Is Happiness a Worthwhile Goal For Society?
Does happiness matter? People react to this question in astonishingly different ways. Some propose there are more significant concerns to worry about; others view happiness as extremely important and something that every human being ultimately yearns for in life. Achieving widespread happiness and an increased focus on improving mental well-being should be as primary an objective for society as any fiscal or material priority. A joyless population should be considered as much of an issue as a jobless one. Defining “happiness” can seem as difficult as attaining it. Fortunately, positive psychologists have the answer to this problem.
Positive psychology is “the scientific study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive,” or the study of happiness (“What Is Happiness?”, 2). Positive psychologists’ work incorporates examining strengths, positive feelings, resilience, and happiness. Positive psychologists argue that by only studying psychological disorders, one can only see part of the picture of mental health. They believe that by better understanding human strengths, society can discover new ways to recover from or prevent disorders, and might even learn to become happier in the process. Psychologist Ed Diener, author of Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, explains what psychologists call “subjective well-being” as a blend of lifetime satisfaction and overall experiencing more positive than negative emotions (“What Is Happiness?”, 3).
In a similar fashion, Martin Seligman, a leading researcher in positive psychology and author of Authentic Happiness, splits happiness into three sections: pleasure, engagement, and meaning. Pleasure is the “feeling good” part of happiness. Engagement refers to living a life of work, family, friends, and hobbies. Meaning focuses on using one’s strengths for a superior cause. Seligman says that though they are all important, engagement and meaning contribute the most to obtaining a happy life (“What Is Happiness?”, 4).
Researchers also differentiate between the moment-by-moment feeling of happiness caused by positive emotions and how one describes their life when they think about it. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman describes this distinction as the “experiencing self” and the “remembering self” (“What Is Happiness?”, 4). Psychologists examine both to better comprehend how day-to-day experiences add on one another to create a happy life. Happiness is not just about being able to appreciate the good times, but also focuses on coping effectively during unavoidable bad times, in order to have the best conceivable life. Or, as Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard said, “Happiness is a deep sense of flourishing, not a mere pleasurable feeling or fleeting emotion but an optimal state of being” (Williamson, 4). People desire to be happy, and one can say that they are or are not happy.
However, can happiness be defined, studied and measured? And can society become happier by doing so? Psychologists affirm this, and also say that there are worthy motives for doing so. Researchers think that individuals can dependably and truthfully self-report their states and changes of happiness. If one can report their levels of happiness, scientists can measure them. “Happiness is an aspiration of every human being,” and can be a gauge of societal advancement, said the authors of the 2013 World Happiness Report (Werber, 9). They also noted that the important factor measuring happiness is distinguishing amongst happiness as emotion and as an assessment of individual well-being (Werber, 9).
The most popular way to collect this data is through surveys. Studies are split into a focus on one of two indicators- subjective ones that look at a population’s feelings and objective one that measure factors of a population’s well being. An example of a subjective study took place in the United Kingdom, where the Office of National Statistics added four questions to the Integrated Household Survey, a poll of 200,000, that asked survey-takers to answer questions dealing with life satisfaction on a scale from 1-10 (Rogers, 6). These questions included, “How satisfied are you with your life nowadays?” and”To what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?” (Rogers, 6). Researchers have also turned to social media to measure happiness, where they analyzed the positivity and negativity of words used in tweets, studied the emotions attached to Facebook statuses, and analyzed facial expressions on geo-tagged Instagram posts to find the happiest location (Pappas, 4-10).
Moving from social media to social policy, the Bhutanese government tracks Gross National Happiness along with gross domestic product. To do this, the government surveys citizens on their physical well-being, health, education, living standards and time use (Pappas, 11). The government also tracks cultural diversity, cultural resilience, quality of governance and community vitality as well as ecological diversity and resilience (Pappas, 11). Allowing citizens to self-assess themselves gives researchers an accurate glimpse of the feelings and happiness of the population they are studying. Psychologist Daniel Gilbert compares this to optometry, where self-assessment is also key. He says, “Optometry is another one of those sciences that is built entirely on people’s reports of subjective experience.
The one and only way for an optometrist to know what your visual experience is like is to ask you, ‘Does it look clearer like this or (click click) like this?'” (“What Is Happiness?”, 6). Instead of being measured with numbers and calculations, happiness must be measured with feelings and inner thoughts. United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron said, “‘Well-being can’t be measured by money or traded in markets. It’s about the beauty of our surroundings, the quality of our culture and, above all, the strength of our relationships. Improving our society’s sense of well-being is, I believe, the central political challenge of our times.’ He added: ‘It’s time we admitted that there’s more to life than money and it’s time we focused not just on GDP but on GWB – general wellbeing'” (Johnston, 10).
