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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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  • Happiness (Score:5, Funny)

    by CmdrTaco (troll) (578383) on Monday October 03, 2005 @08:16PM (#13708760) Homepage
    Is a successful FP.
  • by Quiet_Desperation (858215) on Monday October 03, 2005 @08:18PM (#13708767)
    I'm such a black hearted emotionless wreck at this point, looking for happiness is a fruitless endeavor.
  • 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 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... :-)
      • by node 3 (115640)
        Now, now... anti-depressants don't actually make you happy...

        They most certainly can (and do). Happiness is a state-of-mind. The state of one's mind is highly dependent on chemicals and drugs.

        It doesn't fix the problem, but it will keep you afloat until you can get to a safe harbour and repair the damage.

        You're thinking of drugs like alcohol and heroine, which make people feel better but also degrade that person's ability to interface with reality, and manage their life.

        Anti-depressants are the exact opposi
    • You should look into current studies on the curative effects of psychedelics on depression.
  • 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.
    • Religion may make "the self" happy, but in a lot of cases it makes people around them unhappy - especially with too much proselytisng and trying to hamper peoples' freedoms (which is quite often the case with religionists).
    • Re:Religion? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by JanneM (7445) on Monday October 03, 2005 @09:06PM (#13709040) Homepage
      I'm surprised the article doesn't explore Religion and it's affect on people's happiness.

      Probably because religion - just like many other things - are somewhat orthogonal to happiness. Being religious does not make you more or less likely to be happy.

      I dare say it's not what you take an interest in that matters, but that you do take an interest in something that is the important thing. Whether you crusade for an old testament-based judicial system with mandatory stoning for wearing mixed fibers; or campaign for the right to gay sex with donkeys dressed up as nuns in public while smoking pot from a cross-shaped bong really doesn't matter for your happiness just as long as you are passionate about it.

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

      by Eil (82413)
      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.)
  • Money always seems to make me happy.
  • by puppetman (131489) on Monday October 03, 2005 @08:23PM (#13708804) Homepage
    Saw a message of the day at the bottom of the slashdot page a few weeks ago:

    "Men don't know what happiness is until they are married, but by then it's too late".

    Good for wedding toasts...
    • Saw a message of the day at the bottom of the slashdot page a few weeks ago: "Men don't know what happiness is until they are married, but by then it's too late". Good for wedding toasts...

      I feel today's is equally (if not more) relevant:
      "Beam me up, Scotty! It ate my phaser!"

      Nothing quite like watching William Shatner be bullied by a giant noodly space monster. Weeping with full stops between the sobs, and the like.
    • 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 ZakuSage (874456) on Monday October 03, 2005 @08:25PM (#13708807)
    Happiness is a warm gun.
  • by drijen (919269) on Monday October 03, 2005 @08:25PM (#13708808)
    For many of my co-workers here in the bible belt, hapiness is letting their worries be "god's" worries. IF thats so for most religious people, i would cynically say that hapiness is letting someone else have repsonsibilty. The article seems to concretrate heavily on the religous "values".

    I look it a different way:

    When i die, i want to fly, sliding on my side at 100 MPH into the pearly gates, wearing a huge smile smile, yelling "WOW! What a ride!".

    I hate for my life to be dull and unispiring - that for me is happiness.

    I wonder if they did a case study on Adrenaline junkies, priests, and people like Linus Torvalds. Only then could i trust the science of happiness :(
  • by cold fjord (826450) on Monday October 03, 2005 @08:25PM (#13708811)

    Anyone concerned with happiness might want to consider reading Happiness is a Serious Problem [] by Dennis Prager.

    He devotes an hour a week (called the "Happiness Hour") on his radio program [] to the question of happiness.

    Agree or disagree, he is thought provoking. His approach is also interesting in that he values clarity over agreement and has callers and guests from across the ideological / political spectrum.

  • Nice Guy (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mysqlrocks (783488) on Monday October 03, 2005 @08:25PM (#13708813) Homepage Journal
    Dogs who experience electric shocks that they cannot avoid by their actions simply give up trying. They will passively endure later shocks that they could easily escape.

    Wow, sounds like a really nice guy. Isn't this cruelty to animals? Oh wait, it's for science so it's OK.
    • Dogs who experience electric shocks that they cannot avoid by their actions simply give up trying. They will passively endure later shocks that they could easily escape.

      Ah, shit... they're on to me! This bird's gonna fly!

  • Soma (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Misanthrope (49269)

    Soma []
  • by The Amazing Fish Boy (863897) on Monday October 03, 2005 @08:35PM (#13708882) Homepage Journal
    Warning: Wishy-washy bullshit approaching. Proceed with caution.

