It seems that many people have been pursuing the stock exchange version of happiness with a vengeance, encouraged by the 2006 blockbuster “Pursuit of Happyness”, in which Will Smith starred in this incredibly moving tale inspired by the true story of Chris Gardner, a San Francisco salesman struggling to build a future for himself and his 5-year-old son Christopher (Jaden Smith). When his girlfriend Linda (Thandie Newton) walks out, Chris is left to raise Christopher (Jaden Smith) on his own. Chris’ determination finally pays off when he lands an unpaid internship in a brutally competitive stockbroker-training program, where only one in twenty interns will make the cut. But without a salary, Chris and his son are evicted from their apartment and are forced to sleep on the streets, in homeless shelters and even behind the locked doors of a metro station bathroom. With self-confidence and the love and trust of his son, Chris Gardner rises above his obstacles to become a Wall Street legend.
Do we have to suffer adversity to find happiness, is the thrill is the pain or suffering of the journey or in natural human circumstances?
Thomas Jefferson had meaning when he enshrined the “pursuit of happiness” as a basic right in the Declaration of Independence. However, he failed to explain why, at least not in the original document, nor in his official correspondence. One of the most influential theories doing the rounds is that Jefferson simply plagiarised the English political thinker John Locke, who championed “life, liberty and estate (property).” According to this view, Jefferson’s replacement of the word “estate” with the “pursuit of happiness,” was essentially a play on words. The “pursuit of happiness” was a euphemism for the pursuit of wealth. From this perspective, Jefferson’s vision of happiness was the “rags to riches” version of the good life
Rags to riches…or riches in rags?
A few years back I read that Jefferson was an “Epicurean.” In my mind it reinforced the credibility of the “rags to riches” theory. Over the year’s I had read textbooks and articles echoing the same refrain: Epicurus was an “egoistic hedonist”…i.e someone who championed the pursuit of personal pleasure.
In other words, if he was around now, you wouldn’t see Epicurus on Wall Street. He was not a proponent of the “rags to riches” view of happiness. Far from it. You could call it the “riches within rags” view of happiness. Simply put, if you cultivated close friendships, limited your desires to the essential necessities of life, and rejoiced in the moment, happiness was yours to keep.
On the internet and in bookstores, a thousand business philosophers will provide you with different remedies for human discomfort, which has become a billion-dollar global business. On the daily commute, you will see people reading books on ‘how to change your life by being happy’ from Millennial’s to old age pensioners.
So exactly how can we find out which remedies work? Do we need to consult a counsellor every time we are unhappy?
Recently we have seen a dramatic upsurge in scientific studies on positive psychology and the science of happiness or to put it simply, discovering what makes happy people happy. Fortunately, many of these studies point to specific ways of thinking and acting that can strongly impact our sense of well-being and happiness.
Psychologists Answer The Question: ‘What Is Happiness?’
It is in my belief that happiness comes to you when you feel satisfied and fulfilled. Happiness is a feeling of contentment, that life is just as it should be. Perfect happiness, enlightenment, comes when you have all of your needs satisfied.
While the perfect happiness of enlightenment may be hard to achieve, and even harder to maintain, happiness is not an either or case. There are nearly limitless degrees of happiness between the bliss of enlightenment and the despair of depression. Most of us fall somewhere between, closer to the middle than the edges.
Since happiness is when your life fulfils, and to each and every one of us will identify that we all have different needs, so how can we be happy?
Our individual needs vary based on our genetics, how we were raised, and our life experiences. That complex combination is what makes each of us unique, both in our exact needs, and in every other aspect of what makes us the person we are.
We may each be complex but we are all human and that provides the foundation on which we can discover our essential human needs. Just as we are all born looking human on the outside, we all share common basic needs on the inside. Where we differ is exactly how strongly we feel each of those needs.
A current theory, largely based on new scientific discoveries about how the brain works and on current happiness theories, has identified 9 universal and overlapping human needs that contribute to happiness:
• Wellbeing – mind-body connections, aspects of your physical body that affect your mood, and vice versa
• Environment – external factors like safety, food availability, freedom, weather, beauty, and your home
• Pleasure – temporary experiences such as joy, sex, love, and eating
• Relationships – as a social species, relationships are at the foundation of what it means to be human
• Outlook – how you approach the world through adventurousness, curiosity, and making plans
• Meaning – having a purpose and the wisdom to understand it
• Involvement – to be happy you have to be engaged and actively involved
• Success – confirmation from yourself and others that what you do has value
• Elasticity – how you recover from life’s inevitable negative events
Many have professed that Love is the Answer to happiness. A 75-year study concludes that Love is what ultimately makes us healthy and happy. A good life is built on loving relationships.
For over 75 years, Harvard’s Grant and Glueck study has tracked the physical and emotional well-being of two populations: 456 poor men growing up in Boston from 1939 to 2014 (the Grant Study), and 268 male graduates from Harvard’s classes of 1939-1944 (the Glueck study).
Specifically, the study demonstrates that having someone to rely on helps your nervous system relax, helps your brain stay healthier for longer, and reduces both emotional as well as physical pain.
The data is also very clear that those who feel lonely are more likely to see their physical health decline earlier and die younger.
‘It’s not just the number of friends you have, and it’s not whether or not you’re in a committed relationship,’ says Waldinger. ‘It’s the quality of your close relationships that matters.’
What that means is this: It doesn’t matter whether you have a huge group of friends and go out every weekend or if you are in a ‘perfect’ romantic relationship. It’s the quality of the relationships – how much vulnerability and depth exists within them; how safe you feel sharing with one another; the extent to which you can relax and be seen for who you truly are, and truly see another.
According to George Vaillant, the Harvard psychiatrist who directed the study from 1972 to 2004, there are two foundational elements to this: ‘One is love. The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.’
The data is clear that, in the end, you could have all the money you’ve ever wanted, a successful career, and be in good physical health, but without loving relationships, you won’t be happy.
The next time you’re scrolling through social media instead of being present at the table with your significant other, or you are considering staying late at the office instead of getting together with your close friend, or you catch yourself working on a Saturday instead of going to have tea with your grandparents, consider making a different choice.
“Relationships are messy and they’re complicated,” acknowledges Waldinger. But he’s adamant in his research-backed assessment:
‘The good life is built with good relationships.’