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Happiness 101: A Basic Human Survey

 Happiness 101: A Basic Psychological Human Analysis of the Facets within Happiness and its Relativity

 

The Unquenchable Pursuit of Happiness

The Unquenchable Pursuit of Happiness

Happiness is an emotion people attribute to their everyday lives, but the general consensus is that it is very difficult to master, and sometimes even harder to achieve.  However, everyday we speak of things that make us happy.  So what exactly sets apart things that makes us happy from the overall state of happiness?  After interviewing 6 individuals of different ages and sexes with varying religious and political backgrounds, I was able to collect opinions about happiness and challenge them against the wisdom we collected in the first semester from several expect opinion books.  I asked my subject about aspects of happiness mentioned in different parts of the book, and placed their answers in comparison with the books general suggestions.  Here are the results.

 

I first inquired the general question to all my subjects about how once achieves happiness.  The results of my question show that the older the person is, the more detailed their account of the achievement of happiness is.  The younger members that answered my questions were focused toward finding what’s important in life and holding onto it as much as possible.  The older members tended to give more specific answers such as utilizing time, realizing and making use of talents, and furthering personal growth and development.  My religious subjects placed more emphasis upon the role of religion in achieving happiness, especially two of my subjects attributing the achievement to happiness as being found in religion itself.

Being that we are all involved in the day to day grind of our occupations, whether student, teacher, or anything else in between, I sought to find the role of happiness in people’s careers and occupations.  It would appear as if all my subjects conveyed a direct relationship between happiness and the manner in which they do the duties associated with their occupation or job.  The students of the group generally tended to say that they accomplished more work more efficiently when they were happy, and it wasn’t as stressful on their lives.  The people questioned said that their job correlated with their overall pursuit of happiness, indicating they chose the occupation as a source of happiness.

A deeper look into the concept of happiness revealed more clearly that there seemed to be a serious division between short and long term happiness.  There were things that made someone happy instantly, such as having sex, finding money, winning a game, and going to church.  However, most people, especially the younger people of my interviews, cited there being a serious division between things that make us happy and over happiness.  That brought me to asking them the different things that bring about short and long term happiness.  Some of the answers I received here dealt with the shortcomings and problems that contribute to long and short term happiness.  Some people listed family issues or problems in personal relationships and fundamental constraints to happiness. Physical attachments tended to bring people short term happiness, but longer term happiness seemed to come from within, regardless of age, sex, religion, etc.  Some of the aspects of long term happiness are investigated throughout this research project.

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Sometimes it appears as if people believe when they are happy, they are just lucky to be so.  It would be very disheartening to think that happiness is an uncontrollable aspect of our being, but I wanted to find out what my subjects thought about happiness being circumstance or luck.  Happiness to all my subjects seem to be resoundingly is a matter of our own actions, desires, and thoughts.  Once again, religious people attributed happiness to some source of divinity in some aspects.  Two of my subjects also answered that happiness has a small element of luck to it, but did not elaborate much.  I saw this as possibly being a view towards the internal set point, as those who are born with a higher set point might be more inclined to be happier at any given moment, or they derive more happiness from any given event than someone with a lower set-point.  However, then was one dissenting opinion, my father, who said that “Luck is a product of preparation, expectation, visualization confronting each an every circumstance or challenge a person encounters”.  I believe he implies that luck is intertwined with happiness as being a part of anything a human being encounters.  This is a very interesting opinion because he seems to have conformed with many of the books ideas, but differed in this aspect.

