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The Science Of Happiness 542

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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  • 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.
  • Re:Religion? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 03, 2005 @08:30PM (#13708847)
    Speaking as a recovering Catholic, your happiness is whatever Rome says it is. That having been said, I feel the moment you postulate the soul (as it is understood in most Judeo-Christian religions), your Earthly happiness is moot for this world is a place of banishment and your only duty is to work/earn/bribe your way back to the Heavenly Host. That's why Christians find it as easy to torture people as do the non-Christians: What does it matter, the few hours it took him to die compared to an eternity at the side of our Heavenly father...

    Thanks, but no thanks.
  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • by grogdamighty ( 884570 ) on Monday October 03, 2005 @08:48PM (#13708964) Homepage
    From a pure natural selection standpoint, bettering oneself has nothing to do with selection - all that matters is that you reproduce.

    The whole point of natural selection is that you are already the best - that's why you've survived long enough to procreate.

  • 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.
  • 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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 03, 2005 @09:11PM (#13709062)
    Happiness can be had for nothing when you are bipolar. I have had the most intense short lived happiness for no plausible reason. Euphoria without cause is like a drug. You crave it most when you are slightly teased with an elevated mood.

    True happiness is in proportion to a well founded perception of reality. Empty happiness is the euphoria of a drug induced haze.

    Tis ironic that I'm down without reason and reflecting on happiness. I'll take either empty or true happiness. Sometimes it doesn't matter.

    P.S. I don't do drugs or meds. I'm just a mule and carry whatever mood falls on my shoulders.
  • 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
  • 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)
  • by Errandboy of Doom ( 917941 ) on Monday October 03, 2005 @09:47PM (#13709229) Homepage bound to be wrong.

    Catholicism on Happiness:

    "Man has one ultimate purpose of existence: eternal happiness in a future life. But man also has a twofold proximate purpose: to earn his title to eternal happiness, and to attain to a measure of temporal happiness consistent with the prior proximate purpose."

    This is from "State and Church []," in New Advent's Catholic Encyclopedia [].

  • Re:Money? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Himring ( 646324 ) on Monday October 03, 2005 @09:54PM (#13709257) Homepage Journal
    It doesn't buy everything in life, but what it don't buy I don't like....
  • by beesquee ( 674821 ) on Monday October 03, 2005 @10:31PM (#13709496)
    National Geographic had an article about measuring happiness in cultures using MRI's. They found out of all the people scanned Tibetan monks were by far the happiest people in the world despite living in subpoverty conditions. Make you think those buddhist's are onto something.
  • Bah! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by benjamindees ( 441808 ) on Monday October 03, 2005 @10:43PM (#13709566) Homepage
    Everybody knows that Catholics aren't Christian!

    Seriously, though, you're right the Catholic church sold golden tickets into heaven for a long time. But it's not like that had anything to do with Jesus or anything.
  • Re:I remember (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 03, 2005 @10:53PM (#13709628)
    You have dozens of things wrong with you that you don't know about, and won't until they manifest themselves as symptoms. Which is to say that you aren't in perfect health, and really no one is. Frankly no one cares what you think, and the content of your posts reads like pseudo-intellectual babble.
  • Psychedelic Drugs (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 03, 2005 @11:05PM (#13709684)
    I am curious as to what people have experienced with psychedelic drugs. I have personally done mushrooms and lsd, and both changed my perspective on life for the better. I wasn't happier, but I was less anxious and more willing to try more things. Going out wasn't such a chore. I've read in many places about shamans as the original psychologists of ancient culture and while their practices were risky, I think they might have had more success than many modern day psychologists. I recommend research into this for anyone who is interested.
    I'm currently in therapy and I don't do any drugs any more, but I don't discount what I've "learned" from my drug use. Some day, I'll try mushrooms again and see if I can't open my mind in places where I'm currently repressed. I think that those repressed areas represent a lot of pain for me and I can't get there normally, but with the help of these drugs and a qualified therapist I hope to explore these areas and unlock them for my every day life.
    Reply if you have had any experience in this area, I would be very interested in hearing your response.
  • by anotherzeb ( 837807 ) on Monday October 03, 2005 @11:31PM (#13709792)
    According to scientific research posted here at the BBC website [], the Buddhists faith looks as though it might have something going for it. The research says that brain scans show that Buddhists are the happiest people. There is some stuff on meditation helping to ease the symptoms of depression here []
  • Re:Paradox (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @12:15AM (#13709989) Homepage
    Happiness itself is a philisophical question as to whether or not it exists/is attainable. I saw somebody post something about the 4 noble truth's, hey thats a good start. Pascal uses God but really you can use any silly old thing you decide to but faith in. Whether it be your friends and loved ones or a favorite toy or blanket. Anything you trust enough can be a source of happiness (IMHappyOpinion).

    Well, in many ways, the Four Noble Truths aren't really something you are supposed to have faith in. Faith, fundamentally, is secondary to logically reasoning and deciding for yourself the teachings are accurate.

