Happiness Is Overrated

File-Face-smile“Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” is one of the most famous phrases in the United States Declaration of Independence. These three aspects are listed among the “unalienable rights” or sovereign rights of man.* But some new research suggests that happiness ain’t all that; Shirley S. Wang reports for the Wall Street Journal:

The relentless pursuit of happiness may be doing us more harm than good.

Some researchers say happiness as people usually think of it—the experience of pleasure or positive feelings—is far less important to physical health than the type of well-being that comes from engaging in meaningful activity. Researchers refer to this latter state as “eudaimonic well-being.”

Happiness research, a field known as “positive psychology,” is exploding. Some of the newest evidence suggests that people who focus on living with a sense of purpose as they age are more likely to remain cognitively intact, have better mental health and even live longer than people who focus on achieving feelings of happiness.

In fact, in some cases, too much focus on feeling happy can actually lead to feeling less happy, researchers say.

The pleasure that comes with, say, a good meal, an entertaining movie or an important win for one’s sports team—a feeling called “hedonic well-being”—tends to be short-term and fleeting. Raising children, volunteering or going to medical school may be less pleasurable day to day. But these pursuits give a sense of fulfillment, of being the best one can be, particularly in the long run.

“Sometimes things that really matter most are not conducive to short-term happiness,” says Carol Ryff, a professor and director of the Institute on Aging at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

“Eudaimonia” is a Greek word associated with Aristotle and often mistranslated as “happiness”—which has contributed to misunderstandings about what happiness is. Some experts say Aristotle meant “well-being” when he wrote that humans can attain eudaimonia by fulfilling their potential. Today, the goal of understanding happiness and well-being, beyond philosophical interest, is part of a broad inquiry into aging and why some people avoid early death and disease. Psychologists investigating eudaimonic versus hedonic types of happiness over the past five to 10 years have looked at each type’s unique effects on physical and psychological health…

[continues in the Wall Street Journal]

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  • Kali23Yuga

    “Mankind does not strive for happiness; only the Englishman does that.”
    -Friedrich Nietzsche-

  • Kali23Yuga

    “Mankind does not strive for happiness; only the Englishman does that.”
    -Friedrich Nietzsche-

  • Guest

    Happiness is the seeking and the occasional finding of itself.

  • Anonymous

    Happiness is the seeking and the occasional finding of itself.

  • razzlebathbone

    So the Wall Street Journal wants to tell us that even if we feel happy, it’s not really happiness. Spending time with friends, enjoying good food, playing and having fun… these things don’t really count. What counts is “meaningful” activity, like working, reproducing and going to school.

    I’ll grant that most commercially available pre-packaged “fun” is thoroughly unfulfilling. But this article sets up a dichotomy between just that kind of false “fun” and a kind of false “meaningfulness”, so that no matter which choice the reader makes, they wind up empty and unsatisfied. Sad.

  • Anonymous

    So the Wall Street Journal wants to tell us that even if we feel happy, it’s not really happiness. Spending time with friends, enjoying good food, playing and having fun… these things don’t really count. What counts is “meaningful” activity, like working, reproducing and going to school.

    I’ll grant that most commercially available pre-packaged “fun” is thoroughly unfulfilling. But this article sets up a dichotomy between just that kind of false “fun” and a kind of false “meaningfulness”, so that no matter which choice the reader makes, they wind up empty and unsatisfied. Sad.

  • Anonymous

    So the Wall Street Journal wants to tell us that even if we feel happy, it’s not really happiness. Spending time with friends, enjoying good food, playing and having fun… these things don’t really count. What counts is “meaningful” activity, like working, reproducing and going to school.

    I’ll grant that most commercially available pre-packaged “fun” is thoroughly unfulfilling. But this article sets up a dichotomy between just that kind of false “fun” and a kind of false “meaningfulness”, so that no matter which choice the reader makes, they wind up empty and unsatisfied. Sad.