    Learn that you do not need anything except the biological neccessities for survival. Appreciate the present, but don't be considered with the future. Give up all attachments. Take only what you need to live.

    The fact is, the more you have, the more you want. Do you ever see anyone without a TV lusting after a big screen plasma TV? Do you ever see someone without a computer lusting after the latest AMD processor? They spend time with those they care about, they read things, they think, they learn. Not only can you not buy happiness, buying actively makes you unhappy.
  • Think about all the things that get us angry and upset. How many of them are really justified? People get angry at things that don't matter much at all. Like getting your old posts that are not read any more modded down, or the annoyance a person gets when they see a mistake in spelling or grammar. When the read an article basing Linux, Mac OS, or GNU. Even if every linux distribution company went out of business or just stopped and the Supreme Court declared that Microsoft is the only software distri
  • by GillBates0 (664202) on Monday October 03, 2005 @08:38PM (#13708899) Homepage Journal
    This article opens up new insight into the common perceptions of what makes us happy, such as having more friends and more money.

    Interesting article...especially given my recent reading on the Hindu/Buddhistic concept of "detachment". These traditions prescribe detachment from wordly/materialistic desires in order to achieve contentment in life.

    In short, anything that you're sufficiently attached to, that can give you enough happiness, can cause you as much pain when taken away. The solution therefore, is to follow a middle path practising detachment from all wordly desires, so as to walk along the middle path - neither be swayed emotionally toward too much towards happiness, nor being overly susceptible to sadness.

    Happiness is a short lived emotion, (often accompanied by a potentially negative emotion of sadness) while contentment with what you have is usually a longer lived state of mind.

    /Not overly religious...just a philosophy I like subscribing to...especially after a recent -ve swing in the state of affairs.

  • by SpaceLifeForm (228190) on Monday October 03, 2005 @08:38PM (#13708903)
    ... kernel.

    Yep, that's the ticket!

  • by antiquark (87200) on Monday October 03, 2005 @08:38PM (#13708904)
    Happiness isn't having what you want, it's wanting what you have.

  • The question "what do you have to do to find happiness?" is a Philosophy question, not something that can be answered through Science.

    Drugs don't really make people happy. Happiness must come from within.

    The Happy life is thought to be one of excellence; now an excellent life requires exertion, and does not consist in amusement. If Eudaimonia, or happiness, is activity in accordance with excellence, it is reasonable that it should be in accordance with the highest excellence; and this will be that of the
    • Drugs don't really make people happy. Happiness must come from within.

      Looks like happiness, smells like happiness, must be happiness. I really don't buy that, it smells to much like the grounding of Kants ethics, where source matters more than ends/means. I don't like or buy the distinction. If it leads to happiness, it must lead to happiness, because how can something be indistinguishable from the real thing, but not the thing itself?

      Not that I advocate drugs. But I got to run, got a wine tasting.
    • From what I remember from college, Eudaimonia doesn't really translate as happiness, rather, it's more like "Flourishing."
  • Money (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dfn5 (524972) on Monday October 03, 2005 @08:41PM (#13708921) Journal
    They say money can't buy happiness. However true this may be having the bill collectors call day in and day out certainly doesn't contribute to happiness either.
    • 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 Ranger (1783) on Monday October 03, 2005 @08:43PM (#13708929) Homepage
    "Kids, we're going to the happiest place on earth - Tijuana, Mexico!" 8F24 []
  • Because Slash has finally started working on its HTML/CSS. I thought it would never happen. Now if it could only catch up to other CMSs and similar platforms.........
  • by Locke2005 (849178) on Monday October 03, 2005 @08:45PM (#13708948)
    Getting laid on a regular basis sure doesn't hurt... and if that doesn't work, try Prozac!
  • I have the solution for unhappiness: ask yourself as often as you can if you are happy.

    (ok someone smarter than me said that, don't remember the name and maybe is not even relevant)

  • I think a lot of us tend to equate happiness with "pleasure" of some kind, which might be the wrong way to look at it. Think of drug addiction: eventually, you need the drug not to feel good, but to feel "normal." The "good feeling" always goes away, and the more you keep looking for it, the harder it gets to hold onto it. I think it might be fair to say that this idea of happiness is really a species of suffering.

    Serenity, on the other hand, stays with you. When you stop looking for happiness, you'll

  • as remembering our lives before about three years old.

    Why is it we consider it normal to have "blacked out" our entire childhoods, when such a blackout is considered a symptom of psychosis?

    Could our culture itself be psychotic? If so, what would be the symptoms of a psychotic culture? Frequent wars, famines, early sickness and death, personalized unhappiness, generalized misery, systematic abuse and periodic "ethnic cleansings"?

