Happiness is a mental or emotional state of well-being defined by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy. Happy mental states may also reflect judgements by a person about their overall well-being. A variety of biological, psychological, economic, religious and philosophical approaches have striven to define happiness and identify its sources. Various research groups, including positive psychology and happiness economics are employing the scientific method to research questions about what "happiness" is, and how it might be attained.
- Research results
- Terror management
- Philosophical views
- Economic and political views
- Physical mechanisms
- Correlation of precuneus gray matter volume meditation and subjective happiness score
- At work
The United Nations declared 20 March the International Day of Happiness to recognise the relevance of happiness and well-being as universal goals.
Philosophers and religious thinkers often define happiness in terms of living a good life, or flourishing, rather than simply as an emotion. Happiness in this sense was used to translate the Greek eudaimonia, and is still used in virtue ethics. There has been a transition over time from emphasis on the happiness of virtue to the virtue of happiness. Since the turn of the millennium, the human flourishing approach, advanced particularly by Amartya Sen has attracted increasing interest in psychological, especially prominent in the work of Martin Seligman, Ed Diener and Ruut Veenhoven, and international development and medical research in the work of Paul Anand.
A widely discussed political value expressed in the United States Declaration of Independence of 1776, written by Thomas Jefferson, is the universal right to "the pursuit of happiness." This seems to suggest a subjective interpretation but one that nonetheless goes beyond emotions alone. In fact, this discussion is often based on the naive assumption that the word happiness meant the same thing in 1776 as it does today. In fact, happiness meant "prosperity, thriving, wellbeing" in the 18th century.
Nowadays, happiness is a fuzzy concept and can mean many different things to many people. Part of the challenge of a science of happiness is to identify different concepts of happiness, and where applicable, split them into their components. Related concepts are well-being, quality of life and flourishing. At least one author defines happiness as contentment. Some commentators focus on the difference between the hedonistic tradition of seeking pleasant and avoiding unpleasant experiences, and the eudaimonic tradition of living life in a full and deeply satisfying way.
The 2012 World Happiness Report stated that in subjective well-being measures, the primary distinction is between cognitive life evaluations and emotional reports. Happiness is used in both life evaluation, as in “How happy are you with your life as a whole?”, and in emotional reports, as in “How happy are you now?,” and people seem able to use happiness as appropriate in these verbal contexts. Using these measures, the World Happiness Report identifies the countries with the highest levels of happiness.
Since the 1960s, happiness research has been conducted in a wide variety of scientific disciplines, including gerontology, social psychology, clinical and medical research and happiness economics. During the past two decades, however, the field of happiness studies has expanded drastically in terms of scientific publications, and has produced many different views on causes of happiness, and on factors that correlate with happiness, but no validated method has been found to substantially improve long-term happiness in a meaningful way for most people.
Sonja Lyubomirsky concludes in her book The How of Happiness that 50 percent of a given human's happiness level is genetically determined (based on twin studies), 10 percent is affected by life circumstances and situation, and a remaining 40 percent of happiness is subject to self-control.
Biological psychologist Meike Bartels also concluded that happiness is partly genetically based.
The results of the 75-year Grant Study of Harvard undergraduates show a high correlation of loving relationship, especially with parents, with later life wellbeing.
In the 2nd Edition of the Handbook of Emotions (2000), evolutionary psychologists Leda Cosmides and John Tooby say that happiness comes from "encountering unexpected positive events". In the 3rd Edition of the Handbook of Emotions (2008), Michael Lewis says "happiness can be elicited by seeing a significant other". According to Mark Leary, as reported in a November 1995 issue of Psychology Today, "we are happiest when basking in the acceptance and praise of others". Sara Algoe and Jonathan Haidt say that "happiness" may be the label for a family of related emotional states, such as joy, amusement, satisfaction, gratification, euphoria, and triumph.
It has been argued that money cannot effectively "buy" much happiness unless it is used in certain ways. "Beyond the point at which people have enough to comfortably feed, clothe, and house themselves, having more money – even a lot more money – makes them only a little bit happier." In the book Lucky Go Happy : Make Happiness Happen!, Paul van der Merwe uses a graph to illustrate that money cannot make people happy. A Harvard Business School study found that "spending money on others actually makes us happier than spending it on ourselves".
