Happiness is one such thing that everyone wants in life. Everyone strives for it but has a different perspective to what makes them happy.
Do you ever wonder what actually happiness is? What is the science behind it? Is it just a feeling? Why is it so important to all of us? And how happy are we as a nation?
For 58-year-old Tariq Mobeen, happiness is his children. “Real happiness is seeing my four children successful, healthy, settled and content with their lives.”
But for the resident of Kashmir, Saba Majeed, having a lot of money is happiness. “Everything is associated to money and so is joy.”
30-year-old Qudsia Saleem from Gojra, on the other hand considers true happiness as being comfortable with the environment and people around.
As for seven-year-old Muhammad Abdullah from Lahore, the concept takes a different level. “I am happy when papa gets me new toys.” That is probably what one would expect from a kid his age.
However, for 11-year-old Sabar Ullah, a garbage-collector, digging out some leftover food from the garbage that is edible is “real” bliss. Other than that, it has no meaning for him.
According to Dr Bruno S Frey, a professor at the University of Basel, Zurich, Switzerland, everyone has a different opinion about happiness as it is a subjective feeling. “One thing that gives happiness to a person may not be joyful for the other. It has a lot to do with human perception.”
Throwing light on the details, Anjum Mehmood Siddique, a psychologist and founder of PSI Pakistan, a counseling clinic in Gujar Khan, states, it is our natural instinct to want happiness. Adults or children, everyone needs it. There are however, two major aspects to it: spiritual and psychological. “Spiritually, it is inherent in the soul. We need bliss which is a state beyond happiness. It is inner peace, satisfaction and purity.”
Psychologically, happiness makes us feel good. It releases happy hormones in the body which make it an overall positive experience for an individual. “Therefore, mind and perception both have an integral role to make a person feel happy even in unfavorable circumstances,” informs Anjum. But external factors are also important in contributing to happiness. And all these factors combine to form a happy nation.
According to the Global Happiness Index, 2017, Pakistan ranks as the 80th happiest nation in the world out of 155 countries. This fifth happiness report rates Norway, Denmark and Iceland as the top three happiest nations, respectively. African countries such as Central African Republic, Burundi and Tanzania, on the other hand, are the least happy.
What factors make some countries happier than others?
To find out, Shifa News contacted the editors of the report. Dr Jeffery Sachs, an economist and director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, New York, US affirms, “our research is clear that national happiness depends on a few factors: income per person, health (life expectancy), honesty of government (lack of corruption), generosity, sense of personal freedom for making life choices and social support networks.”
While Dr John F Helliwell, also the report’s co-editor and economist who studies social well-being at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada says, major aim of the report was to examine the science of assessing and measuring subjective well-being of the nations.
Adding further, he informs, “beyond the two pillars, health and adequate income, the other four (social) factors together contribute even more to a nation’s happiness.” These social aspects such as, good social connections can only be established with a positive state of mind.
Interestingly, various researchers have more or less similar answers to explain “the feeling”.
Answering a question for the magazine, Dr Emiliana Simon-Thomas, science director at Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, US informs, it is a quality of easily experiencing positive states, gracefully recovering from difficult experiences and having authentic, supportive social connections. It is not only an emotion, in fact much more than that.
According to her, from an emotion science perspective, positive emotions are more specific and time-bound than overall happiness. “For example, positive emotions like amusement, pride, enjoyment, love, pleasure etcetera are related to specific contexts and draw upon specific biological systems,” explains Dr Emiliana. They are important to a person’s overall happiness, but are not happiness itself.
“Happiness is a state of mind. It allows an individual to be more accepting of everyday nuances by providing a better outlook on life,” reinforces Anthony Jehn, researcher and a sociologist at the Western University, Ontario, Canada while replying to Shifa News.
Commenting on why two individuals with similar circumstances have different perceptions and outlook on life, Anthony says, assuming there is no hereditary mental illness, being unhappy is really more of an acquired behavior. “Human beings are born to innately enjoy and experience happiness. It is the social world that one eventually conforms to and often ends up with negative self-perceptions.” This diminishes happiness.
To dig further on the topic, Dr Darrin M. McMahon, an author and historian at Dartmouth College, Hanover, US was contacted who thinks happiness is both “an emotion and a concept”.
He researched on how it is conceived in different eras, cultures and religions. Happiness was associated with luck or fortune in the ancient times. This reflects that happiness is ultimately beyond human control, depends on fate, fortune, or the will of the gods. This was later challenged by religious wisdom and traditions of Islam and Christianity. “They agreed that although God still controls fates, human beings can also contribute to their own chances for happiness by controlling their conduct.”
This is the reason why religion plays an essential role in contributing to individuals’ happiness. It also reinforces the psychological concept that happiness can be acquired.
“Research proves that religious individuals are happier on average since they experience the sense of meaning and purpose to life,” informs Dr Sandra Matz, a psychologist at Columbia Business School, New York, USA.
Agreeing on this, Dr Emiliana says, “religions that emphasize awe, humility, humanity and service all pro-social in nature therefore help strengthen happiness in general.” Therefore, modern “positive psychologists” emphasize that many of the virtues recommended by the past wisdom traditions are good for happiness.
One can hence say that staying happy to a great extent is something that is in one’s own control.
Experts contacted, recommend different things for staying happy in the light of their researches and experiences.
“Happiness can be a learned skill. So, try to be satisfied with life. To achieve satisfaction; one should strive to improve their relationship with the deity and society,” comments Anjum. Also, think positively; understand that life is the greatest gift. Do not waste time thinking about the past, appreciate your present. Set priorities and make your life purposeful by helping others and making new connections.
“My research proves that individuals who spend a purposeful life by undertaking voluntary work and donating money are more satisfied and thus happier than others,” adds Dr Bruno.
Adding further, he says, money is not the lone thing that can make one happy, since “income is important for a person’s happiness as long as it is low. But with higher income personal relationships and health becomes more essential.”
Dr Anthony reinforces the idea saying, “having more is not always better as it takes up more time and energy and detracts from pursuing enjoyable experiences.”
“Be cognitively, emotionally more aware and pro-social to maintain positive social relationships through mindfulness, gratitude, compassion and cooperation,” continues Dr Emiliana.
Physical and mental health, no doubt, also play an important role in one’s happiness as the World Happiness Report indicates. Therefore, take care of your body and mind. Stop worrying about problems and how much you have. “Take the job that gives you meaning and purpose in life, and not that simply pays better. Spend on others as this not only helps improve social relationships, mental peace but also allows to live your dream life and not the life that society dictates you,” mentions Dr Sandra.