Monday, July 7, 2008

July/ Chapter 3: The pursuit of happiness

One could argue, the reason we want relationships, why we have friends and seek a partner in life, is to create happiness. It’s the same reason why we work to make money, so we can afford to live a happier lifestyle. In fact everything we do in life is to attain more happiness.

Happiness can have profound properties on us. Happiness leads to longer life, better health, resilience to illnesses, and better performance at work and study. Evidence from a study suggest the difference in life span between the happiest people and depressed people was as high as nine years.

So what makes us happier?

Well first of all how happy someone is, is heavily affected by genetics. That’s because different people react differently to happy events, stressful events, and the overall contentment level can vary between individuals that have the same lifestyle.

Happiness can come from things that give us short busts of pleasure. Could be having a nice meal, or buying a new car, or even having sex with someone.

However, happiness that comes from pleasure wears off quickly. In fact, doing pleasurable activities repeatedly can often create an addiction to that lifestyle, and if the person gets too much of the same stimuli they will feel bored or sad without it. We could be talking about anything from skydiving on weekends, partying all the time, to taking drugs.
This is why I said earlier in this blog, people who party too much will find it harder to settle down even if they meet someone nice. The person won't seem important enough to make the sacrifice of a lifestyle change.

The second main source of happiness comes from family and friends. The more friends we have and the deeper the relationships with the people around us, the better we will feel. In addition to the family we were born into, getting married and creating a family of our own can create happiness.

If someone is not doing well financially or suffering from ill health then they will not be as happy. Financial and physical well being are important to our happiness, which is why generally people in developed countries are happier than in developing countries. But we only need a minimum level of wealth to feel good, after that extra wealth do not really create more happiness.

The Fourth source is having long term goals that are also enjoyable. This could be linked to work, a business or pursuit outside of work.

Last but not least, having a meaning in life is very important. There is evidence people that are religious are happier because they have a belief that is bigger than themselves. A very good family man I know once said the same about having family and children, it gave him his purpose in life.

So are we really happy, us city dwellers, especially in a city as big and stressful as HK?

In the developed world the standard of living has gone up a lot in the last 50 years, but happiness has actually gone down slightly in polls of respondents. That’s mainly because although we can afford more, we’re losing net happiness by living more stressful lives. Also, richer people will compare themselves to those around them, so it’s possible to have more money and still feel poorer. Your typical banker who's not happy with his bonus is the best example.

So although money can buy more happiness, its effect after the basic necessities of life are covered are negligible. What people need to be happy long term is probably a healthy balance of pleasurable stimuli, long term goals, relationships with other human beings, and some form of meaning in life.

Now all these points might seem very obvious. But then after reading this post your average HK person will go back to living their lives full of short term pleasurable stimuli. Almost ignorant to the fact that the very environment we live in, which is full of short term fixes makes it much harder for us to form a longer lasting relationship with anyone.


Anonymous said...

Sorry but i don't think that happiness is written in our genes, it's only the fact how people see life and issue.

Time is flying, we have more and more responsibilities, we need to be focus on certain point and leave the others. And as we leave the other points, it is just not important to us and then we will laugh at them and forget them.

For our focused points, we will spend a lot of time on them and will be happy to do it, because it was worthful.

To me, happiness is a choice of living and thinking. Why are we crying when we have the chance to be happy? How lucky are we compared to people living in the third countries?

I think people should more open their eyes and their mind. We do have friends not for a pursuit of happiness, but because we need to fulfil ourself by talking to people, sharing our thinking, our feeling, the fact that we are helpful to people and so on.


Carlton Bradshaw said...

Well I certainly think the environment has a much bigger impact. But there's been a lot of studies done to show that happiness is linked to genetics. A good example is twin studies of twins that have identical genes but living in different environments. Some people are more prone to depression, whilst others will naturally be more optimistic.

I'm a firm believer though that everyone can work on increasing their own level of happiness.

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