Further in my interviews, I began to introduce questions posed by the books relating to overall happiness.  A book entitled ‘The Pursuit of Happiness’ explores the traits of happy people.  A good predictor of present well being is past well being, as the book suggests-  “Well being is strongly influence by the enduring characteristics of an individual.”  Attractive people more often describe themselves as having better well being than unattractive people.  However, it is important to see the beauty within each of ourselves.  There are a few inner traits that commonly identify with predispose positive mental attitudes- positive mental attitude, self-esteem (like themselves), sense of personal control (choose their destinies), optimistic (full of hope), and extroversion (outgoing). I asked my subjects what they thought were the traits of happy people.  All the members of my project said that happy people tended to be positive.  Females tended to focus more upon achieving positive relationships with people around you, and more males tended to focus upon actual internal traits of happy people, such as upbeat, optimistic, and motivated.  Religious people suggested that religion is important in a happy person’s life.  I also had one person suggest the notion of happy people avoiding negativity and pain, which I found very interesting because most people associate pain as being a part of appreciating happiness.  I had one answer that said happy people are quiet, which might contradict being outgoing, but my subject said it was contentment to the point where they didn’t need to voice their thoughts.  Being a healthy person also came up a few times in conversation.

‘The Pursuit of Happiness’ also addressed how friendships are an important part of being happy.  Close relationships promote general health.  Compared to those with few social ties, those who have close relationships with friends, family, kin, or fellow members of some kind of community organizations are less likely to die prematurely.  Supportive friends bolster our self esteem.  Friends provide a close network to deal with problems and stress.  Confiding in others is good for the soul.  When facing the rejection of self driven aspirations, we often bear the blame for the failure of all those aspirations.  The happiest university students feel satisfied with their love life.  People with close relationships often cope better with different stresses.  People tend to enjoy better well being when they are able to share their interests and successes with their friends and family and receive encouragement from that group of people.  Most people attribute their happiness to their close relationships with their families, friends, and partners. (pg 142)  I assumed this would be another important question to address in my interviews.  One of the younger members of my questionnaire listed relationships as the largest basis for one’s individual happiness.  He said that happiness can lead to all the feels and traits that are part of a happy person.  This is a very good example of why people are outgoing.  Two of the older people polled attributed friendships to affirmation of talents and said they can share their successes with them.  A few people also mentioned being around positive people rubbed off on you.  Mostly all my constituents spoke about how they relied on friendships in order to deal with the shortcomings of life. Younger people especially tended to talk about how when life handed them circumstances that were difficult do deal with, they relied on their friendships to account for their shortcomings in their inabilities to cope with different situations.  Religious people especially talked about how their friendships affirmed their lives in both the good times and the bad.  However, the religious people failed to mention the community aspects that faith might bring, which I found very peculiar.

Collective Group Thought

A cognitive and collective search for happiness is a basic bonding thread between human beings

On the subject of happiness, I was curious to see what some of the qualities people had with their best friends.  Earlier in the year, we discussed qualities that men had with their best friend.  Some of those included continuity (shared past, assumed shared future), unconditional support and dependability, shared understanding, perceived compatibility (“complete comfort”), a safe place to explore one’s self, having fun together, completely intermingled lives- nothing is out of bounds, and unspoken bonds.  There seems to be a connection in the relationships people have with their best friend, transcending the lines of gender, age, and beliefs.  The one main quality people have in the best friendship they listed was honesty, sometimes brutal honesty.  2 of the older subjects listed “loyalty” as a quality of their best friend.  Everyone shared the notion that they and their best friend had many common interests and shared experiences of different natures with one another that they could revert back to.  One college male cited “my best friend and I have similar outlooks on life”.

Religion tended to be a very deciding factor in many of my interviews up to this point.  Those who tended to be more religious, which I considered to be half of the people I interviewed, tended to fit this aspect into many, if not all, of their answers to the questions about happiness.  ‘The Pursuit of Happiness’ examined this connection in detail.  A United States survey says that 31% of “somewhat” or “not very” religious people say they are “very happy”; but this rises to 41% among those who say their religious affiliation is “strong”.  People who suffer divorce, unemployment, bereavement, or serious illness or disability retain greater joy if they have a strong faith.  Religious people in America are much less likely to become delinquent, to abuse drugs and alcohol, to divorce or become unhappily married, or to commit suicide.  Religion seems to become a form of self- therapy.  Religion tends to promote communities of faith and friendship.  It promotes many of the aspects of happiness also generated by friendship.  Also, religion provides people with something worth living and dying for, and contributes to people having meaning to their lives.  (pg 183)  I decided to ask all my subjects about the connection between faith and religiousness and happiness.  The role of religion in happiness seemed to universal among all my subjects, among those that considered themselves religious and those who didn’t   Even the less religious ones said that religion can seriously add to a person’s happiness in more than one way.  The religious members of the survey claimed that religion providing them with purpose; others cited that it allowed them to handle their tribulations in life easier.  My subjects more inclined in age spoke about how their faith “affirmed their value propositions”.  Two of the college students stated that religion gave them a tremendous amount of hope in situations of all degrees of difficulty.

