The Concept of Happiness

written by Laolu Ogundele 

“I want to be happy…” 

Well, that’s a song that was created by late American broadway composer, Vincent Youmans and his crew in the early 1920s. It is a catchy tune that has been featured in a number of films since its release. But what’s most interesting to me is the music title, “I want to be happy…” What does it really mean? We all think we know, but do we really? I’ll give an example. 

When I was a toddler, ‘happiness’ was going to the playground or getting ice cream at lunch. But as I’ve grown older, a million ice creams would not suffice. 😒 Now ‘happiness’ looks like a decent job, a dog, the mortgage paid, and two vacations a year. Are those guaranteed to make me happy? Honestly, I can’t be sure, because many people have managed to obtain these things and are still not happy. 

 Why is happiness often so elusive?
 In fact, what is ‘happiness’?
 And why do we think it’s somewhere in the future, tied to our possessions or accomplishments?

I’m sure most of us have those thoughts: “Maybe if I could lose 20 pounds, I’d finally be happy”; “Maybe if I got married, happiness would find me”; “I’m sure that if I had more money, I’d be a happy man”, and the list goes on and on. To us, the grass is always greener on the other side and we become the proverbial dog chasing its tail, running frantically after what so expertly evades us. 

Stop for the moment and ask yourself: Why did the simpler things in life make us happy as little children, yet prove insufficient to us as adults? Why are some of the people in the poorest regions of the world the happiest, while many in their air-conditioned mansions are sorrowful? Is there something we should be learning from children, or those who are happy in spite of having little? How can it be that those who have the most means are often the least happy? 

 Now here’s a radical idea as an answer: what if our aggressive search for happiness was contributing to our misery? What if it was in fact pushing us farther away from the happiness which we sought? Iris Mauss, a leading psychologist who has done some work on the subject, seems to think so. Through her research, she made the shocking discovery: the more people placed a higher value on happiness, the less they became happy! That is – the more people worked harder to finally attain happiness, the farther it ran! This reminds me of dating advice I got from my uncles while I was a  younger man: “If you love someone, let them go. If they’re for you, they’ll come back.” Wow, who knew happiness was such a poised, delicate ‘damsel’ who didn’t like to be smothered?!

Well, now you do… 
Don’t be clingy or she’ll go! 😬

 When I think about Iris Mauss’ work, I go: “Yes, right… that makes perfect sense!” If you’re always striving for some futuristic happiness, you’ll be more likely to miss the great things presently happening in your life. Instead of appreciating your progress and realizing that you are actually the envy of some, you’ll find yourself focusing on those people who are doing better than you are. You’ll live your life in perpetual comparison and cheat yourself of the potential happiness that’s present in your here and now.

Happiness wasn’t meant to be found outside of us. It’s not something that can be bought or that can be given to us. It detests the spotlight and seems to adore the quiet humility of the heart that neither needs to impress nor envy anyone. 

 So what then can we do to increase our happiness? Thankfully, science gives us some ideas. According to positive psychology research, our capacity for happiness is dependent on three major factors:

  • genetics, 
  • our life circumstances,
  • our intentional activities.

The first two can not be changed to any significant degree – otherwise who wouldn’t choose the most physically attractive genes or be born to trillionaire parents? Bottom line, we can’t do a whole lot about the fixed parts of our story. However, what we CAN change is our intentional activity. By focusing on changing our thought patterns and behavioral choices, we really have a great opportunity to find happiness. According to research done by Psychologists Ed Diener and Marty Seligman, the happiest people also tend to be more social people. By engaging others, and being a source of positivity to those around us, we can inadvertently increase our own happiness. Other activities that increase our likelihood of being happy based on research are: cultivating an attitude of gratitude and living in the moment. 

This contrasts with the prevailing idea that happiness is found in material possessions. Or the equally wrong notion that happiness is in the “good ole days” or somewhere in the future, tied to some goals and accomplishments. But the more we glean from research, the more we discover that happiness can be here now, in the present. As James Oppenheim says, “The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance. The wise grows it under his feet.” 😉

 Quotes to remember 💙:

  1. There’s more to life than increasing its speed. Gandhi
  2. Everything we need is easy to procure, while the things we desire but don’t need are more difficult to obtain. Epicurus 
  3. Our civilization cultivates new desires, which in turn breed anxiety and wants. We must be remade as a new type of social animal (‘reshape society’) if we want to regain our primitive state of happiness. Rousseau
  4. Pain and boredom are the two foes of human happiness. We shuttle back and forth between the two. We avoid pain, seek comfort, and become bored. To counter that boredom, we may choose to engage in distracting or competitive activities that bring new forms of stress into our lives. Some enjoy the diversion of sport but injure themselves or suffer the pains of competitiveness. Others visit the casino and lose more than they can afford or develop gambling addictions. If we start to feel empty, we might CRAVE extravagance and try hard to impress others, which tends to produce misery. That’s why without a solid sense of self, we can’t help but swing between these unpleasant extremes. Derren Brown 
  5. Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. Viktor E. Frankl

Happy Holidays! ☕️🤸🏄🏽‍♀️🥁🎈🎏

I get back next week with a post: “OUR PLASMA SELVES” (based on the book A New Science of Heaven: How The Science of Plasma Will Transform Humanity’s Understanding of Its Place in The Universe, 2022) by Robert Temple

ABOUT THE BOOK: Histories of science in the 20th century have focused on relativity and quantum mechanics. But, quietly in the background, there has been a third area of exploration which has equally important implications for our understanding of the universe. It is unknown to the general public despite the fact that many Nobel prize winners, senior academics, and major research centers around the world have been devoted to it – it is the study of plasma.

Plasma is the fourth state of matter and the other three – gas, liquid, and solids – emerge out of plasma. This book will reveal how over 99% of the universe is made of plasma and how there are two gigantic clouds of plasma, called the Kordylewski Clouds, hovering between the Earth and the Moon, only recently discovered by astronomers in Hungary. Other revelations not previously known outside narrow academic disciplines include the evidence that in certain circumstances plasma exhibits features that suggest they may be in some sense alive: clouds of plasma have evolved double helixes, banks of cells and crystals, filaments and junctions which could control the flow of electric currents, thus generating an intelligence similar to machine intelligence. We may, in fact, have been looking for signs of extra-terrestrial life in the wrong place.

Robert Temple has been following the study of plasma for decades and was personally acquainted with several of the senior scientists – including Nobel laureates – at its forefront, including Paul Dirac, David Bohm, Peter Mitchell, and Chandra Wickramasinghe (who has co-written an academic paper with Temple).