Our entire lives, when you think about it, are built around rewards — the pursuit of money, fun, love, and tacos.
How we seek and respond to those rewards is part of what determines our overall happiness. Aristotle famously said there were two basic types of joy: hedonia, or that keg-standing, Netflix binge-watching, Nutella-from-the-jar selfish kind of pleasure, and eudaimonia, or the pleasure that comes from helping others, doing meaningful work, and otherwise leading a life well-lived.
Recent psychological research has suggested that this second category is more likely to produce a lasting increase in happiness. Hedonic rewards may generate a short-term burst of glee, but it dissipates more quickly than the surge created by the more selfless eudaimonic rewards.
"Happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desire are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided," a study in the Journal of Positive Psychology found last year.
Extraordinary moments provide happiness throughout life, but as we realize our days our numbered, the small moments count for more.
Much ink, film, and many ones and zeros have been spilled on the topic of how to be happy lately. Science has given us some clues, often subdividing “happiness” into smaller parts: the importance of relationships and social connection, the positive effects of optimism. This sort of research gets a lot of attention when it comes out, as unhappy or even just vaguely dissatisfied people clamor for a fix. Maybe if we can unravel all the threads of happiness’s snarled tapestry and see how they fit together, we’ll finally be able to weave our own lives into a reasonable facsimile thereof.
We’ve seen before that perhaps the most important thread—more important than diet or exercise or the easy but often-unfulfilling happiness of a booze-soaked evening—is the feeling that your life means something, that you have purpose. How to get that, of course, is another knot to untangle.
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Amherst professor Catherine A. Sanderson on how men and women experience marital satisfaction differently.
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Child-centric parenting lets parents find more meaning in childcare.
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There is a motif, in fiction and in life, of people having wonderful things happen to them, but still ending up unhappy. We can adapt to anything, it seems—you can get your dream job, marry a wonderful human, finally get 1 million dollars or Twitter followers—eventually we acclimate and find new things to complain about.
If you want to look at it on a micro level, take an average day. You go to work; make some money; eat some food; interact with friends, family or co-workers; go home; and watch some TV. Nothing particularly bad happens, but you still can’t shake a feeling of stress, or worry, or inadequacy, or loneliness.
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"If you have a fatalistic view of life, the answer will utterly not surprise you. The planet’s happiest denizens reside in wealthy countries, whereas the least joyful live in impoverished nations. People with mid-range levels of contentment seem to have crowded into Russia, for what it’s worth."
[Graphic via Jonathan Hull]
When a Guardian journalist visited Bhutan recently, the country’s “mystical” quotient did not disappoint. Among other things, the writer noted “men and women laboring in song,” a woman “scampering around churning a pot of yak butter tea,” and the “sound of mule bells ringing in the valley.” As he reaches the remote mountain home of a local herder, the man quips, as though starring in a tourism commercial, “You know, happiness is a place.”
Indeed, it’s a rare Bhutan story that doesn’t mention how irrepressibly joyous the country is.
The recently released 2013 UN World Happiness Report devotes a sizable section to Bhutan, attempting to quantify the happiness levels of the only country that prioritizes contentment over income.
The country’s 1729 legal code stated that, “if the Government cannot create happiness for its people, there is no purpose for the Government to exist.” In 1972, this sentiment was codified when Bhutan’s King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, instituted a “Gross National Happiness” as its official measure of progress, superseding the more traditional Gross National Product in importance. The country’s constitution directs the state “to promote those conditions that will enable the pursuit of Gross National Happiness.”
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When I was 13, I dreamed of kissing boys in the backseat of a car while Scorpions, a German hard rock outfit, crooned “Winds of Change” from the car stereo. It’s still kind of a bummer that never happened: Boys at my high school were much more infatuated with the idea of making out to Dave Matthews Band, and I had to work with what I could get.
I’d known for a long time that my love for heavy music wasn’t shared by many of my peers. I’m sure there were other girls like me out there—ones who’d owned a tape of Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction since they were six, other kids who thought Mötley Crüe’s “Dr. Feelgood” was a song about a nice guy who just wanted to share his “sugar” and “candy cane” with his friends. I just never met many kids, especially girls, who liked music on the louder end of the spectrum—I chalked that up to being quirky.
Though loud music always had some place in my heart, it wasn’t until my early 20s when I truly fell in love with the power of the riff. And it wasn’t because I wanted to feel angry. Loud music had the opposite effect on me: It calmed me down.
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