    I guess the only article of 'faith' in Buddhism is that you agree with the observations about suffering and its causes, and think the solutions make sense. It's a moral and metaphysical outlook, but it's not something you take on faith.

    At its simplest, Buddhism is about compassion and quelling the noisy mind. Either it resonates with you and makes sense, or you're free to pick or ignore anything that works for you -- or, choose to ignore it altogether.

    As for Pascal ...
    You cannot be a sceptic or a Platonist without stifling nature, you cannot be a dogmatist without turning your back on reason.

    Buddhism offers a middle path. Rational exploration of the world around you, as well as a guides for behaviour in order not to increase suffering and to reach enlightenment. It also completely incorporates gods and ghosts and everything else in between -- to the best of my knowledge, skepticism about those is a personal choice.

    Unlike fundamentalist Christians, for example, who dogmatically insist the world was created exactly according to the bible, Buddhists accept that some of the body of literature is intended to be metaphorical in nature. And believe that whatever the science tells you is what really happened.

    Now, yes, an eager new monk is going to have a religious aspect, but practising Buddhism doesn't actually require faith or dogma.

    If you're more interested, read some Pema Chodron, Thicht Nhat Han, or something from the Dalai Lama. It's quite accessible -- not full of formal/religious Buddhism, just useful life stuff.

    At least, that's one Westerner's limited perspective. =)

  • 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.
  • Re:Religion? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by arose ( 644256 ) on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @12:34AM (#13710073)
    Don't Christians have the right to defend themselves when Muslims attack them?
    Depends [], but either way not all crusades are alike [].
  • by Creepy Crawler ( 680178 ) on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @02:19AM (#13710397)
    ---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 mother) thought I was going to really hurt her. I could speak some, but there was no speaking necessary.

    There was compassion. I knew she was going to die, and die she did. She passed the next day, after seeing me. She knew of nobody in the room, but she recognized me as her baby boy.

    I never had a fear of death, even being close to those who were near. It's not sad or despairing. It's peaceful, tranquil.. melancholy. I feel sad for those who do think terrible and dredging thoughts with somebody near death.

    ---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.

    What is there to learn? You die. Maybe now, maybe later, but you WILL die. Nothing your parents/teachers/church leaders can tell you and give you an "informed view". Some believe that you only have 1 chance, and then you go to an absolute good or bad place. I dont like that. I wish to better myself and share compassion to others, but I might take many lives to do that. If, somehow, I attain enlightenment here now, I wont have to live again. Eternal nothingness will be freedom, or is that eternal everythingness?

    ---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 well. My faith wasn't so good, then in 2003 God spoke to me,"Good News", and I recieved a Good News bible soon after. When I found out God exists for a fact, Jesus is Lord.

    If you dont mind, what was the fact that God exists (seriously, not from a flaming point of view). I have personally witnessed 'concidences' that fell together all to well. Point in being is thus: After my grandmother died (from cancer), later on came my mothers birthday. She was almost to tears remembering how my grandmother would always send her a card, get her some thoughtful present, and call her. At the store (with my sister), she went and bought a lottery ticket (not 5, 10, or 50, just 1 single ticket). As she scratched it, she won 20$. Looking underneath the ticket, at the local paper, it had the small headline, "grandmother gives after death".

    That day was my mothers birthday (when that happened). Take it as you wish.

    ---I also learned that he promises eternal life. I didn't go looking for a way to avoid death and thusly believed in Christianity because it was the only possible answer. I found out God exists for a fact then I realized he promises eternal life!

    Eternal anything sounds like fun after the first 100 million years, but after that sounds like an "amusement park prison". I would rather, for eternity, not exist, or blend my consciousness with the universe. For many people, they want a pretty place to call good (heaven). The other absolute is Hell. Once you in either, you're stuck there for ever. Even the idea of an absolute good or bad seems... bad. Does your sect of Christanity allow do-overs, or are you condemned to wherever you are "judged" to go?

    ---You can speak for yourself and say that God doesn't make you happy. But for me knowing death isn't the end of things makes me a very happy person.

    After reading much of the Bible, and finding I disagree with the very conduct of "God", I determined that he wasnt honorable. Jesus, on the other hand, was honorable. Soddom and Gomorrah could have been easily dealt with, if "God" was to show the evil to each person there. No viol
  • Re:Psychedelic Drugs (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @03:17AM (#13710557)
    Salvia Divinorum.

    It is an amazing experience.

    I'm non-religious, so I take the experience as a real mind-job as opposed to something spiritual or whatever. However, it permits you enough of a disconnect that you can look at yourself from a different angle when you come back to reality.
  • Re:heal thyself (Score:4, Interesting)

    by BKX ( 5066 ) on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @03:32AM (#13710587) Journal
    While I agree with you, your argument lacks cohesion. Did you forget a paragraph going from a "myriad [of] consequential effects of the various substances you ... take in" to "any [drug] dependency ... is an indicator that something deeper is going wrong"? NB: I am not trying to be an ass.

