The Science Of Happiness
India Today|October 04, 2021
Four experts outline the psychological and physiological dimensions of the happy state of being

Q.How would you define happiness?

• NIMESH DESAI

Happiness is often seen as a state of mind without worries or negative emotions. Strictly speaking, it is one of the many emotional states of mind, that include sadness, anxiety, fear, etc. Over time, with the increasing occurrence of negative states of mind such as sadness and distress, the use of the term happiness, in public discourse, has become broad-based and all-encompassing to denote an overall positive state of mind. However, it is important to understand the contextualization of the use of the term happiness to avoid the error of seeing it literally. It would be fairly abnormal for anyone to be constantly happy, especially without a basis. The desirable goal should be to achieve a state of mind with more positive than negative elements. There are historical and cultural aspects to this evolving concept of happiness. For example, in the western world, individuals are encouraged to aspire for and work towards being happy. However, there are concerns about whether people who were well provided for are happy. Conversely, many eastern cultures encourage persons towards satisfaction or contentment, with usefulness or meaningfulness in existence.

• KAMLESH SINGH

Till date, we do not have a universal definition of happiness. Theoretically, there are different explanations. The hedonic and eudemonic perspectives, for instance, offer one way of conceptualizing it. In the hedonic perspective, happiness is equated with pleasure, comfort, enjoyment, etc. The eudemonic perspective equates happiness with a meaningful life, it is a theory of self-acceptance, personal growth, purpose in life, positive relations, environmental mastery, and autonomy. In some eastern models, happiness/ well-being is associated with peace of mind and inner harmony. Similarly, we also have Indian perspectives on happiness such as sat-chit-Anand (truth consciousness-bliss) which lead to Anand may—a state of mind. Besides theoretical perspectives, another way of conceptualizing it is to understand the views of the general public. Our research shows that there are different components to people’s view of happiness, be it positive emotions (joy, inner peace etc.), life satisfaction, healthy family ties, work and accomplishment, or leisure engagement.

One cannot be constantly happy, especially without basis. The goal must be to achieve a state of mind with more positive than negative elements DR NIMESH DESAI

• ROBERT BISWAS- DIENER

Happiness is a general term for a wide range of psychological phenomena. It is, in part, the experience of pleasant feelings such as joy. It is not solely, feelings, however. Happiness also includes a favorable outlook (optimism) and a sense that life is going relatively well (satisfaction). People from various cultures place differing weights on one or another aspect of happiness. Some cultures prize feelings of peace, while others might prize exuberance or enthusiasm. It is not that one group has a monopoly on the truth, there are benefits to each distinct cultural leaning.

• DR SHYAM BHAT

There is no universal definition for happiness, but one can think of it as an emotional state most people desire, a state where they feel positive and relaxed. Western culture, particularly American culture, sees the pursuit of happiness as the most important goal of life; in the east, including in ancient Indian culture, the goal was not happiness but Moksha, a state where the cycle of suffering stops. As the philosopher, John Stuart Mill observed, “Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so.” Ironically, as societies embrace the American ideal and start to pursue individual happiness, the rates of depression, anxiety and suicide increase. The consumerist culture is fuelled by the quest for happiness. Happiness is often confused with pleasure, which, from an evolutionary and biological perspective, is felt when an activity or substance causes the brain to release neurochemicals such as dopamine. But science and lived experience tell us that pleasure doesn’t last. The novelty wears off, the brain does not produce the same surge of dopamine, and the person is compelled to seek new experiences. Pleasure by its very nature is fleeting, while happiness is a more subtle and lasting state of mind. Those who seek pleasure find only momentary joy, before feeling dissatisfaction again.

Q.What key factors contribute to, or affect, our happiness?

• NIMESH DESAI

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