  • Liam_McGonagle

    Well, the WSJ does have its point: Struggling to make the system work for the people requires too much sacrifice for the elites; better for the unwashed masses to quietly accept their disfunctional state.

    • Andrew

      Seems to me like struggling to make the system work for the people is more of a meaningful endeavour than it is one that results in happiness.

  • Liam_McGonagle

    Well, the WSJ does have its point: Struggling to make the system work for the people requires too much sacrifice for the elites; better for the unwashed masses to quietly accept their disfunctional state.

  • Dan

    Does anyone know why this article was posted with a narrowly-defined reference to the DoI? It misses the points that:
    1. “happiness” could easily be defined as “eudaimonic well-being”, and if that were a goal the entire reference would be moot.
    2. the inalienable right of the pursuit of happiness isn’t subject to whether or not it seems like a good idea at the time. It’s there. We have it.

  • Dan

    Does anyone know why this article was posted with a narrowly-defined reference to the DoI? It misses the points that:
    1. “happiness” could easily be defined as “eudaimonic well-being”, and if that were a goal the entire reference would be moot.
    2. the inalienable right of the pursuit of happiness isn’t subject to whether or not it seems like a good idea at the time. It’s there. We have it.

  • Nobody

    Yes, today science has confirmed for us that being a self absorbed douche that lives for the moment and doesn’t have any comphrehension of the phrase “know thyself” will not help you achieve real happiness. Our studies have shown that all of the wise sages from the past 6,000 years who have been relentlessly repeating themselves on this point were actually right. Scientists are now attempting to prove that true love, contrary to popular belief, has nothing to do with the size of your penis or breasts.

  • Nobody

    Yes, today science has confirmed for us that being a self absorbed douche that lives for the moment and doesn’t have any comphrehension of the phrase “know thyself” will not help you achieve real happiness. Our studies have shown that all of the wise sages from the past 6,000 years who have been relentlessly repeating themselves on this point were actually right. Scientists are now attempting to prove that true love, contrary to popular belief, has nothing to do with the size of your penis or breasts.

  • Andrew

    Seems to me like struggling to make the system work for the people is more of a meaningful endeavour than it is one that results in happiness.

  • Optimist_mania

    Striving for pleasure is different from striving for happiness. Living a meaningful life that enables you to feel the sense of well-being would ultimately lead to the stage of happiness. Purely enjoying one’s life on the basis of pleasure is, indeed, hedonistic. They should have clearly noted that the word happiness is not equivalent to pleasure.

  • Optimist_mania

    Striving for pleasure is different from striving for happiness. Living a meaningful life that enables you to feel the sense of well-being would ultimately lead to the stage of happiness. Purely enjoying one’s life on the basis of pleasure is, indeed, hedonistic. They should have clearly noted that the word happiness is not equivalent to pleasure.

  • Seanolearyoz

    The Happiness in “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” is certainly not the big smiley face. It really means “happiness through doing good” or “pursuit of the general welfare” or “exercise of human intellect and creativity”. Thus, the pursuit of that kind of happiness can actually lead to hardship and maybe even death. The “happiness” in the Declaration of Independence comes from Leibniz, whereas John Locke from the British Empire’s side was angling for “life, liberty and property”. Of course, “property” is what the British Empire has always been about, whereas the creative nature and potential of humankind was the principle on which the United States was founded.

  • Seanolearyoz

    The Happiness in “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” is certainly not the big smiley face. It really means “happiness through doing good” or “pursuit of the general welfare” or “exercise of human intellect and creativity”. Thus, the pursuit of that kind of happiness can actually lead to hardship and maybe even death. The “happiness” in the Declaration of Independence comes from Leibniz, whereas John Locke from the British Empire’s side was angling for “life, liberty and property”. Of course, “property” is what the British Empire has always been about, whereas the creative nature and potential of humankind was the principle on which the United States was founded.

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