June 24, 2007

How good does it get ? (5) - Is happiness relevant and attainable at all?

The previous posts have argued that total peace of mind will never exist for anybody and they have pointed at the inevitability of tensions and problems. Then, it was suggested that progress is crucial for finding a certain degree of happiness in life. Before exploring this, there is the question of: given that problems and tenstions will always be there, is happiness a real and relevant concept at all? Robert H. Frank, professor of Economics at Cornell University addresses this question (among others which I may write about later) in his new book Falling Behind, How Rising Inequality Harms the Middle Class. He explains that, while many economists have remained skeptical about happiness research, happiness is indeed a real and relevant concept. It exists and it is important to people. Most of the criticisms about happiness research are aimed at one of the primary lines of happiness research: surveys. In these surveys, people are asked to classify themselves into one of three categories: very happy, fairly happy, not happy. At first sight I tend to sympathize with skeptical responses to the relevance of these measures but once you know more, you may become more convinced. Some arguments for taking these measures seriously are:
  1. People differ in there responses to these questions,
  2. People are remarkably consistent in their answers to these questions,
  3. The answers to these questions correspond closely with responses to other types of questions assumed to be associated with happiness,
  4. The happiness survey responses also correspond consistently with specific distinguishable brain wave patterns,
  5. They also correspond with certain social behaviors assumed to be associated with happiness (like initating contacts with friends, helping people, etc),
  6. They also correspond with signs of physical and mental health.
Happiness exists. People differ in the extent to which they have it. People value it. It would be worthwhile to figure out a way to build it. What can we do indivually? What can we do collectively?

2 comments:

  1. Coert,

    In answer to your questions. People can build happiness by following the ideas in Barbara Fredrickson's "Positivity" and Sonja Lyubomirsky's "The How Of Happiness." And of course one can apply SF to increasing happiness which is what I did after reading Fredrickson's book.

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  2. Agree! Curious: what worked well for you in particular after reading 'positivity'?

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