Meditation has been found to lead to high activity in the brain's left prefrontal cortex, which in turn has been found to correlate with happiness.
Psychologist Martin Seligman asserts that happiness is not solely derived from external, momentary pleasures, and provides the acronym PERMA to summarize Positive Psychology's correlational findings: humans seem happiest when they have
- Pleasure (tasty food, warm baths, etc.),
- Engagement (or flow, the absorption of an enjoyed yet challenging activity),
- Relationships (social ties have turned out to be extremely reliable indicator of happiness),
- Meaning (a perceived quest or belonging to something bigger), and
- Accomplishments (having realized tangible goals).
There have also been some studies of how religion relates to happiness. Causal relationships remain unclear, but more religion is seen in happier people. Consistent with Seiligman's PERMA classification scheme, religion may provide a sense of meaning and connection to something bigger, beyond the self. Religion may also provide community membership and hence relationships. Another component may have to do with ritual.
Abraham Harold Maslow, an American professor of psychology, founded humanistic psychology in the 1930s. A visual aid he created to explain his theory, which he called the hierarchy of needs, is a pyramid depicting the levels of human needs, psychological, and physical. When a human being ascends the steps of the pyramid, he reaches self-actualization. Beyond the routine of needs fulfillment, Maslow envisioned moments of extraordinary experience, known as peak experiences, profound moments of love, understanding, happiness, or rapture, during which a person feels more whole, alive, self-sufficient, and yet a part of the world. This is similar to the flow concept of Mihály Csíkszentmihályi.
Self-determination theory relates intrinsic motivation to three needs: competence, autonomy, and relatedness.
Cross-sectional studies worldwide support a relationship between happiness and fruit and vegetable intake. Those eating fruits and vegetables each day have a higher likelihood of being classified as “very happy,” suggesting a strong and positive correlation between fruit and vegetable consumption and happiness. Whether it be in South Korea, Iran, Chile, USA, or UK, greater fruit and vegetable consumption had a positive association with greater happiness, independent of factors such as smoking, exercise, body mass index, and socio-economic factors.
Layard and others show that the most important influence on happiness is mental health.
Religion and happiness have been studied by a number of researchers, and religion features many elements addressing the components of happiness, as identified by positive psychology. Its association with happiness is facilitated in part by the social connections of organized religion, and by the neuropsychological benefits of prayer and belief.
There are a number of mechanisms through which religion may make a person happier, including social contact and support that result from religious pursuits, the mental activity that comes with optimism and volunteering, learned coping strategies that enhance one's ability to deal with stress, and psychological factors such as "reason for being." It may also be that religious people engage in behaviors related to good health, such as less substance abuse, since the use of psychotropic substances is sometimes considered abuse.
The Handbook of Religion and Health describes a survey by Feigelman (1992) that examined happiness in Americans who have given up religion, in which it was found that there was little relationship between religious disaffiliation and unhappiness. A survey by Kosmin & Lachman (1993), also cited in this handbook, indicates that people with no religious affiliation appear to be at greater risk for depressive symptoms than those affiliated with a religion. A review of studies by 147 independent investigators found, "the correlation between religiousness and depressive symptoms was -.096, indicating that greater religiousness is mildly associated with fewer symptoms."
The Legatum Prosperity Index reflects the repeated finding of research on the science of happiness that there is a positive link between religious engagement and wellbeing: people who report that God is very important in their lives are on average more satisfied with their lives, after accounting for their income, age and other individual characteristics.
Surveys by Gallup, the National Opinion Research Centre and the Pew Organisation conclude that spiritually committed people are twice as likely to report being "very happy" than the least religiously committed people. An analysis of over 200 social studies contends that "high religiousness predicts a lower risk of depression and drug abuse and fewer suicide attempts, and more reports of satisfaction with sex life and a sense of well-being. However, the links between religion and happiness are always very broad in nature, highly reliant on scripture and small sample number. To that extent there is a much larger connection between religion and suffering (Lincoln 1034)." And a review of 498 studies published in peer-reviewed journals concluded that a large majority of them showed a positive correlation between religious commitment and higher levels of perceived well-being and self-esteem and lower levels of hypertension, depression, and clinical delinquency. A meta-analysis of 34 recent studies published between 1990 and 2001 found that religiosity has a salutary relationship with psychological adjustment, being related to less psychological distress, more life satisfaction, and better self-actualization. Finally, a recent systematic review of 850 research papers on the topic concluded that "the majority of well-conducted studies found that higher levels of religious involvement are positively associated with indicators of psychological well-being (life satisfaction, happiness, positive affect, and higher morale) and with less depression, suicidal thoughts and behaviour, drug/alcohol use/abuse."
