Sunday, June 21, 2009

What Makes Us Happy

Humans have been searching for happiness since they became human.

The US "Declaration of Independence" document mostly authored by Thomas Jefferson in 1776 explicitly mentions it in the following famous phrase:

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

It makes pursuit of happiness a "Natural and Legal" right of every US citizen raising an interesting question "What is Happiness?" It is sort of assumed that we intuitively know what it is. Is it the hedonistic pursuit of pleasure? or "The calm contentedness of a sage?" or a "Hearty laugh at a joke?". It seems that the word "Happiness" may in fact have several meanings and it may refer to many mental states depending upon the context in which it is being used.

Harvard University has a long running study to learn the "Secrets of Good Life". The study is running for seventy years starting in 1937 and follows lives of its participants from the time they studied at Harvard till recent times. It is one of the longest running longitudinal studies.

The Harvard Psychiatrist George Vaillant is managing the work on this research for the last forty years. In the video from Atlantic magazine below he describes the findings of his work:



It is interesting to note from his comments that there is no single recipe that everybody can follow to attain happiness.

The complete article "What Makes Us Happy" from Atlantic magazine here, is worth reading. It is quite humbling in many ways describing how lives of people twist and turn as move through different stages of their lives.

3 comments:

Mariana Soffer said...

Very interesting post!
I did not know it was even in the declaration of independence.
Can you imagine if it is among our obligations for our country to be happy?, that will be surrealist.

As you mention, I consider it very important to agree on what happiness is, and I think we are
still very very far from it, how can we study people and reach conclusions if we do not know what we are studying?

I guess we can say that when you are suffering from depression you are not happy, that is the only
way I can somehow close the boundaries around the mining of happiness. But we need to come up with new ways to detect or measure happiness.

Shekhar Sahu said...

Indeed, a great post with great insights, enjoyed reading it.

-Shekhar / HealthcareMagic.com

seller said...

Very
good article,
I really liked how the author picked up the material.my opinion a very good story.
The author write more!

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