Happiness is the value of life as every individual experiences it. Being happy holds value and is an important measure of success for countries, regardless of their level of financial growth. It tells the world whether citizens have satisfying and fulfilling lives. Therefore, knowledge of the reasons of happiness assists policymakers in choosing policy goals that function to meet the essential needs of their people. In addition, happiness is a key element of the other ambitions that policy-makers aim to meet.
Personal resilience forecasts scholastic performance better than a measure of IQ does and higher well being improves work performance and workers’ earnings (Layard, “Why Happiness Should Be a Global Priority”, 3). In contrast, depression and anxiety account for 40% of underperformance in the workplace, 40% of time taken off from work and 40% of disability (Layard, “Why Happiness Should Be a Global Priority”, 3). Their total cost adds up to 10% of GDP (Layard, “Why Happiness Should Be a Global Priority”, 3). Greater happiness raises life expectancy whereas depression reduces life expectancy as considerably as smoking does (Layard, “Why Happiness Should Be a Global Priority”, 3). Happiness is a major factor in achieving many of our chief social objectives.
After 30 years of research by scientists on the causes and benefits of happiness, much is known concerning what affects happiness. The primary influences are economic, personal/social and environmental. Economically, income is vital in all countries. Poverty is a large cause of discontent, but income is not the only factor that matters in achieving widespread happiness. In most countries, income accounts for less than 2% of the general differences in happiness between those who consider themselves happy and those who do not (Layard, “Why Happiness Should Be a Global Priority” , 4). Once one is able to make enough money to meet their basic needs and stay out of poverty, wealth and income don’t make as big a difference in raising happiness.
People with more money are slightly happier than those with lower income, but that happiness comes as a result of the satisfaction that comes with giving money away rather than earning it (“What Is Happiness?”, 35). Throughout the countries, salary differences excuse for about 6% of the variances in average happiness, while societal causes explain much more (Layard, “Why Happiness Should Be a Global Priority”, 4). Employment is also important for contentment and its significance goes beyond its providing a source of income. Education is also imperative, as it affects productivity, revenue, work and health. The most critical personal/social factor in established nations is mental health.
In these developed countries mental wellbeing explains 40% of all ailments, which is more than the total percentage of heart disease, cancer, lung disease and diabetes cases (Layard, “Why Happiness Should Be a Global Priority” 5). Difficulties with mental health primarily affect those of a working age, causing enormous monetary penalties (Layard, “Why Happiness Should Be a Global Priority” 5). Bodily ailments are far more common later in life (Layard, “Why Happiness Should Be a Global Priority” 5). In poorer countries, however, physical sickness severely affects every age group, whereas mental illness stays an equally essential root of a lack of happiness (Layard, “Why Happiness Should Be a Global Priority”, 5). An additional cause of happiness is the strength of relationships in the home, community, and workplace.
Assured employment is important for workers and protection from crime benefits everyone. Good authority in government is essential as well. Wellbeing findings demonstrate the destructive consequence of corruption by leaders, and the importance of freedom and the law (Layard, “Why Happiness Should Be a Global Priority”, 6). Research also displays evidently the significance of the environment on people incorporating accommodation, urban design, means of transportation, and green areas (Layard, “Why Happiness Should Be a Global Priority”, 7). However, nature is important in another way, since the world’s current actions alter the environment of the future that upcoming generations will occupy. When one considers happiness and the quality of life, one must act for future generations as well as oneself.
Happiness does not just create good feelings and thoughts; it actually brings a wide range of benefits for our performance, wellbeing, affiliations and more. In one study, economists at Warwick University presented different collections of individuals a positive or neutral film clip and then requested them to carry out normal workplace duties with pay. Those who were primed to feel contented were 11% more productive than those in the other group, even with adjusting for age, IQ and other factors (Williamson, 6). Likewise, investigators at Wharton Business School discovered that businesses employing happy staff members outdo the stock market year on year. A team at UCL has learnt that people who are happy as young adults make more than their colleagues later in life (Williamson, 6). In healthcare, happy doctors have been observed as making quicker and more precise diagnoses, even when this happiness was created from the gift of a sweet (Williamson, 7).