However, there remains strong disagreement among scholars about whether the effects of religious observance, particularly attending church or otherwise belonging to religious groups, is due to the spiritual or the social aspects—i.e. those who attend church or belong to similar religious organizations may well be receiving only the effects of the social connections involved. While these benefits are real enough, they may thus be the same one would gain by joining other, secular groups, clubs, or similar organizations.
Terror management theory maintains that people suffer cognitive dissonance (anxiety) when they are reminded of their inevitable death. Through terror management, individuals are motivated to seek consonant elements – symbols which make sense of mortality and death in satisfactory ways (i.e. boosting self-esteem).
Research has found that strong belief in religious or secular meaning systems affords psychological security and hope. It is moderates (e.g. agnostics, slightly religious individuals) who likely suffer the most anxiety from their meaning systems. Religious meaning systems are especially adapted to manage death anxiety because they are unlikely to be disconfirmed (for various reasons), they are all encompassing, and they promise literal immortality.
Whether emotional effects are beneficial or adverse seems to vary with the nature of the belief. Belief in a benevolent God is associated with lower incidence of general anxiety, social anxiety, paranoia, obsession, and compulsion whereas belief in a punitive God is associated with greater symptoms. (An alternative explanation is that people seek out beliefs that fit their psychological and emotional states.)
Citizens of the world's poorest countries are the most likely to be religious, and researchers suggest this is because of religion's powerful coping abilities. Luke Galen also supports terror management theory as a partial explanation of the above findings. Galen describes evidence (including his own research) that the benefits of religion are due to strong convictions and membership in a social group.
Happiness forms a central theme of Buddhist teachings. For ultimate freedom from suffering, the Noble Eightfold Path leads its practitioner to Nirvana, a state of everlasting peace. Ultimate happiness is only achieved by overcoming craving in all forms. More mundane forms of happiness, such as acquiring wealth and maintaining good friendships, are also recognized as worthy goals for lay people (see sukha). Buddhism also encourages the generation of loving kindness and compassion, the desire for the happiness and welfare of all beings.
Happiness or simcha (Hebrew: שמחה) in Judaism is considered an important element in the service of God. The biblical verse "worship The Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs," (Psalm 100:2) stresses joy in the service of God. A popular teaching by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, a 19th-century Chassidic Rabbi, is "Mitzvah Gedolah Le'hiyot Besimcha Tamid," it is a great mitzvah (commandment) to always be in a state of happiness. When a person is happy they are much more capable of serving God and going about their daily activities than when depressed or upset.
The primary meaning of "happiness" in various European languages involves good fortune, chance or happening. The meaning in Greek philosophy, however, refers primarily to ethics. In Catholicism, the ultimate end of human existence consists in felicity, Latin equivalent to the Greek eudaimonia, or "blessed happiness", described by the 13th-century philosopher-theologian Thomas Aquinas as a Beatific Vision of God's essence in the next life. Human complexities, like reason and cognition, can produce well-being or happiness, but such form is limited and transitory. In temporal life, the contemplation of God, the infinitely Beautiful, is the supreme delight of the will. Beatitudo, or perfect happiness, as complete well-being, is to be attained not in this life, but the next.
While religion is often formalised and community-oriented, spirituality tends to be individually based and not as formalised. In a 2014 study, 320 children, ages 8–12, in both public and private schools, were given a Spiritual Well-Being Questionnaire assessing the correlation between spirituality and happiness. Spirituality – and not religious practices (praying, attending church services) – correlated positively with the child's happiness; the more spiritual the child was, the happier the child was. Spirituality accounted for about 3–26% of the variance in happiness.
