Saturday, March 23, 2024

What is the science of happiness?

Everybody seeks happiness; we want to treasure it and will go to great lengths to attain it. But it is only after going into the overwhelming depths of this topic that we realize we do not have a clear idea of what happiness is.

What is happiness?

Happiness is often seen as a state of mind without worries or negative emotions. Strictly speaking, it is one of the many emotional states of mind that include sadness, anxiety, fear, etc. Over time, with the increasing occurrence of negative States of mind such as sadness and distress, the use of the term happiness, in public discourse, has become broad-based and all-encompassing to denote an overall positive state of mind. However, it is important to understand the contextualization of the term happiness to avoid the error of seeing it literally. It would be impossible for anyone to be constantly happy, especially without a basis. The desirable goal should be to achieve a state of mind with more positive than negative thoughts. There are historical and cultural aspects to this evolving concept of happiness. For example, in the western world, individuals are encouraged to aspire for and work towards being happy. However, there are concerns about whether people who were well provided for are happy or not. Conversely, the eastern culture encourages people towards attaining satisfaction or contentment, with usefulness or meaningfulness in existence.

Are there any varying degrees of happiness?

The first fundamental factor for an individual, group or community to being happy or satisfied with life is meeting a few basic needs. The fact that a few people or groups or communities may have the ability to achieve happiness or contentment, even in adverse situations, or despite circumstances of gross deprivation, cannot take away from this truism. This must be realised and accepted at all levels that happiness can be based only on the plank of basic comforts. Further, the absence of any significant health or social problem can help in achieving happiness. Positive developments in any area of life can lead to the same goal but are not essential. In fact, the ability to maintain a positive state of mind or happiness, not only in the absence of concrete reasons of positive nature but even in difficult situations or adverse circumstances, is a characteristic of many people and cultures—also known as resilience. Besides cultural sub-groups being variable in this ability to withstand adverse circumstances and maintain a positive state of mind to find appropriate solutions, also differ in their resilience. In addition to resilience, the other factors contributing to degrees of happiness in life or satisfaction are basic attitude, the synchrony between aspirations and reality, self-awareness, social and family support systems, and emotional connect with relevant groups and people, besides the absence of mental health problems. The contribution of diagnosable mental illnesses like depression, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders and substance use disorders like alcohol dependence, which are now known to be genetic and biological in origin, is often unrecognised and underestimated. Further, individual and interpersonal behaviour problems also cause significant distress and become impediments in the pursuit of happiness. The political and economic situation also plays an essential part, just like religious and spiritual practices.

Although the term mind game may have a different connotation, the role of the mind and brain in our state of mental wellness or psychological well-being is unquestionably critical. Not only in terms of the fundamental propensity of different individuals to be prone to various moods but also in how much a person can surely improve upon their natural tendencies and proclivities. The fact that all psychological and mental processes, including emotional wellness, operate through brain mechanisms and that these can be modulated through one's effort is encouraging. Any sense of helplessness would be inappropriate because happiness is contingent upon the macro environment of the economic milieu and socio-technological development, the MESO situation of professional or social success and material luxuries, and the crucial microelement of individual adaptation.

Since the issues of money and work are intertwined for many populations, the common misconception is about work-related success being an integral part of being happy. Indeed, the importance of work-related success for being happy or satisfied with life in recent times has, as a natural reaction, led to the oft repeated emphasis on work-life balance. This dichotomy or dualism may suggest that work is antithetical to life or being happy in life, thereby exhorting people to strike a more appropriate balance between work on the one hand, and other aspects of life on the other.

Can you suggest five habits to live a happier life?

One of the most useful tips for happiness is to increase awareness about mental health disorders and to get appropriate treatment for people affected by these. Secondly, accepting reality. For instance, the reality of the Covid-19 pandemic is surely harsh and unpleasant, yet one of the essential processes to develop acceptance for reality. It helps us deal with the situation, find appropriate solutions while retaining our ability to do so. Thirdly, neutralise negative influences, as they can lead to distress and depressive disorders. Fourthly, take life in your stride. The ability to make the best of what life has to offer at various points of time is part of the characteristic of resilience. And last but not the least, reduce your needs. Reduce your material needs and follow the principle of simple living. Additionally, be aware of yourself, your strengths and your weaknesses.

 India Today


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