In schooling, schools that place an emphasis on children’s social and emotional comfort have noteworthy increases in educational achievement and enhancements in conduct (Williamson, 7). Happiness has also been connected to better choice-making and superior ingenuity. Therefore, rather than victory being the way to obtaining happiness, investigation displays that, in reality, happiness could be the road to success. Happiness does not just help us work better; it also brings considerable benefits for people in general. For instance, an examination of over 160 reports unearthed strong evidence that happier people have superior overall well-being and have longer lifespans than unhappy people (Williamson, 9). They are about half as probable to catch the cold virus and have a 50% lower risk of undergoing a cardiac episode like a heart attack or stroke(Williamson, 9).
Happier people are also less probable to participate in dangerous behavior- they are more likely to wear seat belts and less expected to be involved in road accidents(Williamson, 10). Happier people have more fiscal responsibility and tend to save more, and have a greater sense of control when it comes to larger expenses (Williamson, 10). Most notably, people who are happier are more likely to positively contribute to civilization (Williamson, 11). Particularly, they are more likely to vote, volunteer, and be active in their communities (Williamson, 11). Happy people more commonly respect the law and offer help to those who need it (Williamson, 11). If the world can concur that it is important that all humans experience happiness, then it follows that the greatest civilization is one in which there is the minimum unhappiness and the maximum contentment.
In this system, everyone’s happiness is equal. This incorporates the happiness of current and future generations. Thus, it is imperative to behave in a manner that considers the happiness of everyone else. If society can agree on this, the world is closer to achieving a more contented civilization. By concentrating time and energy on values shown to reliably bring happiness one can live a rich, rewarding life. These principles include loving families, close relationships, good self-awareness, strong communal connections, assisting other people in need, significant activities, staying active, and developing a greater purpose to the lives of beings.
These ideas are not new, but today they are backed up by examination from the field of positive psychology, which confirms that these values have a huge impact on our long term happiness and well-being than concerns like beauty, health, possessions or unlimited quantities of income. Governments should make the happiness of the people the main objective that they pursue. As Thomas Jefferson said, “The care of human life and happiness…
is the only legitimate object of good government” (Layard, “Why Happiness Should Be a Global Priority”, 17). Even more importantly, society needs to encourage a more empathic and loving nation, where citizens think less about what they can individually gain and more about the happiness of others. A happier society will involve constructive transformations in all facets of our lives. For example, in homes, more families will be affectionate, secure and well prepared to nurture happy offspring. More people will be leading stable lives; permitting them to devote more time to the people they love, doing the things they enjoy.
In schools, there will be a more equalized education system that helps children to improve self-awareness and emotional hardiness instead of just teaching them how to score well on examinations. In workplaces, employers will create positive working environments and have staffs that are happy, absorbed and imaginative. In the healthcare system, there will be a larger emphasis on emotional and psychological well-being, not solely on physical health. In communities, there will be advanced intensities of reliance, lower levels of misconduct and more individuals giving time and energy to be involved in their communities. In government policy, there will be priorities readjusted not only to understand the people’s happiness but also to take account of this when formulating policy choices. Finally, in the personal lives of individuals, more citizens will be able to find harmony and satisfaction and less will be fighting stress and depression.
To achieve this ideal world, governments must promote policies that emphasize happiness. These policies can be as simple as dedicating an entire month to happiness and wellbeing (there is currently a single “International Day of Happiness” on March 20), to surveying the population to discover what actions would most benefit citizens’ wellbeing’s. The latter could be done easily by modifying the US census to contain questions about each household’s contentment. An alternative idea would be to encourage the people of the United States to take on an individual “happiness project”- a yearlong project where an individual focuses on increasing their personal life satisfaction by making changes in their everyday life. Rallying people to take their happiness into their own hands allows each individual to accomplish their personal goals for contentment instead of creating a more vague goal for everyone.
Refining the quality of government and renewing people’s sureness in authority would have a considerable result. Taking money out of politics, or making sounder policies on principles could do this. The government should attempt to do away with things that appear to make policymakers only concerned in their individual re-elections. Also, a heavy emphasis should be placed on decreasing unemployment, and renewed interest in the area of whole person (mental and physical) health should be commenced. All of these changes would together create a substantial and rejuvenated difference in the happiness of Americans.
A happy nation is a productive, healthy, progressive one. Happiness isn’t an unachievable, far off, idealistic dream- the ability to become happy is one every individual obtains. Administrative leaders should encourage a realization and appreciation of this fact. Happiness is not only achievable through governmental actions, but the nation’s progress in achieving mass contentment is measurable, offering an opportunity to accurately track the country’s progress in its pursuit of individual life satisfaction. Instead of focusing on what individuals think will make them happy, society needs to start focusing on what actually will and move towards accomplishing happiness.
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