THE GOOD NEWS & THE BAD NEWS FROM HAPPINESS RESEARCH
Happiness is considered by most people to be the most important thing in life!
But why? In Volume I of this set of books, we examined the basic nature of human happiness and its importance in great detail. I trust you’ve had a chance to acquaint yourself with the wealth of scientific data discussed in that early volume. Yet, some readers of this volume may not have had that chance. Thus we start this chapter with a brief review of the major conclusions we found there…
What is happiness and why is it so important?
Happiness is nothing more than an emotion. It is as the dictionary defines it, “a feeling of well-being and contentment.”
Happiness goes by many names: contentment, joy, fulfillment, satisfaction, peace-of-mind, etc.. But all these terms synomously describe the same psychological experience — a positive emotional sense of happiness in living.
Emotions of happiness take two basic forms. One is happiness the mood. Moods of happiness are generally short-lived — they occur periodically and are usually brief and fleeting.
But there is also a deeper, more abiding sense of happiness every person carries with them all the time. It is an overall, emotional evaluation of life. It is what most of us understand when we think about our happiness. It is how we more typically feel day-to-day. And it is this meaning of happiness we are more concerned with in these volumes.
Why is happiness so important? Because without it life would have little point. According the the theorists, happiness is the main thing we human beings live for.
As Aristotle put it, “Human happiness is so important it transcends all other worldly considerations.” Early psychologist, William James, viewed happiness as being “…for most men at all times the secret motivation of all they do and all they willingly endure.” And modern philosopher Eric Fromm heralds happiness as “…the criterion of excellence in the art of living.”
Certainly happiness is not the only thing we live for. We all hope for success. We search for love. We wish for good health and longevity. We desire warm family relations. Most of us would like to be wealthier. But why?
Only because there is the implied belief that if of these dreams come true, they will help to make us happy.
Even our more mundane wishes — a new car, a nice home, a better job, etc. — are fundamentally based on our assumption that such things will lead to greater happiness.
Everything we do is for happiness.
What good would anything be if it didn’t lead to a happier life?
And looking it from the opposite point of view. What would life be like if nothing brought us happiness?
Without happiness, life would be truly empty indeed. Nothing would hold any meaning. Nothing would have any value. Nothing would provide any warmth or pleasure. Life, as we know it, would hardly be worth living.
Clearly, happiness is the essential motivation for human behavior. Not only do the great philosophers make this clear over their centuries, but modern psychological theory and research also confirms this view as well.
But we hardly need the reminding, for in over two decades of informal polling, I have questioned tens of thousands of individuals regarding their answer to the question “What is the most important thing in life?” and I have found that the vast majority of people, almost instantaneously, think of “happiness” as the answer.
Yet, what makes people happy?
The massive research studies on happiness have come to several major conclusions…
First, happy individuals enjoy a highly active, very successful social life. They tend to have close, warm, love- relationships with their friends, their family members, their acquaintances, and most especially, they seem to have a really satisfying, love-relationship in their lives.
Second, happy people appear to be more successful. They tend to enjoy higher income, high social status, high occupational status, high educational attainment, and, in general, seem to have those skillful, competent person- alities that allow them to achieve most all of their personal goals. Happy people typically love the work they do — they often end-up in careers that are quite rewarding and stimulating.
Third, happy individuals usually enjoy better health, but more than that they seem to have zest, vitality, energy, vim and vigor, and they seem to live longer, healthier lives to boot.
Fourth, happy individuals have well-developed philosophical or religious beliefs that provide them the satisfying sense of meaning, importance, and significance in their life. They seem to have a marvelously developed sense of personal direction that comes from those beliefs and values. Happy individuals are concerned individuals; they volunteer much of their time to actually make a contribution to community action, volunteer work, charity work, and similar altruistic activities.
Fifth, happy individuals seem to have a whole lot more fun then the rest of us ever do. They have many more activities they enjoy doing for fun, and they spend much more of their time, on a given day or week, doing fun, exciting, and enjoyable activities.
Finally, happy people appear to be remarkably well-adjusted. They seem to display a high degree of self-actualization and positive mental health characteristics.
These, of course, are just the most general attributes typical of happier individuals. In Volume I of this set, we reviewed scores of these particular characteristics in great detail and with specific referencing (and if you would like more, please refer to that volume). But for now — and in order to briefly summarize the research — one of the best descriptions of happy people (and how they differ from unhappier people) comes from one of the major happiness tests used by psychologists, the Psychap Inventory (xxxxx). The interpretation of scores from that test describes the happiest people thusly:
“Happy people are very satisfied with the way their life is going, they derive great happiness from living, gain many rewarding feelings from major aspects of their life, show vitality and good health, and have a disposition that is generally quite content and happy. Unhappy people have dispositions that are rarely happy, and live lives that aren’t going as well as they would like. They are not all content with their lives, experience many stressors in their important life areas, have many felt personal dissatisfactions, and consequently feel unhappy and unsuccessful.
Happy individuals have an extroverted, spontaneously friendly, and outgoing, social personality; a concern for others, and an ability to be a trusting, accepting friend; a healthy, positive self-image; good self-knowledge and self-acceptance; a high degree of autonomy and self-sufficiency; a lack of negative tensions and problems; a certainty of values; internal direction; and a high degree of organization and direction toward goals. Unhappy persons tend to be somewhat more shy, and introverted; a bit more self-conscious in social settings; a little “down on themselves” and self-critical; more uncertain about their motivations, values, and direction in life; a bit unorganized and often procrastinate; rely too much on others and not enough on themselves; and sadly, usually have a lot of problems, stress, and difficulties to contend with.
Happy individuals have a highly optimistic outlook on life; preponderantly positive thought patterns; a more modest level of ambition and expectation; a more realistic (than idealistic) approach to life and goal setting; a value focus on the present (they enjoy living more for today, and are not unduly preoccupied with past hurts or future apprehensions); a very low level of everyday worry; and a strong value commitment to their own personal happiness. Unhappy persons are the opposite: they devalue happiness, over-idealize their goals, think pessimistically, worry a great deal, interpret events negatively, and are often preoccupied with past and/or future problems.
In addition, happy people also live their day-to-day lives in a way that is significantly opposite from that of unhappier people. Happy individuals live an involved, exciting, and robust life. They display a high level of social interaction, socializing, and organizational participation; have close, rewarding ties with acquaintances, co-workers, friends, and family; live lives that are highly active and busy; spend the majority of time doing activities that are enjoyable, fun, and exciting; are involved with work or avocations that are meaningful, significant, and rewarding; have broad interests; and are currently involved in a satisfying love-relationship. The unhappy are caught in lives that are much less active, rewarding, social, or enjoyable.”
Simply put: “Happy people have it made!”
According to the collected studies amassed in the field of happiness research over the last several decades (which we examined in detail in Volume I), happy people characteristically have more of the “good things” in life, in greater abundance, and for longer periods of time, than most average (and especially unhappy) people ever do.