    We are bigger than the culture that tries to confine and contain us, so we becom
    • I remember (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Dog135 (700389) <> on Monday October 03, 2005 @09:23PM (#13709121)
      Happiness is remembering our childhoods entire.
      It is possible; I have done it.

      I never forgot my childhood. I remember crawling around, I remember breast feeding, (somethings I wish I could forget) and I even remember being born. (as well as an undeterminable duration of being inside my mom)

      The reason, I'm sure, has part to do with the fact I was born a full month late, and part to do with the fact that I'm both autistic (I clearly remember visual things very well) and I have ADD. (I tend to repeat things in my mind over and over)

      I must say, the memories themselves have never brought me happiness. What makes me happy is improving myself by learning new things and new skills. And there will always be an abundance of things for me to learn. If I didn't have to worry about money, I'd be happy my whole life. This past year on paid leave, then unemployment has been wonderful, not counting the occasional meeting I had to go to.

      Work, and by association, money, are the root of unhappiness. (esp. working at a state job)
  • Attitude (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Bullfish (858648) on Monday October 03, 2005 @09:06PM (#13709037)
    Really, happiness is subjective, but it like so many emotions is largely controlled by your attitude. If you're a cynic and prone to expect the worst, you can expect that to colour your outlook. If you think about it (at least here in the western world), most of our problems are transitory in nature. Things you sweated bricks about 10 years ago have little impact to how you feel today. Things that seemed insurmountable change with perspective and distance. It's the in-the-moment gut wrenching that take a lot of us down. If you can keep things in perspective, even your worst problems will not drag you down to the mud. If you can stand your ground and hold your attitude, your sense of self respect will keep you above water.

    Simple perhaps, but the saying goes that you are only as happy as you decide to be

    Emotions by their very nature are transitory.
    • You're right of course, but part of the real question at hand is, "where does your attitude come from?" On those days when you wake up on the wrong side of the bed, it's really bloody difficult to keep a positive attitude, even when you know you're being irrational. A few years back, I made a correlation between my sleep and my attitude--after a night of insufficient sleep, I'm almost invariably in a lousy mood, and the tiniest things PISS ME OFF!!!!!

      The question is, why? What is it about sleep deprivation
  • Happiness is what happens when we're doing something else.
  • by heldlikesound (132717) on Monday October 03, 2005 @09:12PM (#13709070) Homepage
    God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.

    C.S. Lewis
    • Before I knew God I had a fear of death from like when I was 6 years old. Before I knew everyone died, I thought people just got old. I wanted to be content to just live forever playing newer and better video games. When I learned about death, my whole priorities changed. I felt that I had to live more for the moment and get as much in this life as possible so I don't miss anything.

      People told me God exists and I went to a Christian Church, but it was hard for me to grasp and I never understood it
      • ---Before I knew God I had a fear of death from like when I was 6 years old. Before I knew everyone died, I thought people just got old.

        Actually, I remember when my great-grandmother died. I was 2 and 1/2 and a "crazy toddler". Yet, with no pictures and no telling what happened, I can vividly describe her, her clothes, the room, the way leading to her room (in the hospital), and countless other facts. I remember holding her hand, and her skin was like tissue paper. My parents (and grandparent there, her mot
  • by Twinbee (767046)
    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.
  • "The question is not happy or unhappy, it's blessed or unblessed."

    - Bob Dylan
  • Exercise! (Score:4, Informative)

    by dentar (6540) on Monday October 03, 2005 @09:22PM (#13709120) Homepage Journal
    Plenty of exercise works. Seriously. Exercise cures depression. It's really that simple!

    (This doesn't apply to people with screwed-up brain chemistry.)

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

    by Spy der Mann (805235) <> on Monday October 03, 2005 @10:10PM (#13709366) Homepage Journal's_Pyramid []

    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.
  • 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
  • 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 CraigV (126819) on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @12:25AM (#13710038) Homepage
    The article was rather interesting, but didn't discuss my favorite theory:
    Happiness is often thought of being connected to one's health or economic well being, but I have considered it more connected with the rate of change of one's well being. A poor or unhealthy person can be happy if things look like they are getting better; a rich or healthy person can be unhappy if things are getting worse.
  • by starling (26204) <> on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @12:51AM (#13710138)
    1. RTFA
    2. ???
    3. Prof^wHappiness
  • by smithmc (451373) * on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @12:10PM (#13713459) Journal
    "Conan! What is best in life?"

    "To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women!"
  • Wrong angle. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Shotgun (30919) on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @12:25PM (#13713597)
    Misery makes people self-obsessed and inactive.

    My experience is the exact opposite. Self-obsession and inactivity make people miserable. And it IS a positive feedback loop.

"Just think of a computer as hardware you can program." -- Nigel de la Tierre