I’ve always understood myself to be one of the most fortunate people who ever lived, no small reason for which is the fact that I’m pretty much always happy. My happiness meter seems to be set a couple of cranks higher than “C level.” But lately I’ve come to realize that this good grade in good feeling is quite widespread; indeed, it would seem that the ability to be happy most of the time is built into all human beings (else, I suppose, we might all take a hard look at each other and immediately decline to thrive). The problem, it seems, is that we are also prone to making bad decisions, the kind that dampen down our natural joi de vivre — and thus the American Declaration of Independence should have had it as “the maintenance of happiness” rather than (in Johnson’s coinage) “the pursuit of happiness.”
Science is taking an interest in happiness, which is how I’ve come to readjust my views. There’s even a Journal of Happiness Studies
I find it interesting that although a number of studies have come out over the past few years that reveal there is no positive relationship between wealth and happiness (once you’re past subsistence level) we as a society continue to pursue more riches as our main goal. Even at the micro level we frustrate our innate contentment mechanism: the latest thing to catch my eye in this regard is a piece by James Surowiecki (of Wisdom of Crowds fame) in the New Yorker in which he points out that gadget makers continue to increase the number of features on devices, consumers continue to prefer gadgets with more bells and whistles, but once buyers turn into users the greater “wealth” (my term) only makes them unhappy.
If you doubt that we screw up our ability to be happy in this sort of way, listen to Dan Gilbert, Harvard psychology prof, talk about how we manufacture happiness and how we often choose not to do that.
This is one of a number of TED lectures by brilliant talkers on the topic, so you might want to have a listen to the rest. But whatever you do this weekend, don’t worry, be…