ELAINE CONSTANTINE | AUGUST 1999 (www.elaineconstantine.co.uk)
“Several years back, I visited Iceland in the dead of winter. I was researching a book on global happiness, and the small Nordic nation intrigued me. What was this country, adrift in the freezing North Atlantic, doing perched atop the world’s happiness rankings?
[…] According to a recent United Nations report on world happiness, happiness is evenly distributed in Iceland. That is, most Icelanders are more or less equally happy, while in other nations – particularly those in the Middle East and Latin America – happiness levels vary tremendously. This is important because “new research suggests that people are significantly happier living in societies where there is less inequality of happiness.” In other words, we can achieve only so much happiness if our neighbours are miserable. Icelanders seem to intuitively recognise this essential truth.
[…] You see this sort of stubborn optimism at work every day in Iceland. You see it in the way people swim outdoors, year round, or how there is no stigma attached to abandoning a bad job or relationship. This resilience can also be found in the country’s rich literary culture, one that dates back to the old sagas – Viking tales of heroism in the face of adversity.”
“Global policymakers are starting to take happiness seriously.
In March, the United Nations released its fourth World Happiness Report, ranking 156 nations on how close residents say they are to living the best life possible. The UN report features endless interesting tidbits: Scandinavians are consistently the happiest people on earth. India’s happiness has declined significantly since around 2006. Citizens of wealthy Qatar are much less happy than people in relatively impoverished Costa Rica.
To a growing number of economists and policymakers, statistics like these are much more than fun facts. They’re a source of guidance that, in some respects, can be more useful than our standard measure of economic success—GDP.”
“[…] There are some very interesting intertemporal and interpersonal comparisons of happiness that raise a huge number of questions. Dealing with the intertemporal ones, that is, changes of happiness over time, and even whether happiness was something that people thought of as being something that they were motivated by or cared about in any sense. Feeling good, in whichever sense we try to capture and measure that is part of a desire in the human condition. No one would knowingly seek out misery. Of course, we make all sorts of mistakes, especially when you add purpose into the mix. There’re lots of things that we do that might not be particularly pleasurable, but they give our experiences value and worth.
We’re driven and motivated, across generations and across time, to seek out things that we at least think will make us feel better rather than worse. I don’t think that’s ever changed. What has changed is the language that we might use to reflect and represent that. The avoidance of suffering and misery may have been language that we used more frequently in the past, and the celebration of happiness and flourishing might be language that would use now, but the basic desire and motivation for action hasn’t changed.
The international and interpersonal comparisons issue is an interesting one. I’m not particularly interested in international comparisons of happiness data. I don’t think it tells us very much. You can’t translate the word into some languages. It has very different meanings if you can translate it. There’s a whole range of cultural effects in the self-reporting of the data, which leads me to conclude that people are making quite a big deal of something that is problematic.”
“[…] The field of positive psychology has roots that stretch back to the early 20th century. But it became prominent only in the last twenty years or so once psychologist Martin Seligman, former president of the American Psychological Association and University of Pennsylvania professor, took up the cause of improving our quality of life by focussing on personal development. Since the late-1990s, positive psychology has, to borrow a familiar word from the field itself, flourished.
[…] Students of positive psychology are concerned with the study of what makes people happy and what makes life worth living. They concern themselves with understanding satisfaction and how humans can develop long-term fulfillment. This approach to the study of psychology isn’t about quick fixes or off-the-shelf self-help truisms. And while questions about whether positive psychology is for everyone are far from answered, one takeaway from the field deserves to be take more seriously in the context of contemporary politics: learned optimism.
[…] Decades of research in psychology has led to the conclusion that how we conceive of and approach a problem matters. That finding applies to our day-to-day lives, but also to our political lives. Politics is an endeavor we all share, whether we approve of it or not. The quotation attributed to Pericles gets at the matter best: “Just because you don’t take an interest in politics doesn’t mean that politics won’t take an interest in you”. Challenges such as climate change, growing income disparity, overcrowded prisons, substance abuse, disease, and geopolitical instability are shared by the hyper-political and the avowed-apathetic alike (though I have never met the woman or man who truly identifies as among the latter), and the consequences of not addressing them, or addressing them poorly, will be escaped by few.
