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The Science Of Happiness 542

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the next-stop-miranda dept.
Hogwash McFly writes "There's an interesting article over at The Times that attempts to answer the question 'So what do you have to do to find happiness?' by exploring the biology and psychology behind this highly sought-after emotion. This article opens up new insight into the common perceptions of what makes us happy, such as having more friends and more money. Detailed in the article is the idea that our early ancestors' struggles against adverse weather and predators have led us to instinctually focus on what is wrong or out of place in order to react with more efficiency, then going onto autopilot when things are going well."
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The Science Of Happiness

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  • Simple (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 03, 2005 @08:16PM (#13708761)

    Enjoy every day as if it was your last, life is a big party, Work is slavery

  • by scenestar (828656) on Monday October 03, 2005 @08:18PM (#13708770) Homepage Journal
    After having been chronically depressed for the past years i found out that happiness is just a balance of the right drugs.
  • by brxndxn (461473) on Monday October 03, 2005 @08:20PM (#13708783)
    No matter where you are or what you acheive, one is never truly happy. To be happy is to be content.. and to be content is to lack the craving to better oneself. And to lack that craving is to lack a fundamental part of 'survival of the fittest.'

    Yes.. It's human nature to be discontent.. and that separates some of us from the apes.

  • Twins (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mysqlrocks (783488) on Monday October 03, 2005 @08:21PM (#13708788) Homepage Journal
    For happiness levels are probably genetic: identical twins are usually equally bubbly or grumpy.

    This doesn't mean it's genetic. Twins most likely grew up together, right? Couldn't it have something to do with the environment/family instead of genes?
  • Religion? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Programmerangel (882072) on Monday October 03, 2005 @08:21PM (#13708793)
    I'm surprised the article doesn't explore Religion and it's affect on people's happiness.
  • by BishonenAngstMagnet (797469) on Monday October 03, 2005 @08:22PM (#13708796)
    You can be truly happy without being fully happy. I am truly happy about many things in life. But I'm not fully happy, as there are aspects of my life (as with everyone else) that are not perfect.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 03, 2005 @08:27PM (#13708824)
    Another thing that seperates us from the Apes is our ability to overcome our nature.
  • Soma (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Misanthrope (49269) on Monday October 03, 2005 @08:28PM (#13708834)


    Soma [huxley.net]
  • by nathan s (719490) on Monday October 03, 2005 @08:33PM (#13708872) Homepage
    I'm not exactly sure that "bettering oneself" necessarily has any relation to "survival of the fittest" - many people's idea of "bettering" themselves have led them to early deaths, like some of the great explorers. In terms of sheer survival of the fittest, the person who doesn't stick his neck out too far and manages to safely pass on his genes to the next generation the most times is often [but not always] the fittest, and that has little to do with bettering himself.
  • by antiquark (87200) on Monday October 03, 2005 @08:38PM (#13708904)
    Happiness isn't having what you want, it's wanting what you have.

  • by UserGoogol (623581) on Monday October 03, 2005 @08:43PM (#13708931)
    Bah. You can be content while simultaneously desiring more. Contentment is not to lack the craving to better oneself, but merely the sense that things as they currently are are "okay." Contentment, as I see it, is not a lack of desire for improvement, (which as you say is a somewhat morally dubious state) but merely a lack of discomfort about your current position. Those are distinct entities, as I see it.

    Thus, you can be content with your current state in life while at the same time desire more. I admit it's not neccesarily the most logically consistant position one can hold, but emotions aren't logical. (Although one may apply logic to the proccess of acquiring a maximum emotional state.)
  • eh (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 03, 2005 @09:01PM (#13709015)
    Sarcams is a bloody joy and irony is jolly good too =)
  • Re:Religion? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Overdrive_SS (243510) <Overdrive_SS@yLIONahoo.com minus cat> on Monday October 03, 2005 @09:01PM (#13709016)
    Actually Christianity says there is no way to earn your way into heaven. Everyone has sinned and that sin has earned you eternal seperation from God. However, Christ came to earth, lived a perfect life, and then died in your place. He took the punishment instead of making you try to pay for it, which you can't. And now He offers forgiveness for those sins and a relationship with Him if you believe and ask. It is a free gift. You'll still have problems in life, but you'll always have God to take care of them and the hope that one day you'll be with Him forever in heaven.

    As an aside, people have used all kinds of excuses to do horrible things and just because they tried to justify it by saying God said to do it, doesn't mean that God actually said to do it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 03, 2005 @09:06PM (#13709034)
    I'm glad to see platitudes are being modded up on /. these days. All it shows are /.'s groupthink values more than any objective analysis of happiness.