I sought to find division between subjects later in the survey, and I predicted that the best division between ages would be the difference between being married and being single. Several knowledgeable sources on the subject of human happiness suggest many different ideas about the concept of marriage being beneficial to happiness.  Most people attribute the one emotion that provides happiness to another is love.  4 in 5 adults of all different ages say that love is important to their happiness.  In the United States, 25% of unmarried adults report being “very happy”, but nearly 40% of married adults report being “very happy”.  The emotional benefits of marriage benefit more men than women (women have greater household responsibilities).  People who say that their marriage is satisfying rarely report being unhappy, discontented in life, or depressed.  Married people are more likely to enjoy an enduring, supportive, and intimate relationship and are obviously less likely to be lonely.  The roles of the partners in a marriage can be a source of self-esteem, but they can also be a source of stress when they are too overwhelming in duties or numbers.  The burden must be shared by both members of the marriage.  Many of the traits people see in themselves are compounded in a marriage and when they are put to the test, they stand up better with a partner.  Marriage seems to also provide many of the benefits of a lasting friendship but in a more fulfilling and lasting form.  People who are unhappy in their marriage tend to be missing some aspects that provide for a successful and lasting marriage.  Marriage tended to be a subject that vastly differed with age.  Younger people tended to be much more optimistic about marriage, people in their middle years saw marriage as “a double edged sword” in many aspects, and the oldest subject in the group seemed to focus upon the positives of marriage, despite acknowledging a few of the downfalls.  2 people mentioned the ability to be happy without being married- they seemed to respect the fact that people could find happiness anywhere and that some people were “destined” to be single.  Marriage however, seemed to be very fulfilling or have a chance to be very fulfilling for every person asked, and every person that wasn’t married said they planned on being with someone in the future.

One element I found very interesting was the notion that some people were born naturally happier than others.  Most scholars separate these two cases and compare them specifically to one another in their research. Some people are considered to have won the cortical lottery.  Their brains were predisposed to see the good in the world.  A person’s average level of happiness is that person’s “ affecting style”.  Your affecting style reflects the everyday balance of power between your approach system and your withdrawal system, which can be read right from your forehead.  You can change the way you approach the world, but in the end, some people tend to see the good in things better, and thus, are just naturally happier and cope better with the negative aspects of life.  I proceeded to ask my subjects if they believed this was a possibility.  Overwhelmingly, people all agreed that there are people who are naturally happier than others.  Many cited people being more “optimistic” and “having a good outlook on life”.  Also, the more aged members of my project suggested that some people are just more open to new situations and discovery than others, leading them to be more accepting of the things that happen to them.  Another constituent also referred back to the fact that happy people are more outgoing, saying that “people who are more engaged tend to be happier”.

Of all the topics within this limitless realm of exploring the idea of happiness in the human form, the notion  that addressed adversity was the one that seemed very interesting to me personally.  Stress has many damaging effects.  However, people exhibit 3 common traits that result from adversity.  The fist benefit is “rising to a challenge” reveals your hidden abilities and seeing this abilities changes your self concept for the better.  One common trait drawn from this is that people are a lot stronger than they realized, even though they may have thought they could not have lived without a certain thing that they lost.  Adversity is also a filter for friendship.  Often people who come to your aid in trying times are seen in another light following the event, and you learn to lean less on the ones who are not as responsive to your problems.  Lastly, adversity and trauma tends to change priorities and philosophies to the present and toward other people.  It leads to much post traumatic growth.