If our difficulties are indeed shared, if we can each play some role in addressing them, and, further, if an optimistic perspective can improve our chances of coming up with and implementing solutions, then our course of action seems obvious. We must begin the long, dedicated work of building better political selves. We must take on the task of bringing about what Aristotle called the virtuous life, what Nietzsche and Foucault conceived of as the arts of the self, and what we might just call self-work. Not only might this sunny approach make us all a bit happier, it might just save our lives.”
“Contemporary British and Western societies seem to have become increasingly preoccupied with happiness recently. Words and messages about happiness are commonplace in novels, films and pop songs; we are constantly exposed to images of a happy life, and we are surrounded by suggested routes that we can take in order to attempt to obtain one. Not only have we seen a proliferation of the self-help book industry in recent decades, but we also have available to us a range of websites, videos and mobile phone apps that can help to guide us in the direction of happiness and fulfilment. In addition, we have the option of being taken there by qualified experts through a vast range of yoga, meditation and mindfulness classes that are now on offer. National governments are also taking a keen interest in the happiness and wellbeing levels of their citizens. Indeed, in the UK, the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) ‘Measuring National Wellbeing’ programme, through which data of this sort are collected from a national sample of residents, is now well-established since its initial launch in 2010.
We have also witnessed a burgeoning of academic research on happiness and wellbeing in recent decades. Building on the existing philosophical literature on the topic, economists and psychologists have undertaken extensive research on both the key determinants, or causes, of happiness (see Layard 2005, for example) and on the brain functions that are required to experience it, as well as the mental, emotional and physical techniques that individuals can engage in to bring about increased feelings of happiness (see Seligman 2002). However, what has been missing from this body of research until recently has been an examination of the ways in which happiness is socially situated. In other words, how are people’s everyday experiences and perceptions of happiness shaped by and articulated via social norms and cultural ways of understanding the world?”
“A colonização do econômico, e neste do setor financeiro, sobre todas as dimensões da vida humana é que faz emergir a pergunta pela felicidade. O Paradoxo da Felicidade evidencia que não há uma relação direta entre o enriquecimento de um País e a felicidade de seu povo. Ou seja, erigir o Produto Interno Bruto – PIB – como categoria e critério de uma política econômica é um engano. Uma economia que está a serviço da sociedade e da pessoa humana, e não o contrário, exige outras categorias e critérios que levem em conta a felicidade dos seres humanos.”
“Minimalism is hot, culturally, and for years, science has assured us that it was also the path to maximal bliss. The prevailing wisdom is that people who want the most happiness for their buck should buy experiences, not things. The idea is that the joy of an experience begins before it even starts, and continues when you look back on the fancy dinner/vacation/afternoon of LARPing fondly. Experiences provide, in other words, both more anticipatory happiness and afterglow happiness.
But a recent study complicates that picture, suggesting that sweaters and iPhones might make you just as happy, in a way, as cruises and concerts do. There is a third type of happiness—momentary happiness—and it tends to last longer with material goods because people use them for more time than they typically experience their experiences for.
For the study, published in Social Psychology and Personality Science, researchers Aaron Weidman and Elizabeth Dunn from the University of British Columbia gave 67 participants $20 to spend on either an experiential or material purchase of their choice, and then to report one experiential or material gift they had recently received. Then they quizzed them about their happiness levels through text messages and questionnaires.
“O que faz um país feliz? O crescimento econômico conta pontos, mas não é o único fator que contribui para o bem-estar da população.
Liberdade individual, família estável e boa saúde contribuem para a chamada Felicidade Interna Bruta, conceito que remonta à década de 1970 e agora surge como um dos temas da Rio+20, a conferência da ONU sobre desenvolvimento sustentável.