    "Learn that you do not need anything except the biological neccessities for survival."

    Why are you posting on /. and engaging in higher thought processes and abstract conversation then? What has that to do with biological necessities?

    "Appreciate the present, but don't be considered with the future."

    Really? You don't care about the future? I'm glad you value your present so much as to not be concerned with the future. Strictly speaking as going by your first comment, survival machines worry about the future. Their biological necessity for survival as you put it is very much concerned with the future. Looks like you have a value conflict here eh?

    "Not only can you not buy happiness, buying actively makes you unhappy."

    Says who? Do you have any scientific evidence that states that the brain state is unhappy when buying products? Or are you just playing to the /. groupthink so you get modded up?

  • by RobinH (124750) on Monday October 03, 2005 @09:13PM (#13709075) Homepage
    Now, now... anti-depressants don't actually make you happy... they just make the depression subside a bit so you can get moving again and make yourself happy. Taking anti-depressants is like if you have a hole in your boat and you're sinking, the drugs are like pumping out the bilge. It doesn't fix the problem, but it will keep you afloat until you can get to a safe harbour and repair the damage.

    But I'm sure you knew that already... :-)
  • Re:Religion? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Eil (82413) on Monday October 03, 2005 @09:17PM (#13709091) Homepage Journal
    Religion doesn't make people happy, it makes people feel safe. (The happiness comes more from the social aspects of religion than from faith itself.)
  • by Twinbee (767046) on Monday October 03, 2005 @09:19PM (#13709098) Homepage
    To find a complete science of happiness, we'd need to find out a master formula to create/rate good music, a formula for art, one for thought and games (sport, console or otherwise), and the various other senses (touch, smell, taste).

    Those are the fundamentals.
  • Re:Money (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dgatwood (11270) on Monday October 03, 2005 @09:19PM (#13709099) Journal
    One of my coworkers told me about a quote (of unknown origin). It was something to the effect of "The expression that money can't buy happiness is a lie perpetuated by the rich to keep the poor from killing them."

    I'm not sure that's entirely true, but I will say this: While money can't buy happiness, below a certain point, a lack thereof will assuredly buy misery.

  • by Parafilmus (107866) on Monday October 03, 2005 @09:20PM (#13709105) Homepage
    It may not serve survival-interest to be happy at rest, but it DOES serve survival-interest to be happy while engaged in useful activity. "Happy" is a reward mechanism. You should feel it while hunting or building or mating or teaching children, or whatever activity benefits self and family.
  • Cause and effect (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ewg (158266) on Monday October 03, 2005 @09:38PM (#13709186)
    Serious question: how do they sort out cause and effect? They observed a correlation between happiness and social interaction; but which is which?
  • Re:Simple (Score:3, Insightful)

    by wattersa (629338) <(moc.srettawwerdna) (ta) (werdna)> on Monday October 03, 2005 @09:48PM (#13709235) Homepage
    Unfortunately, that is exactly the mindset that credit card companies and advertisers _want_ you to take, because you spend more. In reality, you should think about the future, save for a rainy day, work in a field you enjoy, and party on weekends.
  • by Brock Lee (648954) on Monday October 03, 2005 @09:50PM (#13709238)

    To be happy is to be content.. and to be content is to lack the craving to better oneself.

    The logic here is flawed. Some people are happy bettering themselves -- learning something new, learning something to greater depth, perfecting a skill, exploring a new place.

    By playing the "A is the same as B is the same as C" game, you've cleverly pulled the wool over your own eyes. Happy now?

  • Re:Religion? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TubeSteak (669689) on Monday October 03, 2005 @09:57PM (#13709273) Journal
    As an aside, people have used all kinds of excuses to do horrible things and just because they tried to justify it by saying God said to do it, doesn't mean that God actually said to do it.
    Pope Urban II launched the First Crusade in 1095 by saying "Deus le volt!" (God wills it!) as a rallying cry for the people.

    Don't take my word for it http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Crusade [wikipedia.org]

    I don't know if he was sitting on the Throne of Peter when he made that statement,
    but since he was the Pope, I think we can take his word for it.

  • Maslow's Pyramid (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Spy der Mann (805235) <<spydermann.slashdot> <at> <gmail.com>> on Monday October 03, 2005 @10:10PM (#13709366) Homepage Journal
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow's_Pyramid [wikipedia.org]

    Physiological, Safety, Love/Belonging, Esteem, Actualization.

