Can Happiness be Engineered?

Human Life is consumed in pursuit of happiness. This is right up the list soon after the physiological needs in the Need Hierarchy. Happiness gives a value, which quantifies the life itself. We can measure how good a life of a person is by calculating the frequent states of happiness. So, it would be right to say Happiness is our Ultimate Goal or Purpose of survival. But it seems Odd as how most of us so pathetically fail to find it, even though it is one of our prime goals. If this is so important, Why it is so hard to achieve  State of Happiness? The reason may lie in, we are not taught in schools or home as child to find right balance in life, and nobody helped us to define Happiness. If I may ask what Happiness means, people would say like “Ummm…. To me Happiness is …… or ……… not so sure, other may also come up and say if I had this much money I would be happy or If I achieve this I will be happy”. Even after achieving all materialistic goals studies have found that people with success in terms of money, position or power over the period of time their Happiness is just a flat line on a graph.The fact is we don’t know, we have never spent time in defining happiness.  It’s also very subjective to each person, the recipe to happiness would differ with each  person, so we cannot have a set rules to give desired outcomes.

 

We need to plan a road map of our happiness just as we do for our education or wealth management. This will help us have a all-round plan which does not take a toll on our sole purpose of life. We are not just here to live in pursuit of finding happiness and die unsatisfied with lots of ifs and buts. We must live a full life which leads to satisfactions all round.

 

What is Happiness ?                                                        

Understanding Happiness is important, without this we may end messed up. The right understanding of our self and what we really mean by happiness needs to be defined heads on. So may you may ask questions like, What happiness really means? What compromises the structure of happiness? How our brain processes the data of events in our life and makes that state Happy, Ordinary, Sad or Painful? What I need to do for being Happy? For this we need to understand what is really happening. There are no clear defined laws, as done in physics or other fields of research. To get a good understanding ,its important to know how our mind process this states of happy and unhappiness and later will also discuss some major theories in various filed about happiness.

 

Human Mind – Understanding the Processing of Happiness

A study done by Noble Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, he shares in his book called “Thinking Fast and Slow”. He says, that we have two selves Experiencing Self which is described as fast, one who live in the moment here and now, living through the experiencing the present events, and focusing on the quality of events. The other is Remembering Self which is referred as slow, which records the intense highlights of the experience, and is rational and has conscious mode of thinking. Both completely opposite reasoning selves, which are at work to make a state Happy or Sad or Ordinary (which we may not remember in our conscious mind). Daniel has done clinical studies to really show the functioning of the two selves. Through his controlled experiments he concluded that Experiencing self has no say in any decision making, just a tyranny of the Remembering Self. When we are thinking of happiness, we are correlating with the memories of our past experiences which had a pleasant end points in our Remembering Self. If we recall our most memorable holidays, would be those which are not planned and more of a spontaneous decision, here we are living through our Experience Self. This gives a new story to our Remembering Self which notes every  new highlight of the events. We would have also commonly noticed that when we go to any place again we may not be that excited or may not have a strong associated memory with that as the first time, as it is not giving the Remembering Self any new story to register. We always try and make plans based on the past experience we had registered. If we are planning for our future, we are likely to choose those plans which have been fruitful in our past experiences or some memory of success associated with that plan, as our decision making is completely done through remembering self, but that does not predict any future fruitfulness of those plans, as the success associated with that is in past situation and in future the chronology of event may change, we can over come this flaw in if we  consciously consider in our planning process.

 

No we know how our brain processes this states, it will help us have clear understanding of what we really mean by happiness and we can make a realistic picture of our happiness. The more we live by our Experiencing Self happier we would be as it is giving us new stories to add on in our life. Make a clear structure of what happiness is. But important point is, we need to strike a balance in satisfying both the selves for a pleasant life.

 

A Well Being Approach

In recent times there has been increased focus on well-being approach to happiness, lots of studies have being done to understand what really means by Well – Being. This is a complex question, what is an optimal experience and what is “good life”?  That has great theoretical and practical implications. As the way we will define well-being will affect the practice of governments, teaching, therapy, etc.  Researcher have divided Happiness in to two types Hedonic and Eudemonic. Lets us see what they really mean,

 

Hedonic Happiness

The hedonic happiness has a long history going back to Greek Philosopher Aristippus, he taught that the goal of life is to experience the maximum amount of pleasure and that happiness is totality of one’s hedonic moments. It has also been suggested that Happiness in satisfying the Human Appetite and the pursuit of sensation and pleasure is the ultimate goal. The connect focus on investment in intrinsic goals, research has also found by investment in them brings true well-being. Kahneman et al in his book Well Being: The foundation of Hedonic Psychology, has suggest the existence of new filed in Psychology which is defined as Hedonic Psychology. This deals with the study of what make experiences and life pleasant or unpleasant, pleasure vs pain. There are many ways  to evaluate pleasure vs pain continuum in humans but, most commonly used assessment of Subjective Well Being (SWB), coined by Diener and Lucas in 1999. SWB consist of three components:

  •    Life Satisfaction
  •   The Presence of Positive Mood
  •   The Absence of Negative Mood

This has its own issue with quantification methodology of each components and to what degree it defines Psychological Well Being. But to large extent they sum up and fits our Social Science Model. Thus, hedonic happiness focuses on increasing the moments of pleasure and also minimizing the moments of pain resulting is  satisfaction in life.