O lançamento do “Relatório da Felicidade Global“, em Nova York, reaqueceu a discussão. Coordenado pelo economista Jeffrey Sachs, especialista em combate à pobreza, o estudo fez um ranking dos países mais felizes do mundo.
O Brasil ocupa o 25º lugar. Dinamarca, Noruega, Finlândia e Holanda estão no topo. Entre os menos felizes estão Togo, Benim e Serra Leoa.”
“THESE DAYS, feeling good is less of an individual aspiration than a cultural, social, and political obligation. As Slavoj Žižek has noted, Western subjects have little choice but to follow the cultural imperative to “Enjoy!” themselves. Pharrell Williams suggests contemporary experience leaves the individual feeling like “a hot air balloon that could go to space” since, he croons, “happiness is the truth.” In his recent book, The Happiness Industry, which examines the close links between capitalist culture and the world of psychology, William Davies describes the “limitless pursuit of self-optimization that counts for happiness in the age of neoliberalism.” In late capitalism, anything that stands in the way of positive thinking and its corollary, blissful consumption, is viewed with suspicion.”
“As two enormous, golden doors part, sunlight pours into an atrium filled with babies and puppies. Everyone is smiling. The air smells of freshly mown mint. Ripe avocados rain from the sky. (Somehow, they always miss the babies.) This is Harvard University’s new Center for Health and Happiness.
At least, this is how I imagine it could grow to look. At a launch ceremony on Friday, the Harvard School of Public Health announced a $21 million initial investment in the happiness center. Its goal is to promote the role of what’s broadly referred to as “positive psychological wellbeing” in bodily health.
[…] In recent years, psychologists have repeatedly found that people who have elevated senses of purpose in life do tend to live longer and experience less physical infirmity. Optimism and vitality also seem to be protective of physical health, adds Kubzansky.
These traits resonate with a trend called primordial prevention. As opposed to primary prevention (trying to intervene in a high-risk population before people actually develop a disease) or secondary prevention (trying to prevent complications and progression of disease among people who are already sick), primordial prevention looks at the risks of risks. That is, trying to prevent people from developing the risk factors in the first place. To do that, we need to know what allows people to attain and maintain health over the long term. This is where a person’s state of mind seems to factor most heavily.”
“The World Happiness Report, that annual-ish ranker of the world’s chillest, smiliest, most satisfied countries (a contest in which Scandinavia regularly kicks the rest of the world’s teeth in), this year added a new dimension to its analysis: Inequality.
Normally we talk about inequality in terms of economics, disparities in income, the wealth of the 1 percent versus the wealth of the remaining 99, etc. But in this case “inequality” was a measure of the distribution of people’s answers to this question:
“Please imagine a ladder, with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time?”
The normal world happiness ranking is based on each country’s average answer to that question. The top country by that measure was Denmark, with an average answer of 7.526, followed by Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, and Finland. (No surprise). The bottom five were Benin, Afghanistan, Togo, Syria, and Burundi in last place with an average answer of 2.905. The United States clocked in at number 13, with an average answer of 7.104.”
“There are three things, once one’s basic needs are satisfied, that academic literature points to as the ingredients for happiness: having meaningful social relationships, being good at whatever it is one spends one’s days doing, and having the freedom to make life decisions independently.
But research into happiness has also yielded something a little less obvious: Being better educated, richer, or more accomplished doesn’t do much to predict whether someone will be happy. In fact, it might mean someone is less likely to be satisfied with life.
That second finding is the puzzle that Raj Raghunathan, a professor of marketing at The University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business, tries to make sense of in his recent book, If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? Raghunathan’s writing does fall under the category of self-help (with all of the pep talks and progress worksheets that that entails), but his commitment to scientific research serves as ballast for the genre’s more glib tendencies.”
‘“I’m nearly 70 years old, and I can tell you that bad things begin to happen as you get older,” said Angus Deaton, a professor of economics and international affairs at Princeton University.
This is not, you may be thinking, particularly surprising information.
What is surprising, though, is that in terms of psychological well-being, a person’s later years—even with declining health, even in the face of ageism—tend to be some of their best.
