. Happiness is

"...the feeling of peaceful, positive emotions and the absence of inner conflict..."

Martyn Newman, 2009

Defining happiness has morphed over time, ie in the time of Aristotle, Socrates, etc
"...happiness - or eudaimonia - was......linked to participating in political life, taking part in civic duties and overall spending a life well lived for the common good. Today......happiness is fleeting, ephemeral emotion, a state of being which lifts the spirit and rains down endorphins in a cacophony of joy......an ecstatic state which transforms and transcends the monotony of our day to day lives. Happiness has also become linked to other more sinister social conditions which dominate our lives like wealth, or success..."
Lisa Portolan 2018

"...the search for knowledge of our real self, for identity, for a purpose and a personal story plays into......the one that tells us this all 'means something'..."
Lisa Portolan 2018

Identity, success and happiness

They are intrinsically linked.
"...success has become clearly defined and packaged up for us. It is communicated to us on screens, big and small, billboards, social media walls and feeds, reinforced by an army of people..."
Lisa Portolan 2018

For true and authentic happiness we need to establish a broader concept, like the Greek philosophers had, ie go beyond self to community.


Recent research (Jonathan Rauch 2018) has shown that ageing has an independent impact on life satisfaction. It is separate from factors such as health, wealth and other life circumstances, ie
"...Time is not an emotionally neutral backdrop...... its effect on happiness is U-shaped. Other things being equal, people's life satisfaction tends to decline from their early 20s until midlife, and then turns around and about age 50......satisfaction and gratitude returned..."
Jonathan Rauch 2018

This is thought to be linked with the shift in focus of goals and values away from self to community.

When we are focusing on self, ie seeking status and success, it is incorrectly expected that worldly achievement will bring emotional fulfilment.
"...in a pattern known as 'hedonic treadmill'......each increment of status leads us to crave yet more. The perverse result is that people who are objectively more successful often feel subjectively more disappointed..."
Jonathan Rauch 2018

When looking for reasons for unhappiness, we need to be careful of blaming

- attribution bias, ie blaming your career for your unhappiness (for more details see elsewhere in the knowledge base)

- self-discriminantory cycle or negative feedback, ie
"...since you're disappointed......your life satisfaction decreases and you feel even worse about that. You're in a downward spiral..."
Hannes Schwandt as quoted by Jonathan Rauch 2018

"...In other words, midlife slump can be literally about nothing, amplifying itself in a kind of emotional echo chamber..."
Jonathan Rauch 2018

Thus need to be careful that behaviours like mis-attribution, pessimism, isolation, etc interlock do not reinforce one another.

Some ways to handle this
- realising that the midlife crisis springs from emotional ambushes
- realising that the midlife crisis is a normal stage of adult development
- cultivate patience and acceptance as the slump will end and leads to a surprising birth of contentment in late adulthood
- cultivate more social contacts

Despite their big advances in health and wealth over decades, understanding human happiness has not advanced. This is called Easterlin Paradox.

Some comments on happiness
- individuals can control happiness like the nature of your job  the more stimulating the better) and whom you live with as an important impact on your happiness. Domineering partners are bad to happiness - a sense of autonomy and empowerment are greater contributors to our happiness than money

- seasonal impact of happiness (the darker times of the year, like winter, can have a negative impact)

- rhythms of the week (Monday generally the worst day)

- happiness is relative, ie
"...it doesn't really matter how you are getting on. What matters is how you are going compared with everyone else..."
Richard Easterlin as quoted by Harry de Quetteville 2019

- crisis can be generally cathartic, eg suicide rates drop in times of war; a hundred days after 9/11, the suicide rate dropped in greater New York. The rationale for this is
i) a bigger tragedy around you put your own troubles in perspective
ii) social usefulness in your job is highly important to happiness
iii) working hard in the midst of major catastrophes can bring about a greater sense of purpose

- bosses can affect your happiness, eg bad bosses are bad for your happiness and is far worse than having a low wage.
"...Having a good boss is more important than doubling your salary..."
Andrew Oswald as quoted by Harry de Quetteville 2019

The bad boss is an incompetent one, ie they are useless

"...If you want to be happy at work, prioritise worthwhile work over cash, make sure the person you will be working for is highly capable..."
Andrew Oswald as quoted by Harry de Quetteville 2019

- trust your gut (what happens in your gut is linked with what you eat, ie eating a wide variety of fruit and vegetables to improve your mood)

- age improves your happiness
"...the transition from years to middle life becomes increasingly glum, bottoming out at your mid-to-late 40s......Maximum happiness is achieved at 74..."
 Andrew Oswald as quoted by Harry de Quetteville 2019

- As happy people feel better, they perform better. According to Martyn Newman(2009), happy people are more creative, solve problems better and more quickly, live longer and enjoy high levels of leadership influence.