    Fulfill these needs and you'll find happiness. (An interesting thought is that this view does not oppose christianity at all, they seem to fit very well)

    A personal observation upon myself is that the darkest times of my life were the ones where none (or only one) of these needs were fulfilled. If I didn't believe in God, i would surely have killed myself - so maybe Maslow's pyramid could also be used as an indicator for potential suicides. Just a thought.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 03, 2005 @10:21PM (#13709445)
    If you don't take the "free gift" of "forgiveness" for perceived sins of any magnitude, you get an infinite (all eternity) amount of punishment in God's private dungeon, which is disproportionate to *any* amount of sin one could conceivably commit in a lifetime. This is the definition of coercion.
  • For me.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Himring (646324) on Monday October 03, 2005 @10:34PM (#13709517) Homepage Journal
    For me, you cannot be happy until you have been horribly unhappy first.

    I am now approaching the second year of my divorce. My marital breakup was equivalent to the asteroid that ended the dinosaurs. I lost massive weight before working out and putting back on muscle. I learned to jog and became a better father. I read book after book on relationships, divorce, psychology and religion and finally came to the conclusion that most, if not all, of my unhappiness in life came from the fact of trying to control the free will of others. I happened upon a theory I call "reality philosophy." I mainly base this on Robert Ringer who points out in his theory of reality:

    Reality isn't what you hope it would be. It isn't what it even appears to be, but with careful investigation it is what it is. You either go with it and benefit from it or fight it and suffer.

    I have learned to let go and stop trying to control things. I think Fight Club says it best when Tyler tells the narrator in the car as he's trying to keep it between the lines, "look at you! you're pathetic! just let it go...." Truly, it isn't until we've lost everything that we are free to do anything. I am a living example of this.

    Looking back, if anything made me a man it was my divorce. I went through a crash course of the legal system, the hell of financial trauma, work stress, single-fatherhood, on and on. Divorce hits you on every level imaginable. But I was determined to survive and thrive. I now am in the third basketball season as a YMCA children's coach. I have found one of the most therapuetic things is to volunteer my time for something like this. The kids are my doctors, counselors as I watch them grow, learn and each season as I've coached basketball, soccer, etc. I find the practices and the games are the highlights of my life. I am better at my job, my appearance, my relationships, name it. I wouldn't trade my divorce for anything because I never knew that I wasn't even happy before it.

    I am now leaner and wiser than ever and am a far better person to be around. I dove into religion and books as I said. Here are some qoutes I carried in my pocket for a solid year and committed to memory. Each chance I got -- if waiting somewhere with nothing to do for example -- I would get them out and go over them:

    Attitudes are more important than facts. -Karl Menninger

    Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your mind in Christ Jesus. -Philippians 4:6-7

    Stand up to an obstacle. Just stand up to it, that's all, and don't give way under it, and it will finally break. You will break it. Something has to break, and it won't be you, it will be the obstacle. -Peale

    Do not take the attitude that you are in a situation in which nobody has ever been before. There is no such situation. -Peale

    People have overcome every conceivable difficult situation. -Peale

    A clean engine always delivers power. -Peale

    Never tell me the odds. -Hans Solo

    A mind free of negatives will always produce positives. -Peale

    There is no spoon. -Peale

    Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain. -Emerson

    If you had faith... nothing would be impossible. -Matthew 17:20

    Throw your heart over the bar and your body will follow. -Peale

    The rough is only mental. -Peale

    There is a time when we must decide and act and never look back. -Phillips

    If a man will devote his time to securing facts in an impartial, objective way, his worries will usually evaporate in the light of knowledge. -Hawkes

    When worrying about something always ask two questions: 1. What am I worrying about? 2. What can I do about it? -Litchfie
  • by benjamindees (441808) on Monday October 03, 2005 @10:38PM (#13709535) Homepage
    They had that meeting. Half of them decided to try for consistency and the other half decided to go for completeness. The completeness half is doing great, but makes absolutely no sense. And the consistency half gave up and became atheists.
  • by Citizen of Earth (569446) on Monday October 03, 2005 @10:59PM (#13709656)
    Homer: Mr. Burns, you're the richest man I know.
    Mr. Burns: But I'd give it all up for a little more.
  • Re:Slashdot MOTD (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Citizen of Earth (569446) on Monday October 03, 2005 @11:08PM (#13709697)
    "Men don't know what happiness is until they are married, but by then it's too late"

    “Happiness isn't something you experience; it's something you remember.”—Oscar Levant
  • by ppanon (16583) on Monday October 03, 2005 @11:50PM (#13709890) Homepage Journal
    Unless of course you learn to find happiness in the ability to pursue perfection, in the journey to perfection rather than in perfection itself. Learn to enjoy the moment, even as you pursue your ultimate goals.
  • by bleppie (129980) on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @12:04AM (#13709940)
    Um, no. For some of us the drugs plug the hole in the boat. There's a very common attitude, which I seein your post, that antidepressants are only good as a temporary, often last minute, patch up solution. But actually some of us are better off taking them all the time, much like people with other chronic diseases might take meds for the rest of their lives.

