The Happiness Effect
What is happiness? And where does it exist? What is its origin? And what is the source of happiness? What types of people are likely to be happy? Is happiness circumstantial? This is to ask: Is happiness a concept or an experience that is based on an external reality? Is happiness simply an inward feeling or positive emotion? Is happiness a state or a trait? Perhaps happiness is a matter of perspective? Let’s talk about the happiness effect.
Let’s begin our deconstruction of happiness by saying no matter what definition is applied to happiness; it is a fact of life that happiness plays a significant role in the deepening of one’s spiritual journey (not in the religious sense). The deeper question that should be asked as it relates to happiness is: What conditions favor happiness?
First, let’s define happiness. Happiness is a state of subjective well-being. When a person says she is happy, that person is actually relating experiences that make life worth living. By saying she is happy, she is simply explaining how she experienced happiness. Happiness, therefore, is the degree to which an individual determines that the overall quality of life is meaningful.
Happiness differs across societies and over time. Although happiness is a subjective experience, it can be objectively measured, assessed, correlated with observable brain functions, and related to the characteristics of an individual and the society.
Two kinds of happiness
According to the World Happiness Report, there are two kinds of happiness. The first is affective happiness, which refers to time with family, and the pleasure and joys of friendship, and sex. The second kind of happiness is evaluative happiness, which refers to the various dimensions in life that lead to overall satisfaction with one’s place in society. Higher income, good health, and positive interactions with one’s society are examples of evaluative happiness.
Both affective and evaluative happiness present happiness as a state of wellbeing that is the by-product of pursuing meaningful activities and relationships. Here’s what affective and evaluative happiness are not saying? They are not saying that the happiness occurs in isolation. This is an important point to remember, as we will see later.
Zero Sum Happiness
Another theory of happiness is called the zero sum. The zero-sum theory of happiness suggests that happiness is cyclical. This theory says happy periods are always followed by unhappy periods. Although there are times when unhappy moments shadow happy occasions, there is no solid evidence to suggests that this is always the case.
The eudaimonistic view is another view of happiness. The eudaimonistic view emphasizes the actualization of human potential-finding meaning and purpose in life. “Eudaimonia occurs when people’s life activities are most congruent or meshing with deeply held values and are holistically or fully engaged. Under such circumstances people would feel intensely alive and authentic, existing as who they really are.” One can also argue that to be eudaimon is therefore to be living in a way that is well-favored by a god.
Skeptics and ideologues alike have at times bemoaned the miseries of life as reasons that happiness is ultimately neither sustainable, nor possible. Others have reasoned that happiness is tied to the pursuit and involvement of pleasurable activities (I.e., hedonistic view). There are those who have even suggested that happiness is a state of dillusionment based on misguided hope of a future utopia.
Those arguments are both narrow and inconclusive, and are matters of perception in that happiness involves more than a pursuit, or state of mind. Those claims are also poor predictors of individual choice and well-being.
More than a state of mind
Happiness is more than a state of mind. Happiness is an experience of contact. What’s being said here is that happiness flourishes at the level of interaction. That is, happiness is activated when it interacts with external forces. Let’s call the external force (v) for value.
The first value is self-acceptance. Self-acceptance means holding positive attitude towards self, and is a characteristic of self-actualization, optimal functioning, and maturity. The premise of self-actualization is that it involves the actualization or full use of one’s abilities or potential, which includes meaning in life, positive self-esteem, personal responsibility, self-awareness, intimacy, empathy, realistic perceptions, insight, and resistance to undue social pressure. In other words, when a person has a positive regard of self, the resultant behavior will reflect that person’s positive value system, which in turn translates into happiness.
The second value that intersects happiness is positive relations with others. Positive relationship with others is expressed through warmth, trust, and by feelings of empathy and affection for all human beings. Life ceases to have meaning if people are not able to get along and live in harmony.
The third value is autonomy. According to research studies, a fully functioning and autonomous person: (1) does not look to others for approval, but evaluates oneself by personal standards; (2) does not cling to the collective fears, beliefs, and laws of the masses; (3) and is self-determined, independent, and regulates his or her behavior from within.
