Achieving True Happiness

Achieving True Happiness

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Happiness is an encouraging feeling, which is influenced by many factors. When Layard states ‘from outside’ he means social identities, roles, cultures and groups people belong to. When Layard states ‘from within’ he is referring to a person’s thinking and feelings. Richard Layard (2005) in an attempt to find out what made people happy identified a list of factors that contributed towards happiness, this included family, close relationships, satisfying work, good health and personal freedom.

‘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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These people are known as perfectionists. Barry Schwartz (2005) describes these people as maximisers which can be contrasted against a happier group of people known as satisfiers. Satisfier may not make the best possible choice, they may end up with something less than maximisers, but are however content to make their choice and move on.

Positive thinking can be related to whether a person believes they have control over their own actions or if they think they are being controlled by an outside force. This is known by Julian Rotter (1966) as ‘locus of control’ if it is internal this person will believe they have control of what happens in their life, whereas if the locus of control is external the person will believe they have no control over what will happen; it is under the control of external forces.

Ellen Langer and Jody Rodin (1976) illustrated how a feeling of control over some quite small aspects of living can have a large impact on the happiness, alertness and even physical health of elderly residents in a nursing home. One group got to choose their rooms, mealtimes, food and they were given a plant to care for; whereas the other group was just constantly told what to do. The first group became more alert and active, also having a higher mortality rate. People can focus their thoughts to make themselves happier by looking at their strengths, things that have gone well and by having realistic expectations in life. If a person believes in themselves then they will fundamentally be happier. In life roles people play and groups they are identified with are all factors which determine if they are happy or not. For example if a person has positive and supportive relationships they are therefore going to be happier. Everyone wants to feel needed, supported, valued and respected. A person who gains this self esteem and sense of belonging from being part of a group is likely to be happier than someone with less sense of belonging or is overburdened by conflicting roles.

Work can also provide people with a sense of happiness, as it not only provides us with an income but also gives people a meaning to life making them feel productive and puts structure into their day. Peter Warr (2007) compares work to taking vitamins as he believes a certain level is essential for health and wellbeing. Unemployment reduces happiness by destroying self respect and the positive social relationships created by work (Layard 2005)

Some researchers argue that your geographical placement does not necessarily determine a person’s happiness levels as it would be thought. It would be assumed that the more economically developed countries would be happier and more content but studies by Peter Forster in Vanuatu show otherwise. In his study he found the people of the poor country had very strong social support systems, they worked for their community and were supported by others through hard times. Forster concluded that if the process of urbanization continued it would disrupt their traditions and their happiness would ultimately decline.

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.

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