The Chinese Confucian thinker Mencius, who 2300 years ago sought to give advice to the ruthless political leaders of the warring states period, was convinced that the mind played a mediating role between the "lesser self" (the physiological self) and the "greater self" (the moral self) and that getting the priorities right between these two would lead to sage-hood. He argued that if we did not feel satisfaction or pleasure in nourishing one's "vital force" with "righteous deeds", that force would shrivel up (Mencius, 6A:15 2A:2). More specifically, he mentions the experience of intoxicating joy if one celebrates the practice of the great virtues, especially through music.
Al-Ghazali (1058–1111) the Muslim Sufi thinker wrote the Alchemy of Happiness, a manual of spiritual instruction throughout the Muslim world and widely practiced today.
The Hindu thinker Patanjali, author of the Yoga Sutras, wrote quite exhaustively on the psychological and ontological roots of bliss.
In the Nicomachean Ethics, written in 350 BCE, Aristotle stated that happiness (also being well and doing well) is the only thing that humans desire for its own sake, unlike riches, honor, health or friendship. He observed that men sought riches, or honor, or health not only for their own sake but also in order to be happy. Note that eudaimonia, the term we translate as "happiness", is for Aristotle an activity rather than an emotion or a state. Thus understood, the happy life is the good life, that is, a life in which a person fulfills human nature in an excellent way. Specifically, Aristotle argues that the good life is the life of excellent rational activity. He arrives at this claim with the Function Argument. Basically, if it's right, every living thing has a function, that which it uniquely does. For humans, Aristotle contends, our function is to reason, since it is that alone that we uniquely do. And performing one's function well, or excellently, is one's good. Thus, the life of excellent rational activity is the happy life. Aristotle does not leave it that, however. For he argues that there is a second best life for those incapable of excellent rational activity.This second best life is the life of moral virtue.
Many ethicists make arguments for how humans should behave, either individually or collectively, based on the resulting happiness of such behavior. Utilitarians, such as John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham, advocated the greatest happiness principle as a guide for ethical behavior.
Friedrich Nietzsche savagely critiqued the English Utilitarians' focus on attaining the greatest happiness, stating "Man does not strive for happiness, only the Englishman does." Nietzsche meant that the making happiness one's ultimate goal, the aim of one's existence, "makes one contemptible;" Nietzsche instead yearned for a culture that would set higher, more difficult goals than "mere happiness." Thus Nietzsche introduces the quasi-dystopic figure of the "last man" as a kind of thought experiment against the utilitarians and happiness-seekers; these small, "last men" who seek after only their own pleasure and health, avoiding all danger, exertion, difficulty, challenge, struggle are meant to seem contemptible to Nietzsche's reader. Nietzsche instead wants us to consider the value of what is difficult, what can only be earned through struggle, difficulty, pain and thus to come to see the affirmative value suffering and unhappiness truly play in creating everything of great worth in life, including all the highest achievements of human culture, not least of all philosophy.
According to St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, man's last end is happiness: "all men agree in desiring the last end, which is happiness." However, where utilitarians focused on reasoning about consequences as the primary tool for reaching happiness, Aquinas agreed with Aristotle that happiness cannot be reached solely through reasoning about consequences of acts, but also requires a pursuit of good causes for acts, such as habits according to virtue. In turn, which habits and acts that normally lead to happiness is according to Aquinas caused by laws: natural law and divine law. These laws, in turn, were according to Aquinas caused by a first cause, or God.
According to Aquinas, happiness consists in an "operation of the speculative intellect": "Consequently happiness consists principally in such an operation, viz. in the contemplation of Divine things." And, "the last end cannot consist in the active life, which pertains to the practical intellect." So: "Therefore the last and perfect happiness, which we await in the life to come, consists entirely in contemplation. But imperfect happiness, such as can be had here, consists first and principally in contemplation, but secondarily, in an operation of the practical intellect directing human actions and passions."
Economic and political views
Common market health measures such as GDP and GNP have been used as a measure of successful policy. On average richer nations tend to be happier than poorer nations, but this effect seems to diminish with wealth. This has been explained by the fact that the dependency is not linear but logarithmic, i.e., the same percentual increase in the GNP produces the same increase in happiness for wealthy countries as for poor countries. Increasingly, academic economists and international economic organisations are arguing for and developing multi-dimensional dashboards which combine subjective and objective indicators to provide a more direct and explicit assessment of human wellbeing. Work by Paul Anand and colleagues helps to highlight the fact that there many different contributors to adult wellbeing, that happiness judgement reflect, in part, the presence of salient constraints, and that fairness, autonomy, community and engagement are key aspects of happiness and wellbeing throughout the life course.
