in 2014, 40 per cent of people believed that luck was an important component of happiness.
Quotations on happiness from the 1938 and 2014 surveys
"Enough money to meet everyday needs and a little for pleasure." (1938)
"Knowing that my rent is paid on time and I can afford to eat healthily." (2014)
"I would like a little home, not many possessions … congenial and satisfying companionship, the availability of good music and books." (1938)
"Engaging in my hobbies, spending time that is free of worry … Simple things like enjoying a nice meal or receiving care and affection." (2014)
"When I come home from the pit and see my kiddies and wife, I am happy." (1938)
"Simple things like going out for a walk…….you don't need tons of material things to be happy, you just have to be happy in the place you live and with the people around you." (2014)
Sandie McHugh said:
"The overall impression from the correspondence in 1938 is that happiness factors were rooted in everyday lives at home and within the community.
In 2014, many comments valued family and friends, with good humour and leisure time also ranked highly."
So, it seems that happiness has far more to do with our interaction with our environment than luck or happenstance.
Kinds of Happiness
In our first newsletter, we spoke of hedonic and eudaemonic happiness.
The first is the happiness achieved through pleasurable experiences, and the second is through finding purpose or meaning.
It stands to reason that hedonic happiness is relatively short-lived whilst eudaemonic happiness comes from a deeper, longer-lasting source.
In Buddhist teachings, Pamoja refers to the happiness of sense-based pleasures - such as receiving a compliment, enjoying nice food or a hug.
Sukha, on the other hand, is the happiness of experiencing who we really are. As such, it is not rooted in anything outside of ourselves.
Diener (2008 Association of Psychological Science) identifies five factors that contribute to happiness:
society and culture,
positive thinking styles.
Seeking Greater Happiness?
This Research Might Surprise You
Over the last few years, some fascinating studies have been done to determine what makes people happy.
If you’re wondering how you could increase your happiness, here are some strategies suggested by the research:
Give to others more often.
Research indicates that people who give even a small amount of money, even just £5 are happier than those who spend money only on themselves.
Even more fascinating is that when researchers evaluated how people who buy for themselves feel, it was discovered that purchasing new items had no real effect on one’s happiness.
No matter what you buy or how much, it’s not doing anything for you. Buying things doesn’t make you happy.
Have children after you’re married.
Another unexpected fact discovered in the research is that having children does actually pump up happiness, at least if you’re married. In terms of gender, a married father’s happiness increased less than a married mother’s.
When you’re younger, go for excitement and adventure.
Young people often reported their definition of happiness as “excitement.”
As you age, strive for peacefulness.
As individuals age, they indicate that happiness means having a “peaceful” life.
Get some exercise.
A Harvard study looked at people in their 50s and found that those who exercised regularly were happier when re-evaluated again at age 80 than those who didn’t exercise.
Maintain a healthy weight.
In the same Harvard study, weight was also a factor that could either make or break your level of happiness. Those who are overweight or underweight experience less happiness than those who keep their weight in the average range.
Spend time often with your best friend.
Go out and do things with your friends frequently or just hang out together. Having strong social support will increase your happiness. Go ahead and call them right now for an immediate boost to your mood.
According to the National Institute of Health, those who meditate regularly improve levels of happiness indirectly by increasing character traits that contribute to happiness, such as conscientiousness and empathy.
Experience more and buy less.
Another fascinating takeaway from the research is that you’ll be happier from having more experiences in life than you will from having more material goods.
Research indicates that people feel happier about their memories of events than they do about a recent purchase. After all, how often can you say to yourself ten years after buying something, “Wow, that new sweater really changed my life!” A canoe trip with your friends, on the other hand, is bound to create some great memories!
Engage in activities that make you happy.
Regardless of what others tell you about how to spend your time if you take part in activities of your own choosing, you’ll be happier.
Think about your friend who says, “Cleaning my house makes me happy. I really enjoy doing it.” You might have said, “Ugh, are you kidding?”
The key is to do what you enjoy.
If you’re curious about acting in a play, take a local acting class. If you’ve always wanted to grab a pair of binoculars and go to the closest national park to go bird-watching, do it.
When you do all the things that spur your interests and satisfy your curiosities or things that simply make your heart sing, you’ll feel happier.
Know your values and behave and work within them.
Numerous studies demonstrate that people are happier and more content when acting and working in a way that aligns with their values and attitudes.
The challenge is that we rarely take the time to identify, let alone reflect upon, these aspects of ourselves until we face some kind of crisis.
It’s really interesting to challenge yourself on some of the things you claim to hold as important in your life.
You may say you believe in the right for people to have different views from you, but do you truly honour this right or merely give it lip service?
We see all around us the disconnect between some evangelical or extremist groups, their stated motivations and their behaviours.
How do they reconcile this disconnection within themselves?
The Set Point Hypothesis
The set point theory of temperament states that people have ups and downs in reaction to life events but that they adapt and return to a set point.
There is evidence for this, but studies have shown that people who have experienced a major loss, like being fired or losing a spouse, often don’t fully adapt or take years to do so.
In Diener’s words, it’s more like “a moving baseline” than one set point over a lifetime.
Money and Happiness
According to Diener (2008, wealth actually is correlated with happiness, particularly in poorer societies.
But there are caveats.
Money has declining marginal utility.
Those first few dollars that get someone out of poverty contribute much more to a person’s happiness than a billionaire earning her next million.
Money can be toxic to happiness.
When participants in one study were asked if money was more important than love, those who answered “yes” were less likely to be happy and seemed destined never to catch up with happiness, no matter how much money they made.
Why "Do Happiness"?
Psychological research suggests that people who score higher on the well-being scales have better social and work relationships; make more money; live longer, healthier lives; and are more contributory societal citizens. (Diener 2008 APS)
The mission of this newsletter and what we have planned for Do Happy Be Happy is that we can all find more happiness in our lives.
That there are strategies and techniques which remind us to look within ourselves, our behaviours and our attitudes to give ourselves the ability to “bounce back” when we face adversity and to live with change.
Until next month
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