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In order to be happy, you must first understand the other side of the emotion as well- adversity

 

We must endure adversity to grow, and the highest levels of happiness are open to those who have experienced and overcame great adversity.  Tragedy often forces us to get back up or change our plan of action and using all the resources around us to help us in this decision.  People might often rely on a source of unifying the pieces of their lives that have fallen apart and the rebuilding process often gives us more meaning to those aspects which we implement to rebuild. Younger people tended to display more arrogance and confidence about adversity.  It seemed to be an entertaining enemy to two of my college male subjects.  One person said they welcomed adversity as a test to how strong he is.  The other said he tells adversity to “bring it on” to display how much confidence he has that he can overcome it.  Both said eventually once you overcome adversity, it allows you to be happier in the long run and gives you a better appreciation for the events of your life.  An older member of the study cited adversity as motivation to seek a greater level of happiness than before.  “My experiences increase my knowledge, but adversity increases my capacity to understand.”  Two women of the survey agreed that adversity makes them “appreciate” the state of their life no matter what it is.  One other person suggested that once you overcome adversity, your happiness level jumps by great amounts.

Life is a constant state of what has happened in the past.  When we look back, however, things might have happened that had an affect on our level of happiness.  The book ‘Stumbling Upon Happiness’ addressed a common issue about changing things in the past.  We are always reminded of the past, and asked about the possibility to change it.  It was very interesting to see an expert’s take on this subject.  Daniel Gilbert, the author of the book, states his opinion of looking back on the book.  “Our lives may not always turn out the way we intended them to, but we are confident that if they house, our happiness would be higher and our pains would be minimal.  We do not always get what we want, but we are pretty confident that we know what we wanted in the first place.  However, our imaginations tend to fail us at times.  The shortcoming of imagination is the same as that of when we remember the things that have happened to us differently in the past and see things differently in the present.  The brain tends to fill in things that it fails to remember, often times giving us a misrepresentation of what actually happened and continues to happen even with prior knowledge to it.”   I expected to hear the cliche answer, “I wouldn’t change a thing in my life”, and I heard different variations in my interviews, but I did speak to a few people who said they would change things to make themselves happier.

Every woman I proposed this question to stated that she would not change any events of her life in the past in order to affect her current state of happiness, and thus, wouldn’t change her status of life because she was a product of her past.  2 college age males said they would change things in the past, because they affect the way they view their future now. They believed that it inhibited their level of happiness in the present and future.  All of the religious members of the project believed that there was reasoning in all the events that occurred in life.  One implied that all events that occurred in life were “unavoidable”.  Another stated, “.  I celebrate being wrong because it furthers my knowledge and understanding.”  Another male brought finance into the equation, saying that he would change a few of his financial decisions, but none of the major ones that carved out his personality.

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So money does mean happiness right?

Lastly, I asked all my subjects if money could buy happiness.  This was the question that defined the subjects, in my opinion.  Males tended to attribute money to some level of happiness, but not happiness in general.  I enjoyed my father’s answer, which was “No, you have to be happy with yourself first, but it makes life a lot sweeter!”  It seems that males tended to think you needed a certain level of money to maintain a lifestyle that suited happiness, but more of it was simply more. Every women survey said that money in no way can buy happiness.  No one directly implied that money could buy happiness.

 