- Happiness is a subjective state that can vary from person-to-person, eg some people are happiest with the peacefulness of nature, others when anticipating a long awaited event, others when experiencing the thrill of doing something meaningful for others, etc.

. Research has shown clear links between specific emotional skills and health, wealth and well-being. This investigation of happiness has highlighted

- external conditions and other general factors are less influential than first thought (they account for no more than 15% of factors contributing to happiness). For example, with money, once the essential needs are met, additional income contributes minimally to raising the level of happiness; education and/or IQ does not lead to greater happiness either. On the other hand, there is some evidence that people in relationships are happier. The evidence is very strong that people feel the happiest when with other people and especially when contributing to others. Giving, practising kindness, compassion and other virtues, etc make you feel good and create meaning in your life, ie a sense of purpose and connectedness to others

- there is some genetic predisposition for happiness,

"... genes influence such traits as having a positive easy-going personality, feeling well with stress, and feeling low levels of anxiety and depression..."

Martyn Newman, 2009

It is estimated that around 50 percent of our satisfaction comes from genetic programming.

- we have considerable influence on how we perceive our experiences etc. For example, a brain has a special circuitry for enjoyment, pleasure and euphoria. We can handle our negative feelings by directly awakening positive feelings. Furthermore, the adult brain continues to develop and change. Our thoughts and emotions can trigger these changes in the brain.

. Linked with happiness are 2 emotional intelligence skills:

- self-reliance (emotional power to accept responsibility; back our personal judgment; be self-reliant in planning and making decisions)

- self-confidence (have the courage to take the initiative despite social pressures; lack of ego; have a peacefulness that cannot be threatened by external circumstances or inner fears; use optimism as a strategy to handle challenges and sense opportunities; always see positives; resilience - able to bounce back from significant failures or losses and bitter disappointments; passionate - passionate people spend twice as much time thinking about what they have accomplished, how achievable the task ahead is and how capable they are of achieving it; know how to manage their reserves of emotional energy)

On the other hand, persistent frustration and negativity have clinically been proven to damage health.

. Happiness makes you feel more effective, helps maintain peace of mind and encourages positive relationships with others. At the same time, your brain is more effective, agile and creative.

. On the other hand, people mistake happiness for pleasure. For example, materialistic gains such as a new car, phone, games, etc are of short-term benefits and sometimes no real benefits at all.

. Furthermore, experiencing negative emotions is crucial for well-being and flourishing (functioning at an extraordinary high level in multiple domains). Focusing on happiness can result in rejection of negative emotions, such as regret, anxiety, sadness, etc that are important in developing resilience and beneficial to learning and performance. For example, suppression of regret can reduce that person's ability to learn from previous failures; anxiety can enhance performance particularly in intelligent people with anxious managers being more effective than composed managers; sad people learn information quicker and are more able to detect when someone is lying. On the other hand, it is suggested there is a need for balance, ie for every 1 negative emotion, you need to experience 3 positive ones (Fiona Smith, 2010f)

. Space and place issues can dictate happiness. Happiness studies are investigating ways that humans relate to places where they live, work and visit. People have an affinity with the environment and this is called eco-psychology. Environment can affect physical and mental health. It is claimed that exercising in nature has a more positive effect on happiness than exercising in the gym, and walkable communities create healthy populations. The way people move around areas, including who they meet on the way, are important in determining happiness.

"... it's about landscape, biodiversity, a sense of being connected to life. It includes vistas, the sounds of nature and human scale of the place that is in harmony with the landscape..."

Glen Albrecht as quoted by Deirde Macken, 2010

Some other findings include

"...- hospital patients who have a view of nature from their beds recover faster from surgery.

- mentally distressed people who are taken out into nature show improvements in their blood pressure and cortisol levels

- children who readily play in natural environments have cognitive development two years more advanced than those that don't

- primary school children who undergo nature-based programs show improvements in their concentration, communications with peers and cognitive ability

- children in drought-affected areas experience a tripling in emotional difficulties..."

Mardie Townsend as quoted by Deirde Macken, 2010a

Some questions to evaluate the impact of space and place include

- how do you interact with nature?

- how happy do you feel about the place where you live and work?

- are there changes in your environment that are causing you distress?


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