The next value that activates happiness is environmental mastery. This refers to a person’s ability to choose, create, and control complex environments that advances a person’s goals and aspirations.
The fifth value of positive psychological functioning (I.e., happiness) is purpose in life. Purpose in life describes an individual who has a clear vision and well-cultivated sense of directedness. This is a person who functions with resolute intentionality and has an undeterred commitment about being productive and creating or achieving emotional integration in life. This individual uses his environment to create meaning and advance his vision for sustainable success.
Personal growth is another value that activates happiness. Further, personal growth refers to an openness and readiness to adapt to change, confront new challenges, and embrace the transitory nature of reality specific to one’s place and time in history. It is the development of oneself through the lifespan.
As critical as these values are to happiness, these values should be looked at as variables that converge with one’s worldview. This implies that there isn’t a single factor that can inspire happiness unless a decision is made to be happy.
A person might be able to make you smile, but that individual cannot produce happiness in you. He or she might be able to satisfy your sexual desire, yet that person cannot manufacture happiness from your being. A person might even be able to give you temporary bouts of emotional satisfaction; however, that person will not be able to implant happiness into your existence.
The occasion of celebrating happiness is derived from an outlook that embraces reality for what it is. The fact is, life is marked by both promising and unfulfilled days. If you live long enough, you will experience emotional distress. There will days marked by economic uncertainty. And there will be times where relational tension becomes the pink elephant in the room. There will be unforeseen physical setbacks.
So, what types of people are most likely to be happy?
Individuals, who amidst the most severe drought in their personal lives choose to have a fulfilling existence. People who choose to nurture relationships by engaging in acts of kindness, honest communication, emotional support, love, intimacy, acceptance, forgiveness, transparency, understanding, and mutual risk taking. People, who despite how they are treated recognize their power to change the way they see themselves.
You can choose to live with a wealthy outlook though in the midst of scarcity. Think of your life in terms of seeds and not trees. Renowned preacher, T.D. Jakes, speaking to an audience in Australia, remarked that some people often go through life looking for the large blessings while despising the day of small beginnings. He said the big thing we are looking for (I.e., the tree) is found in the seed.
If we focused our energy on planting the seed, nurture the germination process, and allow nature to do its job, then the very things we craved will blossom into existence. Happiness will define your existence to the degree you have a vision that centers on happiness despite your present reality. Happiness will saturate your life when you decide that you are in control of your life.
The big picture
The big picture -“What conditions favor happiness”- let’s look at it. The happiness effect is determined by your inner strength. One can suppose that the influence of objective reality on individuals’ happiness and satisfaction depends on the value given to the event. For example, people may experience difficulties across some or all of life’s domains including relationship, finance, health, and career, yet choose to center their happiness on a belief that reality is dynamic and filled with promise.
The one constant about happiness is that it is entirely up to us to fill our lives with it. Happiness is experiencing inner serenity with the path we have chosen to travel. Happiness comes from the experience of being in sync with oneself, others, and the universe.
Someone might still be asking, “Where do we look to find happiness?” When we descend into the deepest recesses of the soul and bask in the sunlight of our inner peace we no longer have to search for happiness. Happiness will come looking for us.
1. Helliwell, J., Layard, R., & Sachs, J., (eds.) (2012). World happiness report. The Earth Institute, Columbia University, New York, USA.
2. Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2001). On happiness and human potentials: A review of research on hedonic and eudaimonic well-being. Annual review of psychology, 52(1), 141-166.
3. Malpas, J., Davidson, D. (2012). The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edward N. Zalta (ed.). Retrieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2012/entries/davidson/
4. Ryff, C. D. (1989). Happiness is everything, or is it? Explorations on the meaning of psychological well-being. Journal of personality and social psychology, 57(6), 1069-1081.
5. Beaumont, S. L. (2009). Identity Processing and Personal Wisdom: An Information-Oriented Identity Style Predicts Self-Actualization and Self-Transcendence. Identity, 9(2), 95-115.
6. Ryff, C. D. (1989). Happiness is everything, or is it? Explorations on the meaning of psychological well-being. Journal of personality and social psychology, 57(6), 1069-1081.
7. Ibid, p. 1071.
8. Ibid, p. 1071.
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