    These studies to which you refer are probably the myriad of studies showing how bad the crap added to our food is. Drugs have nothing (or little, more often maybe) to do with it. Most people suffering from depression (This is NOT a joke!) can be done with it in about two weeks by eliminated high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) from their diet. This usually means not drinking pop and buying the expensive condiments. Many more will recover by also eliminating white sugar. This is more difficult but possible. If you like candy, you will need to learn to make your own from natural unrefined sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup (the real kind, not "maple-flavored syrup". You'll pay big bucks for it but it is worth every penny), and stevia for those that want it calorie free. The other big cause of depression in our food and beverages is artificial sweeteners, including but not limited to aspartame, saccharin and sucralose. These are actually worse than sugar and HFCS and will cause you to GAIN WEIGHT if you use too much. If you ditch those sweeteners entirely, you WILL lose weight and probably get over depression.

    Remember, the only reason you don't know how bad this stuff is is because depressed people will consume more of it. Like the companies that sell this shit want you eating less. That's why they pay megabucks to develop artificial sweeteners that make you fat. You'll buy more of it. NB: HFCS is also artificial. It is a chemical cocktail produced from corn. Sucralose (Splenda) is also a chemical, created from corn using petroleum.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @04:56AM (#13710792)
    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.

    So true happiness is not affected by drugs? So true happiness must not be physiological and must reside somewhere other than the body/brain? So precisely _where_ does true happiness reside - in the soul, in the "great all of Buddha", in your mother?

    You need to read Listening to Prozac [] by psychotherapist Peter D. Kramer, M.D. Kramer is a psychotherapist who once used primarily analytical techniques. He then prescribed a new drug, Prozac, to some of his patients. Many whose problems were unsolved by analysis were "cured" by Prozac within weeks - they became "different people": more productive, more outgoing, more intelligent, etc.

    At the end of the book Kramer envisions a world where people can take designer drugs to boost their social status: failing to use drugs would result in lower social status, income, sexual success, etc. He also now doubts that analysis is a cure; medication works faster and is more certain.

    Happiness is chemistry pure and simple.

  • Buddhism (Score:2, Interesting)

    by cyanide ( 5741 ) on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @06:35AM (#13711032) Homepage Journal
    Isn't buddism the science of happiness? .php?cid=4&lid=140 []
  • by node 3 ( 115640 ) on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @07:41AM (#13711178)
    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 opposite. Not onl to they make the depressed person normal, but they do so without crippling the person's ability to cope with real-life. In other words, for some people, these drugs do, in fact, "plug the hole".
  • Re:Religion? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Dogtanian ( 588974 ) on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @09:35AM (#13711760) Homepage
    As stated by two previous ACs, one of the main observations of the Buddha is that all life is suffering.

    That's not necessarily true; I believe the word 'suffering' is a possibly misleading translation of the word 'dukkha'. This is hard to translate, but could possibly be phrased as 'unsatisfactoriness'.

    (I am not a linguistics scholar, nor a Buddhist, so no-one reading this should quote the above in their PhD thesis).

  • by Rycross ( 836649 ) on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @10:47AM (#13712549)
    Eh, its more like when you take the pills you can see that the big black blotch is just a small dab of spilled ink on an otherwise perfectly white sheet of paper. I've taken anti-depressants, and they didn't make me happy. They allowed me to get my head under control, and gain some perspective. That, in turn, allowed me to be happy.
  • by crazyphilman ( 609923 ) on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @10:49AM (#13712577) Journal
    You know what I find ironic? There's an actual story in the gospels that contradicts this guy's whole script about original sin and redemption. Here we go (I'm paraphrasing):

    A rich kid goes up to Jesus and asks, "How does one win entry into the kingdom of heaven?"

    Jesus replies "Follow the commandments."

    The kid says "Is that all there is to it?"

    Jesus says, "Well, if you want to be perfect, give your money to the poor and follow me as a disciple."

    The kid went away, saddened at this. Apparently he didn't want to give up his money.

    Jesus said as the kid walked away, "It is harder for a rich man to enter heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle."

    So, there you have it. If you want to get into heaven, obey the commandments. Nothing about swearing allegiance to Jesus, nothing about original sin, nothing about anything but "be nice to each other". If you want to be "perfect", follow Jesus and preach the Word, but he never said you HAD to.

    I think Christians tend to forget that JESUS WAS A JEW, so he believed in Jewish rules. He even said, "I am not the end of the law but the fulfillment of it".

    What happened was, over the past couple of thousand years, the Roman Catholic Church rearranged Jesus' principles in their dogma to solidify their power. It's pretty hard to threaten people if all they have to do to get into heaven is be nice to others. If a priest has to utter some magic words over your deathbed, though... Well, there ya go! Instant power.

    My .02...

  • 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.

The optimum committee has no members. -- Norman Augustine