In recent years, a growing body of research has supported the idea that well-being tends to follow a roughly U-shaped curve, peaking in youth and old age and bottoming out somewhere around a person’s 40s or 50s (demonstrated here with data from a 2010 study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences):
What’s behind the late-in-life upswing? “You accumulate emotional wisdom as you get older. You know, when you’re 25, you go on blind dates with people that, when you’re 50, you know to stay away from,” Deaton said. “You just learn how to live your life better.”
“Social scientists have been studying happiness, or “well-being,” as it is sometimes called (we’ll see that they aren’t exactly the same thing), for decades. Most of the research involves giving people surveys designed to measure happiness and then correlating the results of those surveys with various features of people’s lives. There is research that compares people living in different societies, and that compares people of different socio-economic classes in the same society at a given moment in time, and there is research that assesses changes in happiness in a given society over extended periods of time. The aims of this research are both to describe patterns of happiness and to identify the determinants of happiness. There is good reason to care about this kind of research. Societies commit massive resources to improving the living conditions of their citizens, and research on happiness can help us decide whether those resources are being directed at the right things. Societies aim to increase collective welfare, but just what does welfare consist in? For the most part, under the sway of economic thinking, the aim of public policy has been to make a society more prosperous — to increase per capita GDP. The appeal of this goal is two-fold. First, it assumes that if people are richer, they will be freer as individuals to choose the objects and activities that serve their welfare. The state and its technocrats don’t have to choose for them. So wealth serves as a proxy for everything else. And second, GDP can be measured. But it doesn’t help much to pursue what you can measure if what you’re measuring is the wrong thing. It doesn’t help to get better at achieving goals if you’re achieving the wrong goals.”
“Spinning your child in your arms, curling up in front of a glowing fire, or even just sipping a nice Cabernet may make you happy. All sorts of different things bring us that warm feeling that puts a smile in our eyes. We should be fortunate enough to have these experiences.
Happiness is important and we should all pursue it, and be free to pursue it, in our own ways. I have no beef with happiness, or the pursuit of happiness. Really, I don’t. It’s just that it’s not all we should pursue.
Happiness comes and happiness goes — It’s fleeting.
It’s not possible to be happy all of the time. If it were, how would we know what happiness is? At the very least we need states of non-happiness so that we have something for comparison. Even if such a state were possible, it would probably not be very much fun. Instead of living our lives in eternal bliss, we would all probably just melt into a state of ecstasy never to be seen or heard from again.
Instead of constantly trying to achieve a state of being that makes us happy we should try to tip the scales and spend more of our mental energy Living in the Now.”
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes how genetics relate to happiness and the future of genetic engineering in his essay “The Future of Happiness.” He introduces questions that will affect society within the next fifty years, including whether or not genetic engineering of children will benefit society, or how we can control it.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s essay “The Future of Happiness” explains the future of genetics and its effect on happiness. He begins with an analogy, comparing bio-genetics to the ancient methods of selective breeding and infanticide. This comparison helps the reader understand that this is not a new concept, but rather a new instrument. He continues with rhetorical questions, for example if genetic modification can benefit our future kids or society. He concludes with a simile, comparing evolution to a rocket flying through space. This comparison illustrates to readers that we are no longer controlled by evolution, but rather in control of it.
Are the breakthroughs in genetic engineering key to creating perfect people, or will it lead to our ultimate demise? Important decisions involving genetic engineering, including the answer to this question need to be addressed within the near future, according to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his essay “The Future of Happiness.” There is no question that parents want the best for their children, however this could become a problem with the advent of “designer babies” due to genetic modifications. If every child born has the best traits such as intelligence or happiness predetermined, human diversity will be seriously threatened or eliminated altogether.”
“What keeps us happy and healthy as we go through life? If you think it’s fame and money, you’re not alone – but, according to psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, you’re mistaken. As the director of a 75-year-old study on adult development, Waldinger has unprecedented access to data on true happiness and satisfaction. In this talk, he shares three important lessons learned from the study as well as some practical, old-as-the-hills wisdom on how to build a fulfilling, long life.”
