Happiness can be described as "the state of well-being that is often characterized by positive emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy" (Cloninger 27). Over the years, the disciplines of biology, psychology, philosophy and religious studies have relentlessly tried to define happiness and identify its source. Psychology as an individual discipline tries to apply scientific methods in answering questions regarding what happiness is and how it might be attained. On the other hand, philosophers and religious thinkers simply define happiness in the line of a good life rather than the emotional situation of an individual. In an economic approach, the measure of public happiness is attributed to the external factors affecting the same which implies that happiness is as a result of success factors in the society.
Happiness is a broad concept implying that it varies in definition and context to different individuals. The main challenge facing the science of happiness is identifying the different concepts of happiness and how they apply to different people in the society. In the book 'Handbook of Emotions' the author states that happiness is as a result of unprecedented positive events. Other authors have gone to the length of stating that happiness is the presence of emotional states such as joy, amusement, satisfaction, gratification and euphoria. Over the years, there has existed a heated debate regarding whether money is the source of all happiness. According to an editor's review appearing in Boston.com, money is not a source of happiness and the use of money is what derives happiness. This may imply that spending money on others may actually be a source of happiness a hypothesis which has been proved by subsequent studies one of them being a research carried out by Harvard Business School.
Positive psychology theories have indicated that humans seem happiest when they;
Pleasure (tasty foods, warm baths)
Engagement (involvement in an enjoyable but a rather challenging activity)
Relationships (social ties have over the years proven to be some of the best indicators of happiness)
Meaning (in the context of a perceived quest or a sense of belonging to something great)
Accomplishment (The act of having fulfilled one's goals and objectives)
Other studies have been carried out to try and relate how religion and happiness are connected. Despite the correlation not having been fully established, preliminary research suggests that more religion is seen in happier people. However, this has been found out not to be due the religion itself but rather as a result of the sense of belonging that comes along with being in a certain religion. Going by Abraham Harold Maslow's hierarchy of needs, human beings have some sort of biases and preferences when it comes to their needs. In this, Maslow explains that they are times that human beings feel more whole, alive, self-sufficient and deserving in this world. Władysław explains that after an individual goes beyond the routine needs of self fulfillment and experiences what is known as peak experiences characterized by profound moments of love, understanding and happiness (56)
Religious perspectives on happiness
Buddhism: Happiness is one of the basic themes taught in Buddhism. Happiness in Buddhism is described as the ultimate freedom form suffering as portrayed in the Noble Eightfold Path that leads its practitioner to Nirvana which is the state of everlasting peace. In this context, ultimate happiness can only be achieved when an individual overcomes earthly cravings of all forms. In Buddhist teachings, other forms of happiness such as acquiring wealth as well as maintaining good social ties are also portrayed as worthy goals for sukha.
Catholicism: In the catholic religion, "the ultimate end of human existence consists in felicity (Latin equivalent to the Greek eudaimonia), or "blessed happiness", described by the 13th-century philosopher-theologian Thomas Aquinas as a Beatific Vision of God's essence in the next life"(Stephan 113)
Philosophy of Happiness
The Chinese Confucian thinker Mencius suggested that the human mind consisted of two conflicting sides that are the "lesser self" (the physiological self) and the "greater self" (the moral self). Mencius also pointed out that when humans fail in feeling satisfaction or pleasure in nourishing the vital forces in one's psychological make-up, the vital force would eventually shrivel. In the Muslim world, the Alchemy of Happiness written by Al-Ghazali (1058–1111) the Muslim Sufi thinker is widely practiced in the Islamic world today. Aristotle the famous Greek philosopher on the other hand wrote that happiness is the only single thing in existence that humans desire for its own sake as compared to other virtues such as riches, honor and friendship. Aristotle observed that humans seek riches, power and honor not for their own sake but rather to be happy. Moreover, Aristotle stated that happiness is one of the major characteristics of a good life which can be described as the life that an individual fulfils human nature in a perfect way. According to Aristotle, happiness is "the virtuous activity of the soul in accordance with reason"(McMahon 35)
The overall economic situation is as a result of both external and internal factors affecting people both individually and as a society. In a general context, richer countries tend to be happier than the relatively poorer countries. This effect is commonly attributed to wealth. In an attempt to explain this phenomenon, happiness economics states that dependency is not linear but rather it is logarithmic. McMahon states that going by this fact, it has been found out that the same perceptual increase in the GNP produces the same increase in happiness for wealthy countries as for poor countries (17). This in overall implies that economic freedom is directly related to happiness. A practical example of this situation is the result of a study carried out by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which found out that the western mixed economy, with free press and a democracy was happier than the "Socialist" East European countries.
Over the years, there have existed arguments and counterarguments implying that happiness measures are in a position to be replaced by more traditional measures as a supplement. Most philosophers observed that people frequently make choices that only end up decreasing their happiness going by the fact that the same people perceive to have more important aims. This according to Professor Edward Glaeser is why the government should aim at increasing the alternatives available for the citizens by maintaining a maximal freedom of choice. It has also been argued that happiness at work is one of the key driving forces behind positive outcomes as opposed to the perception that happiness at work should be a resultant product derived form a good working environment.
In life, human beings perceive to have the knowledge of happiness while in the actual sense, they have no idea what will make them happy. Money and wealth cannot buy happiness which is why people should take the approach of dreaming social wellbeing and good health as opposed to dreaming vast wealth and honor. Regardless of the fact that most disciplines strive to identify the source of happiness and the application of happiness to different individuals, it is a fundamental fact that happiness cannot be generalized. The meaning of being happy may mean different situations to different individuals. This conclusively implies that inner happiness is very important. Making peace with one's inner being and having well actualized targets and objectives while at the same time maintaining a well cultivated social environment can result to happiness.
Cloninger, Robert. Feeling Good: The Science of Well-Being, Oxford, 2004.print
McMahon, Darrin. Happiness: A History, Atlantic Monthly Press, November 28, 2005. Print
Stefan, Klein. The Science of Happiness, Marlowe, 2006. Print.
Władysław, Tatarkiewicz. Analysis of Happiness, The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers,1976. Print
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