    Chronic depression is not something that will go away if you just 'buck up and get over it', 'deal with the problem and move on', 'get to a safe harbour', etc. Often it is a lifetime issue that can be managed with, among other things, medicine.
  • Happiness is... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Hosiah (849792) on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @12:05AM (#13709947)
    when you learn to reject the popular crowd's definition of happiness and just do what works for you.

    For me, happiness doesn't come from what I can get, only from what I can do.

  • by WormholeFiend (674934) on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @12:06AM (#13709949)
    You should look into current studies on the curative effects of psychedelics on depression.
  • Re:Religion? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bastian (66383) on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @12:32AM (#13710063)
    I remember reading somewhere that Buddhism is the only major religion that has been positively correlated with happiness. Possibly it has something to do with Buddhism being the only major religion (that I can think of) whose sole stated purpose is to make people happier.
  • heal thyself (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @02:21AM (#13710402)
    I don't know if you spend much money on your medication, or if you have noticed any unwanted side-effects from it at all, but the brunt of what follows is simply a rant about why you really don't need to be taking any such medication. Although this implies that you would have any desire to remove your dependency upon the drugs, and that you're willing to perform the necessary self-experimentation (or, at the very least, research) to discover what the true root cause(s) of your problems is(/are).

    The body is an intricate machine. I truly hope that at some point you become aware that your imbalances are due largely to the myriad consequential effects of the various substances you ingest, inhale, absorb, or otherwise take in. Additionally, recent studies (and I have to say I'd arrived at this conclusion just from my own experiences) seem to indicate that your mind-set (whether it feels as though you have control over it or not) will have a large impact on your physical well-being; the more you feel angry/upset/helpless/stressed/afraid or various other sensations, the harder it can be (and seemingly almost always is) for your body to recover from injuries, produce white blood cells, cleanse toxins from the colon/sinuses/lymph glands, and a whole slew of other adverse effects.

    Certainly there's a lot more to be known in these areas, but there's one idea which I perceive as blatantly clear: any dependency on any sort of drug is an indicator that something deeper is going wrong to prevent the body from functioning as well as it is capable.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @03:07AM (#13710524)
    Happiness is:

    A wonderful woman on your lap,
    a lit joint in your lips,
    a cold highball in your hand,
    a leather wallet full of cash,
    and the knowledge that
    you don't have to set
    the alarm clock for tomorrow.
  • by Steeltoe (98226) on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @05:40AM (#13710896) Homepage
    ...because you always give what you have.

    The unhappy people can't stand happy people. So if you're unhappy, you will more likely seek depressing and complaining company, than cheerful, vibrant and active people. That doesn't mean they don't exist, you just shut everything positive away, so you can live what you think you are right now. Depression leads to dullness and stagnation, and is also fueled by it, while the way to come out of it is to become active and seek out good company/do good things for others etc. It's really very simple! Yet, when you're stuck with your unhappiness, it seems so hard. You think that 'you' are unhappy, so you stay there longer. We know what to do, yet, we find so many excuses for not doing it. This is mainly because we have been trained to do so, and have perfected its mastery very well. The mind is pretty sneaky actually!

    Don't fall for the truth of unhappy people about what is our true nature. Have you seen a child? It is never depressed. A child cannot be depressed. It learns that behaviour from the environment, which it eagerly emulates, and when put under stress for a long time. The younger the child, the more happiness, creativity, laughter, playfullness, innocense and all the other good qualities.

    So we need to get rid of our stress and negative patterns that lets us be stuck with a worldview that dictates we shouldn't be 'too happy'. That is truly an art, and then we will discover WHO WE TRULY ARE.

    'Old trite arguments'? There's no such thing. It depends on the listener!

    Are you your stress?

  • by sl4shd0rk (755837) on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @06:14AM (#13710977)
    set realistic boundaries with people, and stick to them.
    don't involve yourself with unhealthy social behaviour.
    set aside time to yourself everyday.
    appreciate what you have, not what you have not.

    flying muppet yoda would say:
              simple things are they, improve life they will.