“DUBAI – Over the past two weeks, I have heard and read many questions, comments, and news stories regarding recent changes to the government of the United Arab Emirates. Why, everyone seems to want to know, did we establish a Ministry of Happiness, Tolerance, and the Future, and why did we appoint a 22-year-old Minister of Youth?
The changes reflect what we have learned from events in our region over the past five years. In particular, we have learned that failure to respond effectively to the aspirations of young people, who represent more than half of the population in Arab countries, is like swimming against the tide. Without the energy and optimism of youth, societies cannot develop and grow; indeed, they are doomed.”
“When most of us think about what makes us happy, we tend to focus on the “things” in life that we crave or long to possess. These things may be concrete consumables or they may be intangible resources, such as “time,” “inner peace,” or “true love.”
It is easier for some of us to create a list of what we want the world to give us than it is to think in terms of what we can give back to the world.
We live in a world of instant feedback and conspicuous consumption. It may be experienced firsthand through the “Buy Now” button on Amazon’s website or Netflix bingeing or through an obsession with reading or creating online reviews of products, films, and life, in general. It seems a little odd that we trust strangers’ opinions when we already know how much we might disagree with our own BFFs about favorite products.
It is amazing how many “things” everyone seems to have in their lives – and how many more things we might desire because we believe that they can make us feel even better about ourselves in relation to how we think others feel about us.
It is perhaps the paradoxical desire to divest to have more that has created the hot new trend for “tiny houses” or longing to live “off the grid,” (ironic, isn’t it, that we hear about these folks’ experiences online?), or the movement to make do in life with 100 possessions or less. Actually, now that a single Smart phone can do just about anything that we need doing – from finding our potential mate to preparing dinner via online ordering from nearby delivery places or keeping us from getting lost – making do with less isn’t as big a sacrifice, it seems, than it once might have been.
“Down-sizing,” “right-sizing,” or “de-cluttering” all reflect the same realization that is gaining momentum – possessions simply won’t bring lasting happiness to our lives.
“The first ever World Happiness Report has been published ahead of the UN’s High Level Meeting on Happiness and Wellbeing. The report features a detailed case study of Bhutan’s landmark Gross National Happiness Index including background to the concept of GNH, its grounding in Bhutanese culture and history, and how the concept is being operationalized in the form of the GNH Index in some novel and innovative ways.
Authored by Karma Ura, President of the Centre for Bhutan Studies, Sabina Alkire, Director of the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative and Tshoki Zangmo, Centre for Bhutan Studies, the case study presents the nine domains of the GNH Index, the results from the 2010 survey, analysis of who is happy, along with a focus on how to increase happiness, and an overview of the policy framework surrounding the GNH Index.
The report, published by the Earth Institute, Columbia University, reflects a new worldwide demand for more attention to happiness and absence of misery as criteria for government policy. It reviews the state of happiness in the world today and shows how the new science of happiness explains personal and national variations in happiness.”
“Nic Marks founded the Centre for Wellbeing at the London-based think tank New Economics Foundation and also more recently founded Happiness Works. Much of his work has focused on measuring wellbeing and happiness, as captured in his excellent talk from 2010. When thinking about how a Transition initiative might measure the extent to which it is successfully helping to building wellbeing and happiness, he felt like the best place to start.
As is now well-understood, GNP (or GDP) is a poor indicator of wellbeing – it measures the churn of money in a society. It creates an upside-down world in which many bad things – oil spills, traffic accidents, cancer, etc. – are measured positively because money must be spent to alleviate them, while many things essential to wellbeing – housework, volunteering, natural beauty, good health, etc. – are not counted at all (prompting Kennedy’s comments). The Genuine Progress Indicators used in Vermont and Maryland are attempts to correct these clear design flaws in GDP.