Libertarian think tank Cato Institute claims that economic freedom correlates strongly with happiness preferably within the context of a western mixed economy, with free press and a democracy. According to certain standards, East European countries (ruled by Communist parties) were less happy than Western ones, even less happy than other equally poor countries.
However, much empirical research in the field of happiness economics, such as that by Benjamin Radcliff, professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame, supports the contention that (at least in democratic countries) life satisfaction is strongly and positively related to the social democratic model of a generous social safety net, pro-worker labor market regulations, and strong labor unions. Similarly, there is evidence that public policies that reduce poverty and support a strong middle class, such as a higher minimum wage, strongly affects average levels of well-being.
It has been argued that happiness measures could be used not as a replacement for more traditional measures, but as a supplement. According to professor Edward Glaeser, people constantly make choices that decrease their happiness, because they have also more important aims. Therefore, the government should not decrease the alternatives available for the citizen by patronizing them but let the citizen keep a maximal freedom of choice.
Good mental health and good relationships contribute more than income to happiness and governments should take these into account.
It has been argued that happiness at work is one of the driving forces behind positive outcomes at work, rather than just being a resultant product.
Several scales have been used to measure happiness:
The UK began to measure national well being in 2012, following Bhutan, which already measured gross national happiness.
It is generally accepted that happiness is at least in part mediated through dopaminergic, adrenergic and serotonergic metabolism. A correlation has been found between hormone levels and happiness. SSRIs, such as Prozac, are used to adjust the levels of serotonin in the clinically unhappy. Researchers, such as Alexander, have indicated that many peoples usage of narcotics may be the unwitting result of attempts to readjust hormone levels to cope with situations that make them unhappy.
Correlation of precuneus gray matter volume, meditation and subjective happiness score
A positive relationship has been found between the volume of gray matter in the right precuneus area of the brain and the subject's subjective happiness score. Interestingly meditation, including mindfulness, based interventions have been found to correlate with a significant gray matter increase within the precuneus.
A study on Brahma Kumaris Raja yoga meditators showed them having higher happiness (Oxford happiness questionnaire) than the control group.
In 2005 a study conducted by Andrew Steptow and Michael Marmot at University College London, found that happiness is related to biological markers that play an important role in health. The researchers aimed to analyze whether there was any association between well-being and three biological markers: heart rate, cortisol levels, and plasma fibrinogen levels. Interestingly, the participants who rated themselves the least happy had cortisol levels that were 48% higher than those who rated themselves as the most happy. The least happy subjects also had a large plasma fibrinogen response to two stress-inducing tasks: the Stroop test, and tracing a star seen in a mirror image. Repeating their studies three years later Steptow and Marmot found that participants who scored high in positive emotion continued to have lower levels of cortisol and fibrinogen, as well as a lower heart rate.
In Happy People Live Longer (2011), Bruno Frey reported that happy people live 14% longer, increasing longevity 7.5 to 10 years and Richard Davidson's bestseller (2012) The Emotional Life of Your Brain argues that positive emotion and happiness benefit long-term health.
However, in 2015 a study building on earlier research found that happiness has no effect on mortality. "This "basic belief that if you're happier you're going to live longer. That's just not true." Consistent results are that "apart from good health, happy people were more likely to be older, not smoke, have fewer educational qualifications, do strenuous exercise, live with a partner, do religious or group activities and sleep for eight hours a night."
Happiness does however seem to have a protective impact on immunity. The tendency to experience positive emotions was associated with greater resistance to colds and flu in interventional studies irrespective of other factors such as smoking, drinking, exercise, and sleep.
Despite a large body of positive psychological research into the relationship between happiness and productivity, happiness at work has traditionally been seen as a potential by-product of positive outcomes at work, rather than a pathway to success in business. However a growing number of scholars, including Boehm and Lyubomirsky, argue that it should be viewed as one of the major sources of positive outcomes in the workplace.