The Lasting Happiness And Success Formula

The Secret to Happiness

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We hold these truths to be self-evident - that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

(American Declaration of Independence)

One of the puzzles of modern economics is that despite the genuine increase in the wealth of the developed nations there has not been an equivalent increase in the happiness of people populating the developed nations (Diener, 2003). One interpretation has been that although physical capital has increased, there has been a concomitant decline in social capital; that is, the social support and social networks with which we all enrich our lives. Although the reasons for the decline in social capital are likely to be complex (Layard, 2005), to take one simple example the impact of television over the past 50 years has been considerable. A very dramatic study of television's impact has taken place in the Kingdom of Bhutan, located to the east of Tibet in the Himalayas. The Kingdom of Bhutan has taken a unique approach to the state of its population in that it has introduced an economic population measure known as Gross National Happiness (GNH), which sits alongside other economies' preoccupation with Gross National Product (GNP). Since television was introduced into Bhutan in 1998, there has been a dramatic decline in social capital, or Gross National Happiness, to the extent that the Bhutanese government is likely to cut down the number of TV channels and the amount of TV coverage that will be available in the future (MacDonald, 2003).

One of the issues that economists struggle with is what the relationship between objective and subjective indicators of states such as happiness might be. Our emphasis throughout this book is very much that it is not the objective event but the subjective appraisal of an event or situation that is more important in determining the consequent emotional state. Although there may be thresholds below which material deprivation and poverty do impact on happiness (Diener, 2003), above these thresholds the impact on happiness on quality of life is likely to be more subjective or appraisal-based (e.g., Power, 2003).

A second issue that the economic approach to happiness raises is that the type of happiness referred to by economists—that is, the type that might relate to how many zeros are in your income and how many cars are parked outside your house—is not the same as brief momentary states of happiness that are the equivalent of states of anxiety, anger, or sadness. "Happiness" is an umbrella term that can be usefuly divided into two different meanings (e.g., Argyle, 2001) one of which refers to brief transitory emotions such as joy, amusement, or ecstasy, and the other of which refers to life satisfaction and a mood-like state of continuing contentment (e.g., Layard, 2005); these have also been referred to as the hedonic and eudaimonic approaches respectively (e.g., Ryan & Deci, 2001). Although our primary focus will be on the more transitory states such as joy, some of the discussion will inevitably spill over into considerations of longer-term implications for happiness, such as when we discuss love.

Despite an almost unhealthy interest in the negative emotions such as anger, fear, or disgust, emotion theorists, perhaps in contrast to economists, rarely address the subject of happiness. There may be many reasons for this; as Tolstoy articulates so well in the opening line of Anna Karenina, there appear to be many more ways not to be happy than there are ways to be happy. Similarly, in the clinic, people present with a range of emotional disorders but these can rarely be conceptualised as "disorders of happiness". In Johnson-Laird and Oatley's (1989) linguistic analysis of emotion terms, of the 590 English words reviewed there was a predominance of terms for the usually negative emotions, and the pervasiveness of this imbalance has led Frijda (1986) to adopt the term "hedonic asymmetry". A second reason for the comparative scarcity of happiness research may be that, as Averill and More (2000) point out, happiness seems to have a much broader scope than more circumscribed emotions such as anger or sadness and has depth of meaning that seems to mock analysis. Belying this lack of precedent, there has recently been a surge of interest in so-called positive psychology (e.g., Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000) including the function of positive emotions (e.g., Fredrickson, 2001), so we shall take a few deep breaths and attempt to tackle the subject of happiness in the light of these recent developments.

So, what is happiness? Attempts to define happiness within the psychology literature generally reflect the breadth of scope that, according to Averill and More, is so mocking of analysis. For example, Wessman and Ricks proposed that happiness:

Appears as an overall evaluation of a quality of the individual's own experience in the conduct of his vital affairs. As such, happiness represents a conception abstracted from the flux of affective life indicating a decided balance of positive affectivity over long periods of time. (1966, pp. 240-241)

Similarly, Veenhoven (1984, p. 4) suggests that happiness is "the degree to which an individual judges the overall quality of his life-as-a-whole favourably" and is "not a simple sum of pleasures, but rather a cognitive construction which the individual puts together from his various experiences".

It seems clear that broad conceptualisations of happiness such as these are referring, as we noted above, to a different type of emotional experience from those of anger, sadness, fear, and so forth, on which we have focused in the previous four chapters. These emotions, we have argued, are functional, modular responses to information that is incompatible with a particular active goal. In contrast, the above definitions of happiness seem to refer to an emotional state that is a conflation across numerous goals in different domains in the individual's life. Clearly there are positive emotions that are circumscribed in the same way as the ones we have discussed; the emotions of joy, exhilaration, ecstasy, and so on are most usually about the achievement of a particular valued goal, and indeed the term happiness is also frequently used in this way. However, we should also distinguish happiness as an emotion from pleasure that results from drive satisfaction, consistent with the distinction that we made between emotions, drives, and sensations in Chapter 2; thus, the satiation of food, thirst, sex, or other drives, may be accompanied by feelings of pleasure, which may in turn lead to the appraisal of happiness, but could lead under many circumstances to appraisals other than happiness (e.g., Fredrickson, 2005; Rozin, 1999). In this chapter, therefore, we will begin by briefly examining circumscribed positive emotions such as joy before proceeding to a more detailed discussion of happiness as defined above by authors such as Veenhoven, and Wessman and Ricks.

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