Bhutan has brought leading experts in many disciplines from around the world to guide its progress toward its goal of Gross National Happiness. The country currently conducts bi-annual surveys to measure the wellbeing and happiness of its people, measuring progress in nine areas or “domains” of life considered especially important for happiness, including: physical health; mental health; education; quality of governance; social support and community vitality; environmental quality; time balance; access to arts, culture and recreation, and material wellbeing. In this model, material wellbeing – the primary goal of GDP – matters, but as only one of several important factors.”
“Does money make you happy?
If you said no, you’re wrong. According to every metric, the wealthiest people in society are the happiest on average, and the poorest the least so. What’s more, people living in rich countries are much happier than those living in poor ones. For centuries, human society has been focused around making people and their nations richer.
Research over the last decade or so, summarized in a highly readable 2012 report from the New Economics Foundation, has shown that the full picture of money’s relationship with happiness is a little more complex, though. Emotional well-being — defined as “the frequency and intensity of experiences of joy, stress, sadness, anger, and affection that makes one’s life pleasant or unpleasant” — rises with annual income in the United States until somewhere around $75,000, at which point it levels off and other factors (health and marriage quality, most notably) become dominant.”
It’s unsettling that so little is known about what it takes to be happy, and a lot of what we do know is contradictory. On the one hand, most people report that they are happy when asked by pollsters — up to 80 percent in most developed countries. On the other hand, psychological studies and various reports don’t share such a bright picture. The following things make happiness a problem:
- As a feeling, being happy comes and goes. It often arrives accidentally, leading to one popular theory that we “stumble on happiness” rather than create it.
• People are generally not good at predicting what will make them happy. Having a baby, for example, is often a major stress from day to day, not a sustained joy.
• Prescriptions for antidepressants and tranquilizers remain high, although many question that either kind of medication does more than improve symptoms, and sometimes not even that.
• Aside from rampant consumerism and the pursuit of diversions, modern society has not found a deeper theory of happiness to guide us.
“Research on how to increase positive moods and capitalize on your strengths has proliferated, thanks to the positive psychology movement. This research has shed light on ongoing insights into personality, mood, and cognition. Though not everyone is born with a sunny disposition, experts do agree we can all learn how to bring more meaning and satisfaction into our lives.”
“The evolving conception of happiness over the human lifetime is what Stanford social psychologist Jennifer Aaker and her team study in order to help us better calibrate what we believe makes us happy to what actually makes us happy. In this animated short film for the Future of Storytelling Summit — which also gave us Margaret Atwood on how technology shapes storytelling — Aaker outlines how the primary definition of happiness shifts in five systematic stages over time: discovery during childhood and adolescence, pursuit in our mid-twenties, balance in our late twenties and early thirties, meaning in our late thirties and forties, and savoring from our fifties on. But these chapters, Aaker illustrates through her team’s studies, need not be linear or sequential — different life-experiences help us reorder and edit them.
“Boris Cyrulnik decidiu que queria ser psiquiatra aos 11 anos. Viu nessa ciência da alma, como ele mesmo define, a possibilidade de tentar entender a loucura do nazismo. Quando tinha seis anos, quatros oficiais alemães armados cercaram sua cama e o levaram preso. Demorou a compreender que aquilo ocorreu porque era judeu.
Recuperar pessoas que sofreram um trauma infantil. Isso acabou se transformando, anos mais tarde, na missão de sua vida. E, de fato, ele é considerado um dos pais da resiliência, termo agora tão em voga que indica a capacidade de voltar à vida após passar por um trauma.
Psiquiatra, neuropsiquiatra, psicanalista, pesquisador e etnólogo francês (de origem russa), mostrou em 2001 com Os Patinhos Feios que uma infância infeliz não precisa determinar uma vida: os traumas podem ser trabalhados, podem ser superados.
Nascido em 1937 em Bordeaux, resgatado da orfandade – seus pais morreram na guerra – por uma tia, apresenta agora As Almas Feridas (Gedisa, 2015), obra na qual destila o saber dos anos dedicados a curar feridas. Em uma sala do Instituto Francês de Barcelona, concede essa entrevista horas antes de pronunciar uma conferência.”