Monday, October 24, 2005



It's what we all say we want, though some of us close our eyes and politely pass whenever it's offered to us on a cocktail tray. Others take a more vigorous approach, stamping it beneath our feet, flinging it into the sea, making school yard faces and cursing whenever it tries to make our acquaintance.

It sounds irrational, but of course, so much of being a human being is irrational. Figuring out how to play on your own team is a lifelong task, and one that many of us never learn. Myself included. Though most of the time I consider myself pretty optimistic, there are moments in every day when I make myself miserable, or allow some circumstance or person to do it for me. Needlessly.

I think there ought to be a remedy for that because you know, we only get so many moments. Why spend any of them, even a single one, in a self-conjured pissy mood? Martin Seligman agrees. In fact, he has turned happiness into a science. Something that can be tested, measured, and yes, increased. In some cases, our happiness quotient is genetic, like the color of our eyes. Extroverts with lots of social contact have more or it. (Not good for solitary writers.) (Do blog friends count, I wonder?)

An article in the London Times, points out the following:
Statistically, marriage makes you happier.
Ditto for pets.
And music.
Children? Not so much. At least according to the scientists of happiness (though the two pictured above make me plenty happy). Anyway, I'm wondering if that is particular to our place and time. In the days when having lots of children meant free labor on the farm, or help in the family business, when parental authority was more revered, was the happiness quotient different?

Virtue also makes you happy, specifically these six which were culled from various philosophers and religions: Wisdom, Courage, Humanity, Justice, Temperance, and Transcendence, though not necessarily in that order.

But it is the things that make us unhappy which seem more easily altered. It seems the most serious impediment to happiness is not the things we most fear--poverty, or a serious accident, or a failed relationship. It's what Seligman calls learned helplessness, though of course the link to those feared events is evident.

So if I'm reading this thing correctly, it's competence that makes us most happy. That and of course, having a couple of beers and a few laughs with your friends in the bar at the end of the day. At least, I've mastered the second part.


rdl said...

Sign me up for both please - competence and beer.

Anonymous said...

I also heard that membership of a group or society makes you happy.

Patry Francis said...

debra: That makes sense, given the importance of social contact.

I've also heard that religious faith enhances the sense of well-being--though that my come under the category of transcendence.

If I'm still on this wavelength later in the day, I may post on two exercises which Seligman says have been proven to increase happiness.

Vickie said...

Happiness is relative. I think you'll find, though, that it takes much more energy to be consistently unhappy. The thing is, too, we control our own emotions. If we allow someone to make us unhappy, that is our own undoing.

Emily Lloyd said...

"It seems the most serious impediment to happiness is not the things we most fear--poverty, or a serious accident, or a failed relationship."

This is probably why "children" don't rank as high happiness-givers: we worry about them so much. They make me plenty happy, but I don't have any of my own (yet), so I'm not quite as worried...

Patry Francis said...

Vickie: I agree with you to some degree, but some emotional reactions seem to be very much out of our control--unless we are very evolved and aware.

Emily: Interesting point about the worry factor in raising children. My cousin refers to it as "the agony and the ecstasy."

Anonymous said...

Oh, what a wonderful post and link. Thanks.

I fully agree with every single word in the article. It's funny your wrote about competence making one happy while I wrote today that a good writing day makes me happy...

Just wonderful post that made me happy :)

gulnaz said...

constantly comparing yourself to others and thinking that they have got more than you also makes you unhappy

Robin said...

Great post, Patry. Very thought-provoking.

I always considered learned helplessness to be one of the more horrific things that can affect a person. In that vein, here is a link to some of Dr. Seligman's research. Awful and sad, but a good thing to be aware of.

On the up side -- humor is big for me. Until they build robots that give great massages, at least. Loud music helps, too. And sales. Sales are good.



Patry Francis said...

Robin: Thanks for the link! It's a fascinating subject.

Scot: I like your vision of happiness.

Patry Francis said...

finn: that's where the beer with friends comes in.

Your link sound interesting, but it didn't seem to work for me. I'll try the old fashioned way and type it in.

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