  • by d1zzvifiz (542002) on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @08:42AM (#13711391)
    If you search for happiness in the external world, you'll never find it. Because, logically, happiness comes from the mind itself. If you consider the rich, the famous, and even, the successful, they aren't necessarily happy because happiness doesn't depend on external things. I think if more people realized this truly, there would be less focus on materialism, and *more* peace in the world. As far as finding happiness through drugs... the brain is not the mind. It's related to the mind and it *can* affect the mind. How we feel is determined by what we believe in, not by our current predicament.

    Buy my tapes!
  • Re:heal thyself (Score:3, Insightful)

    by John Courtland (585609) on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @10:16AM (#13712178)
    I like your post, but I'm pretty sure Sucralose is chlorinated sucrose molecule. At least, that is what the company that produces it says. Here are some links:
    http://www.holisticmed.com/splenda/ [holisticmed.com] http://www.mercola.com/2000/dec/3/sucralose_danger s.htm# [mercola.com] http://www.ific.org/publications/brochures/sucralo sebroch.cfm [ific.org] http://www.sucralose.org/facts.html [sucralose.org]

    Please note I wasn't specifically looking for pros vs cons of the shit. I personally hate it, I can taste when it's in my food, and I have a sneaking suspicion it wrecked my digestive system. However, I don't know all there is to know about it so I really can't point fingers, but I can stop, and have stopped, eating it.
  • Flow (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @10:21AM (#13712226)
    For me, _Flow: The Psychology Of Optimal Experience_ by Mihaly Csiksczentmihalyi defines happiness. I'm happiest when I'm actively engaged in an activity that is neither so difficult that it's frustrating nor so easy that it's boring. If I'm mentally and psychologically engaged in doing something that's near the limits of my abilities, so that success is possible but not guaranteed, then life is good.
  • Re:heal thyself (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @10:39AM (#13712452)
    You sir, are a fucking idiot. You've been paying too much attention to the Jim Cunningham's [imdb.com] of this world. To claim that the causes of depression are based on our current culture's consumption of certain "foods" is absurd! Take note everyone, a low /. ID does not correllate to a higher learned intelligence level.
  • Re:Religion? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by glsunder (241984) on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @11:28AM (#13713032)
    Take a look at christianity without the blinders of organized religion on. Many of the teachings apply to happiness here on earth. Throw away the BS that others have added -- the rituals, the idea that people should suffer, that only bad people are poor, that only bad people are rich, that we should hate certain people, that the world is 6,000 years old, etc.

    What you're left with is basically: forgive people, be kind others, don't dwell on the negative, and enjoy the good things you have. Every one of those increases happiness for both the individual and others around them. Christianity isn't as bad as christians make it.
  • Re:heal thyself (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Maggott (849849) on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @02:17PM (#13714656) Homepage
    To my medical knowledge, what you eat can have a significant effect on your mood, but it's not the only cause, or even necessarily the most common one. Refind sugars can have a depressant effect by leading to low blood sugar. The body shoots out insulin to deal with the sudden sugar spike, but since the spike is very short you're left with a ton of insulin that prevents you from maintaining a sufficient supply until it can be cleared out.

    But even if you're just talking physical causes, there are others which can have the same effect--lack of sleep, exercise, and all that other "Health" stuff. Most people don't mentally link their state of mind with their state of body, because it's counterintuitive--most people think of their emotions, their thoughts, and their body as being distinct. They are not. That's why anti-depressants work in the first place. While they may ultimately be a band-aid for the effects of a persistant problem, we wear band-aids for a reason. Often the causes of depression are too difficult to ferret out, so we remove it's effects instead.

    So, in short, you're right that sugar can affect mood but sugar isn't the whole story.
  • Re:Religion? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Eli Gottlieb (917758) <eligottlieb@gm a i l .com> on Wednesday October 05, 2005 @01:07AM (#13719748) Homepage Journal
    :Sigh:

    The obligatory Buddhism Praising Hour...

    Look, people. The Buddhists are smart, but that's really all they have going for them. Do you really know what all that meditation is? It's THINKING! Nothing more than sitting still and calming the varying stimuli that affect your mind for long enough to apply the existential (Multiple Intelligence's word for philosophical/religious intelligence) intelligence you were born with.

    Siddartha Guatama really was just fortunate to be in a situation (a prince, I remember from History class) where he could take time off from constantly striving for what he THOUGHT would make him happy and think for a good long time (many years) about what REALLY would make him happy. He came up with Buddhism, what are your thoughts?

    You may now stop worshipping the fat Indian guy. It really doesn't matter what religion you are if you want to be happy, just THINK!

    As a starting hint, I've found that the key to happiness in anything is knowing when one's circumstances are GOOD ENOUGH rather than when they are perfect.

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