Analyzing these questions provided many interesting conclusions.  There were many patterns in the ways of thinking, and many differences.  I think achieving happiness is a very individual process, and the pursuit is different from all of us.  I think when the younger people of society try to explain the achievement of happiness, they leave it very general, saying it is holding onto something that you love and striving to be your best.  The more adult answers were more specific- utilizing time and talents, self-actualization; these answers seem to be more appealing because they are more specific, and time tested.  However, the pursuit is different for all of us, and thus, our answers will all differ as well.  People seemed to have a good understanding about how happiness effects your occupation.  Students and adults alike seem to say that they perform better at anything when they are happy, and seem to derive more happiness from anything they do when they are happy in the first place.  Happiness seems to compound and attract more happiness.  People seem to be on the right track with that assumption.  I have made an earlier assumption that says people attribute short term happiness with physical things and long term happiness with a variety of different aspects that include self actualization, contentment (while still striving for the best), healthy relationships, and purpose.  People seem to often confuse the two, and even forget about the benefits of long term happiness and focus on the short term.  Short term happiness is easier to achieve, but is less fulfilling in the long run, if it can even but sustained until then.  These subjects all seemed to have a grasp on the fact that happiness is a product of circumstances, and happy people aren’t necessarily as lucky as people might assume, and I was encouraged to see that people saw happiness as not being just “luck”.

My subjects seemed to have a general consensus about the traits of happy people that coincided with most theories brought forward in my readings on happy people.  It seems to be a rather strong conclusion that happy people were outgoing (extroverts), found positives in things, and being healthy.  The one interesting answer, quiet, was one assumption about happiness I doubt would take someone really far.  In order to get the most out of life, it seems you need to interact with the world around you.  People seemed to have a very good concept about marriage as well, despite increasing divorce rates.  All my subjects agreed that they could find some good in marriage.  It appeared as if people had a very good concept of the benefits of adversity.  In some way or another, people understood how adversity eventually helped their overall well-being; whether it was making them more appreciative of their life once they overcame it, or making them stronger the next time they ran into life’s troubles once again.

How do we connect the dots amongst those who consider themselves happy?

How do we connect the dots between those who consider themselves happy?

Overall, females tended to have a view of happiness that coincided more with emotions, and males tended to believe that they could control both their emotions and the things that happened in their world more.  Religious members of my study seemed to display the greatest amount of influence of any of the groups of people chosen.  In some way or another, religious people factored their beliefs into most of their answers, which concluded that religion is a larger part of happiness than gender or age.  I might add that religion might not directly equal happiness, but it certainly provides a strong means to achieve it.  That was one of the biggest conclusions of this study.  The age difference was sometimes a factor in answers as well.  The younger people tended to rest their concepts of happiness upon the unknown, such as destiny and purpose, while older subjects tended to give more precise answers about aspects of happiness, such as self-actualization and certain character traits.  I thought an interesting view was one that contrasted mine, when my father said that happiness was not content.  He implied that content hinders you from furthering yourself, which is an obstacle to happiness in his belief.

People tended to have views on happiness that would work out well.  At their ages, most of these people have been through enough to have developed a well thought out process that leads them to being happy, tested through years of trial and error.  I also took into account the fact that people were trying to answer the question to my liking rather than their own.  Whichever way they did, it doesn’t really matter, for if they could provide such well thought out answers in most instances would imply that they have at least grasped the concept of happiness whether they choose to implement it into their lives or not.

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The happy mind tends to also be the calm mind: validated, within a flexible sense of serenity

Personally, I think each book had a few ideas that struck me as being very intriguing aspects of happiness.  There are many resounding ideas that were mentioned in my interviews that provided a good insight as to the validity of the concepts presented in many of the books.  Personally, I believe that happy people are often compassionate, emotionally flexible, positive, motivated, and most importantly, grateful.  I can identify with some of my subjects in saying that religion plays a major role in happiness.  Having spirituality is a part of religion, and both allow a person to find ties to a something larger than self.  Once we realize that we are capable of changing the world, but are an integral part of the world itself, I think we can accept the fact that we must focus on self and upon others to fulfill our lives.  Religion puts many of these thoughts into perspective.  It allows me to see myself as someone who is a vessel of hope and change for the world, but allows me to identify and relate to others in the world around me.  I might be just another brick in the wall, but the wall would crumble without my presence.  After reading these books, my opinion of the fragility of happiness definitely dissents from the opinions of my peers.  The younger students I interviewed suggested that people never actually recover from a tragic event.  These books have enlightened me to realize that short term happiness is definitely affected by a tragic event, but overall, people rebound and things are never as bad as they seem.

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