 

Eudemonic Happiness

 

Aristotle first suggested the concept of Eudemonia, in his thought he states, the idea of happiness is vulgar, not all desires are worth perusing as, as some of them may yield pleasure, they would not produce wellness. Eudemonic approach is accomplishment of extrinsic goals like Personal Growth and psychological strengths going beyond pleasant effect. Ryan and Deci integrated and organized the field of well being in to two broad traditions : One dealing with Happiness and Second dealing with Human Potential Well Being.  This approach focus on personal development and developing one’s full potential. Now we know the concept, let see major theories under the concept.

  1. Psychological Well Being

Carol Ryff, Keyes & Smotkin had coined this approach. They used this term to underscore the fact that in many studies of Subjective Well Being have included not only happiness indicators but also cognitive assessments of life satisfaction. They have also visited various approaches to happiness and have condensed the following points:

  •   Self-Acceptance
  •   Personal Growth
  •   Purpose in life
  •  Positive Relations with others
  •  Environmental Mastery (Able to manage one’s life and surrounding)
  • Autonomy
  1. Self Determination Theory

Ryan and Deci have developed this concept. This concept distinguishes between and intrinsic and extrinsic motives. Some of them are positively associated with well being, while some others might have a negative impact. Intrinsic motives derives from basic psychological needs and satisfying them is essential for well-being. In contracts the extrinsic motives derive from the need to obtain social approval or avoid disapproval. These theory say there are three basic psychological ingredients for happiness are :

  •  Autonomy – the freedom of choice
  •  Competence – Enhancing skills and being confident in the job
  •   Relatedness – Having connection with other humans

 

  1. Authentic Happiness Model

Martin Seligmen is the person responsible for the movement of Positive Psychology, he has introduced this model, he has made an attempt to distinguish between pleasant life, happy life and meaningful life to derive at true nature of well-being.

  1. The Pleasant Life

This is in congruence with the approach of Hedonic life, which focuses on intrinsic goals, with maximizing moments of pleasure and minimizing unpleasant moments.

  1. The Engaged Life

This life aims to be in flow with whatever we are doing. Becoming one with the activity that we are doing. Such a state where we are absorbed in life unconscious about the where about. This would completely different to the positive emotions, as if this would use up all the resource of cognition and thoughts, we are one with whatever we are doing.  This state as no short cuts, it require full deployment of your strengths and skills to attain flow in your life.

  1. The Meaningful Life

Being in a state of pleasure or flow will only be worth till the time when we, think the real meaning and purpose in it. As human we are all searching for a purpose which is greater than self. What is the purpose of the life? What are my Goals in life ? Worldly association give us the purpose in life, Family, School, Friends, Community Service, Religion & others gives us a sense of purpose in life to live for. The purists of Pleasure and Engaged life often are resulting in solidarity.

This cover the major theories in Eudemonic Concept of Happiness. But it has been noted that emphasis on this may bring satisfaction to life but not necessarily happiness. In contrary Hedonic way of happiness may not bring satisfaction in short time but eventually bring happiness. As this concept give great emphasis on personal growth and development, which may involve in leaving all current state and habits which may lead to unpleasant states, till this in flow with the person.

An Spirituality Approach

Happiness according to a spirituality is different from the normal concept of happiness. We see often people turn towards Spirituality to Find Peace and Happiness.

Osho said “My efforts here is to create bliss, not happiness. Happiness is worthless, it depends on unhappiness. Bliss is transcendence – beyond duality of happiness and unhappiness.”

Humans move between the following states;

  1. Happiness – This is a temporal state of mind, which experiences satisfaction, content and optimism at same time with increase in energy and enthusiasm.
  2. Unhappiness (Depression) – This is a temporal state of mind, which leads to feeling of discontent, lack of energy, Unwillingness to carry on, leading distress.
  3. Transcendence – This is a state of mind which is in between the above two state. This is a state which is not influenced by happiness or unhappiness. This is a state of perfection, when a person is in full control of senses.

 

Spirituality’s talks of Bliss and not happiness as it is dependent on unhappy state. This gives us a more balanced approach to happiness, which in control of the person. This suggest a person who is same to his friends and foes, who is same during time of happiness and sorrow is in sate of transcendence (bliss). To achieve this state of bliss we may follow certain principles in life which are

  •  Cultivate Love
  •  Help Others
  •  Detachment
  •   Focus on Purpose of life
  •   Live a life of Virtue
  •   Be in Present
  •  Learn to Silence Mind  (Mediate)

 

Going through all this approached and looking at processing of the state of happiness, we can easily say that one must have a balanced approach towards happiness. We may have also seen higher emphasis in living in here and now concept which produces the happiest state for us. This in a sense helps us get detached from worries of the future and past and helps us live in the present. Creating new stories and happy states to remember. We also see the importance of unhappy state which is relative to happiness and give the value associated to Happiness. We may reconsider the approach towards life, we keep on searching happiness as per our memories of happiness, but in process we forget time has changed situations have changes and so as the definition of happiness would change. We cannot look for happiness which a glass of past. We have to create new states of happiness with our current position in life. We need to change the way we look and plan in life, we need to give happiness and contentment the centre stage in life. We must plan all our goals which makes us content and cheerful, which may not lead to glamorous success. One more point we need to understand is we always think we were so happy in some point in our memory, with comparison to current state & we always plan to be happy in some point in future, thus unhappy in present state. Past and Future will always be out of reach. Live here and Now ! Happiness is Here and Now !

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