The Pursuit of Happiness
I think that the most important goal in life is to be happy. Of course, different things make different people happy. Ernest Shackleton's idea of happiness involved risking his life to explore the Antarctic wasteland. My idea of happiness involves getting 8 hours of sleep.
Nevertheless, society spends little time on studying happiness. That's why I'm glad that happiness studies seem to be a rising trend.
An article that appeared in the London Times last week had lots of good stuff, including evidence that happiness is strongly correlated with longevity and health (that is, that people who are happy will actually live longer and better).
Here are few tidbits to remember:
"When two American psychologists studied hundreds of students and focused on the top 10% "very happy" people, they found they spent the least time alone and the most time socialising. Psychologists know that increasing the number of social contacts a miserable person has is the best way of cheering them up."
Getting What You Want Doesn't Make You Happy
"At the Royal Institution, Nettle explained how brain chemistry foils our pursuit of happiness in the modern world: "The things that you desire are not the things that you end up liking. The mechanisms of desire are insatiable. There are things that we really like and tire of less quickly — having good friends, the beauty of the natural world, spirituality. But our economic system plays into the psychology of wanting, and the psychology of liking gets drowned out."
Liking involves different brain chemicals from wanting. Real pleasure is associated with opioids. They are released in the rat brain by sweet tastes. When they are blocked in humans, food tastes less delicious. They also dampen down pain so that pleasure is unadulterated.
Happiness is neither desire nor pleasure alone. It involves a third chemical pathway. Serotonin constantly shifts the balance between negative and positive emotions. It can reduce worry, fear, panic and sleeplessness and increase sociability, co-operation, and happy feelings. Drugs based on serotonin, such as ecstasy, produce a relaxed sense of wellbeing rather than the dopamine pattern of euphoria and craving.
In essence, what the biology lesson tells us is that negative emotions are fundamental to the human condition, and it's no wonder they are difficult to eradicate. At the same time, by a trick of nature, our brains are designed to crave but never really achieve lasting happiness."
Be Happy, Be Healthy
"Has anyone found a causal link between happiness and health?
Nuns may hold the answer. Nuns make a great natural experiment, because they lead the same routine lives with similar diets and activities. None have married or had children. Yet there is huge variation in their health and longevity. In 1932, 180 novices in Milwaukee wrote short sketches of their lives...
Researchers who quantified positive feeling in all 180 sketches discovered that nearly all (90%) of the happiest quarter were still alive at 85. But of the least cheerful quarter, only a third survived to that age."