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‘There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so’ (Shakespeare, Hamlet). This quote suggests that it’s the way people think that makes a situation seem good or bad. For example people who have a glass half full or a glass half empty. They may well both be in the same situation, but the way they think about the circumstances means that one of them will have a positive/ optimistic outlook while the other will have a negative/ pessimistic outlook.
Optimists are healthier than pessimists, as they generally worry less, recover quicker and are likely to live longer. This is highlighted by a study carried out by Toshihiko Maruta and colleagues (2002) in which they selected 839 patients who forty years previously had referred themselves for medical care. They submitted themselves for tests which included measuring their optimistic thinking. By the year 2000, 200 of these patients had a 19% greater life span than the pessimists. There are many reasons why people develop a pessimistic or optimistic outlook on life; one of the most apparent reasons being past experiences teaching people to expect very little or a lot from life.
Martin Seligman (2005) is known as the psychologist who initiated positive psychology. He got a group of 577 people to write about a time when they were at their best and then told them to reflect on the personal strengths they displayed at the time. The group then had to review this once every day for a week, reflecting on their strengths. He found that the happiness levels of the group increased significantly and stayed increased even after six months. Thus he shows making an attempt to look at the good things in life have a major impact on a person’s happiness.
In today’s society the increased level of choice is surprisingly also a source of stress and unhappiness. For example people think they must always make the best decision every time they have a choice to make.
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Layard (2005) also stated that science and technology have consequences to a person’s happiness levels in both positive and negative ways. He highlights through the story of The King of Bhutan, were it was a small, idyllic Buddhist kingdom until in 1999 the ban on television was lifted. This had a very negative impact on the community as it was soon noticed there was a sharp break up in families, high rises in crime, violence and drug taking. The local academics also showed a third of the parents then preferred watching TV to talking to their children.
‘There is no inner man, man is in the world, and only in the world does he know himself’. This statement by a philosopher called Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1962) highlights Layard’s statement that happiness comes from the inside out. All areas of life are relevant to happiness, people with productive and satisfying roles, good health; rational levels of wealth, good social welfare and sense of belonging tend to have increased levels of happiness. Thus Layard’s statement highlights that both nature and nurture contribute to people’s happiness.