Happiness is an emotion we desire. We have experienced happiness at some point in our lives. We continue to experience it in intervals in our lives. We know it when it is experienced. We know within ourselves the levels or degrees of happiness when we feel it. We continue throughout our lives to seek and find happiness. Our constitution says we have the right to pursue happiness. Can happiness be obtained permanently? Can happiness be measured? What is happiness? Is there a formula to getting happiness? What does happiness do for us?
The Surface of Happiness
Over 2000 years ago Aristotle said “Happiness is the ultimate goal for humanity.” By this he was implying the acquisition of money, possession, power, and leisure. These are all element of happiness. This in fact seems to be the general consensus of our society today. There is an urban saying stating “He who dies with the most toys wins.” This also implies happiness equates to more. Could these concepts be why, as a society have the notion, more is better or happiness. Does having more truly allow us to achieve genuine happiness? According to research specifically on happiness, material things are only a small part in the attainment of true happiness.
Wealth or monetary gain, although a factor in happiness, does not make people happy in and of it self. According to a British study on the happiness of the population, people are no happier now than in the 1950’s when their country was less wealthy. David Kahneman, a psychologist/professor and Nobel Prize winner for his study on the economy and its correlation with happiness, says, “Richer is not happier, at least in the Western world.” His study showed more things and wealth only created the desire for more. For example, if we set a goal to get a Lamborghini because we have the idea a Lamborghini will make us happy, once the car is obtained we then want a Lear jet.
Happiness is a relative thought emotion. People compare or reference their current situation with different periods in their lives or with what they think they know about other’s lives. This idea or concept if often presented to us via television commercials. Many commercials tell us our lives will be happier just as the spokesmen or people in the commercial are if we use X product or X brand.
Kahneman’s study also found, because man is basically a social animal, being with people makes us happy, generally speaking. People placed friendship on a higher scale than money where happiness is concerned. As long as we are with other people we are happier.
Effects of Happiness
Are there benefits of happiness other than the great feeling it instills in us? In 1932 a study began on 178 Nuns at Norte Dam in Milwaukee. This has become the most noted study on happiness and longevity ever done. The subjects were chosen because of uniformity in their diet and environment. This decade’s long study revealed, on an average, happier nuns lived 9 years longer than unhappy nuns. This is significant considering stopping smoking only increase one life by three years. From this study it appears happiness plays a role in longevity.
In a happiness study by Ed Diener, a psychologist/professor at the University of Illinois, found in addition to longer lives people who are happy, marry and stay married longer than their unhappy counterparts. Happy people are healthier and are more resistant to disease. Diener also found happy people to be more productive, both at work and in their personal lives, better leaders at work, and volunteer more frequently.
By using a Positron Emission Tomography or P.E.T. Scan neuroscientist can see happiness in the brain. The happy spots are located right between and just above the eyes on the brain and the back of the brain. Morten Kringelbach, a neuroscientist at Oxford University believes happiness can be measured and is something tangible. Kringelbach states there is a difference between pleasure and happiness but they are linked. Pleasure is a feeling from a stimulus that provides a fleeting or short lasting sensation such as eating our favorite food or sex. Happiness is a state of being. Once there is a better understanding between pleasure and happiness, Kringelbach believes we will be able to create the state of happiness.
Happiness is a very big market since we as humans are on a seemingly never ending journey to find happiness. Some say happiness is a choice and to simply choose to be happy. Others say to live in the present moment. Still others dwell more into accepting ourselves as deserving loving beings.
Diener, when asked how one goes about achieving happiness, offers three simple guidelines:
- Build good social relationships. The necessity to be social animals is crucial to happiness.
- Find or be religious. He has found the belief in something greater than ourselves one of the elements of happiness.
- Set goals for ourselves. He finds when people strive for something they are much happier.
When 102 year old Sister Helena, one of the nuns from the Notre Dame study, was asked her secret for happiness she replied: “Don’t fight everything that comes your way, be acceptable to everything. Be grateful and count your blessings.”
We all know what happiness feels like and since it can now be measured, it does not hurt to track the happiness level of ourselves. Simply asking yourself questions such as: How happy does this make me? How happy am I now? Do I usually feel happy?
There have been a number of laboratory experiments done to create happy moods shown to work. These experiments have included things such as hypnosis, watching comedy films and simply thinking of recent enjoyable experiences. The most recognizable technique is simple reading to yourself and then saying out loud positive statements such as “I really feel good”. Sadly the mood changes produced with this technique are short lived, lasting only ten to fifteen minutes.
What ever route one chooses to pursue happiness it will never be the wrong choice. Find what feels right for you. It is only important to keep searching and experiencing it. Even if at times it feels like a donkey might with a carrot positioned at his nose just out of reach. The feeling is too good and good for you, not to strive for, achieve and experience it.
Danny A Cabrera C.Ht. is a certified hypnotherapist/counselor practicing in Phoenix AZ for over 19 years. He works in private one on one sessions as well as workshops/lectures helping people improve their lives. To schedule an appointment, contact Danny here or call 602- 301- 6551