Before beginning writing this article, I thought I would do a bit of research on happiness. Nothing major, just open a couple of books, read up on it.
What I hadn’t counted on was how difficult a task this would be. I thought that the psychology books would be filled with interesting research and theories on happiness. After all, isn’t it our ultimate goal to be happy? I should have known better really.
What I found were theories on Depression. Explanations of Anxiety. Perspectives on Abnormal Behaviour. All negative mental illnesses and disorders.
This is a very common phenomenon among pyschological literature and research.
I’ve briefly written before about a relatively new psychological approach called ‘Positive Psychology’ which is gaining in popularity.
Developed initially by a man called Dr. Martin Seligman Positive Psychology attempts to move away from focussing on what happens when things go wrong, and focus more on what happens when things go right. The theory is that by understanding what happens when things are going well, we are in a stronger position to prevent/treat mental disorders and maladaptive behaviours.
Positive psychology, expands on the Humanistic approach of fostering human growth and potential. This would suggest that in order for us to be Happy, we must be able to use the ‘potential’ that is within each of us. There is much research and discussion on this process but surprisingly little on the end result, the goal.
So what does it mean to be ‘Happy’?
Can happiness be measured?
Is happiness even attainable in the long term?
There is actually some debate as to what we mean by ‘Happiness’. Some in the profession view it as a fixed psychological trait. Just like how some people are Shy, or Modest, it is suggested that others are naturally Happy. It’s just part of who they are.
Others disagree and view Happiness as a more temporary state. These people suggest that given the right conditions we can all be happy. In the same way that given the right conditions we can all get angry. These conditions may differ from person to person, but the potential for the emotion is within us all.
Research would suggest the latter is true. So if this is the case and Happiness is transitory, is it something that we should all be aspiring towards in the long term? Is it even feasible to be happy all of the time?
Personally, I think that sounds incredibly exhausting.
What is it that makes you happy. Would you be able to keep it up for a prolonged period?
After all (in the immortal words of Ronan Keating) “Life is a rollercoaster”. Sometimes things make us happy, sometimes things make us sad. Perhaps the bad times enable us to appreciate the goods times.
Wouldn’t a better goal for life be Contentment? That rather neutral feeling where we are neither happy nor sad. Or is that a bit defeatist?
What do you think?