What Makes Us Happy and Why?

Happiness has always been seen as too vague as a concept. In the past 10 -15 years, researchers have been trying to identify the factors that contribute to the happiness. I wrote this article about happiness for these reasons:

1. To learn more what happiness is about?
2. To better understand what the causes of happiness are?
3. To explore what contributes to happiness and a satisfying life?
4. Clarify what is the purpose of happiness?

I will be very happy if I can answer all these questions!

Actually, this article is about positive psychology, a new scientific approach to happiness with many new answers. Positive psychology is a relatively new term in psychology. If you believe that scientists can tell us what happiness is about, you need to read this article.

Dr. Martin Seligman is the positive psychologist of the University of Pennsylvania, who believes: it is possible to lift our biological set range of happiness, at least to some extent, if we work at it. His effort and the effort of his colleagues are to create a science of higher happiness, and a program to help people achieve it.

What is happiness for you?

Do you believe that the only form of happiness is pleasure? If you do, you generally pursue a media creation of happiness. You are watching too many Hollywood’s movies!

I know you will just feel good temporarily. Pleasure will come only from what you have done to earn it. Please read what Nietzsche had to say:

I slept and I dreamed that life is pleasure
I woke and I saw that it is duty
I worked and I realized that duty is pleasure

To truly feel happy, we must have a goal, a point of destination we consider worthy of our effort which will satisfy us first, and make our life worthwhile. We need to build our own idea of critical thinking, love, kindness and mindfulness. We need to live our life with enthusiasm, optimism and morality. Only after reaching all these premises will we be a happy person. For reaching the higher forms of happiness – achieving satisfaction and contentment – we require taking paths leading to a meaningful life – a life where, through having goals, we will find fulfillment.

The question is: what makes us happy?

Make your own list of what makes you happy, and then compare it with the list made by scientists. Happiness researchers have been monitoring people’s life satisfaction for decades.

Most of the experts agree with the following conclusions:

1. Wealth and fortune do not contribute to happiness. There is a lot of evidence that being richer isn’t making us happier, which is fair! The research suggests that once you have shelter or modest home, basic food and clothes, then extra money does not seem to make people much happier.

Now we have evidence: we can be happy without being rich, therefore no more excuses for being unhappy because you don’t have a lot of money. According to many statistics, the standard of living in many countries has increased dramatically! I am not sure that’s true for everyone, but let’s accept it as a scientific fact!

If you ask Professor Daniel Kahneman of the University of Princeton, his answer is: “Standard of living has increased dramatically and happiness has increased not at all, and in some cases has diminished slightly.”

Despite all the massive increase in wealth, our levels of happiness have not increased. We know the reason: it is our intention to adapt to pleasure. For example, buying a new car or purchasing a new home can give us a quick feeling of pleasure and at the same time can quickly wear off. Those kinds of pleasures have limitations and they gradually lose their power.

Pretty dark statement from the scientific point of view, isn’t it?

2. Health, family and friends are the most important factors for our happiness. If you are healthy person in relatively a good shape, with good family and personal relationships, consider yourself a happy and a lucky person. Keep your marriage or relationship in good condition; marriage adds an average seven years to the life of a man and something like four for a woman. Happy people have a lot of friends, and they make very close friendships, too.

Just as a reminder: as stress can trigger ill health, friendship and happiness can have a protective effect. Now we know that our brain control many of the mechanisms in our bodies which are responsible for disease. What we learn from positive psychology is: friendship has a much bigger effect on happiness than a typical person’s income. This is one more reason to believe that we can be happy despite having to struggle with a difficult financial situation. At this moment scientists cannot prove causation; whether, for example, people are healthy because they are happy, or whether people are happy because they are healthy.

3. Having goals and a meaning life, a belief in something bigger than us – from religion, spirituality or a philosophy of life is crucial for our happiness. Finding meaning in life is like finding gold mine. Dig it and you will find your lost goals and your lost happiness. With meaning and goals in your life, you will be always on the track.

The theory sounds good, but what’s the reality? The question is: whether we can actually use our knowledge of what makes us happy to lift our levels of happiness permanently? It’s a very hot question for psychologists!

We need to accept the reality: life is not always all about happiness. Unhappiness is a part of life, too. Life is unpredictable with no guarantee for happiness. The mind rises and falls and illness can shift happiness into sadness. If you expect to be happy all the time you are making an unrealistic goal. The best you can do is to make an effort and learn what makes you a happy person. Also, not everything is in our hands. Science also came to the conclusion that one’s happiness is genetically determined, and depends also on life circumstances and personality. You don’t have to be genetically predisposed to happiness to succeed, but you need to understand and train your mind to shift emotions from sadness to happiness, and how to pay attention to upsetting emotions.

Is there any room for criticism of the movement? Yes, many psychologists are critical!
But whatever is your conclusion about “power of happiness”, don’t forget one thing here: each blue day has a negative impact on health and life satisfaction in all of us. Cheerfulness has scientifically proven positive effects. We have the capacity to enhance our well-being by finding things that will make our lives more satisfying. It’s our obligation to apply “that duty is pleasure “. Happiness seems to have almost magical properties, which isn’t easy to prove. But science suggests it leads to long life, health, resilience and good performance.

Did I answer all your questions about happiness? Perhaps not, but what I wanted to say is to explain some very basic knowledge about positive psychology.

If you still worry about happiness, I know you live in a satisfying environment! Do you know why? Researchers know and agree: poor people or societies have no time to think about happiness. They need to fulfill their basic needs for foods and shelters and therefore there is no time for thoughts about happiness. During catastrophic times, people do not talk about happiness, they talk about survival.

When people or societies do not have to worry about poverty or tragedy – they worry about happiness.