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Happiness is a state of mind or feeling characterized by contentment, satisfaction, pleasure, or joy.[1] A variety of philosophical, religious, psychological and biological approaches have striven to define happiness and identify its sources. Philosophers and religious thinkers often define happiness in terms of living a good life, or flourishing, rather than simply as an emotion. Happiness in this older sense was used to translate the Greek Eudaimonia, and is still used in virtue ethics.

While direct measurement of happiness presents challenges, tools such as The Oxford Happiness Questionnaire have been developed by researchers. Positive psychology researchers use theoretical models that include describing happiness as consisting of positive emotions and positive activities, or that describe three kinds of happiness: pleasure, engagement, and meaning. Research has identified a number of attributes that correlate with happiness: relationships and social interaction, extraversion, marital status, employment, health, democratic freedom, optimism, religious involvement, income (but mainly up to the point where survival needs are met), and proximity to other happy people.

Happiness economics suggests that measures of public happiness should be used to supplement more traditional economic measures when evaluating the success of public policy.

For lessons on the topic of Happiness, follow this link.

Religious views

Happiness forms a central theme of Buddhist teachings. For ultimate freedom from suffering, the Eightfold Path leads its practitioner to Nirvana, a state of everlasting peace. Ultimate happiness is only achieved by overcoming craving in all forms. More mundane forms of happiness, such as acquiring wealth and maintaining good friendships, are also recognized as worthy goals for lay people (see sukha). Buddhism also encourages the generation of loving kindness and compassion, the desire for the happiness and welfare of all beings.[2][3] According to the Buddha, "Mind is the forerunner of states of existence. Mind is chief, and (those states) are caused by the mind. If one speaks and acts with a pure mind, surely happiness will follow like one's own shadow!" In Buddhism, the third of the Four Noble Truths states "to eliminate suffering, eliminate craving," thus establishing happiness as beyond material and emotional possession and attainable only through an attentive practice leading to extinguishing of craving and aversion.[4]

In Catholicism, the ultimate end of human existence consists in felicity (Latin equivalent to the Greek eudaimonia), or "blessed happiness", described by the thirteenth-century philosopher-theologian Thomas Aquinas as a Beatific Vision of God's essence in the next life.[5] According to Augustine's Confessions, he lived much of his life without God. He sinned much and recognized his sinfulness. As a youth, he sinned for its own sake, and later, in the pursuit of a perceived good. When he lost a dear friend to death, it troubled him a lot, and he turned to God for answers. He turned to God to find true happiness and was converted to Christianity. He found that true happiness can only come from a relationship with God and appreciating God's creation for His sake, and not its own. [edit]Philosophical views

The Chinese Confucian thinker Mencius, who 2300 years ago sought to give advice to the ruthless political leaders of the warring states period, was convinced that the mind played a mediating role between the "lesser self" (the physiological self) and the "greater self" (the moral self) and that getting the priorities right between these two would lead to sagehood. He argued that if we did not feel satisfaction or pleasure in nourishing one's "vital force" with "righteous deeds", that force would shrivel up (Mencius,6A:15 2A:2). More specifically, he mentions the experience of intoxicating joy if one celebrates the practice of the great virtues, especially through music.[6] About one hundred years later, the Hindu thinker Patanjali, author of the Yoga Sutras, wrote quite exhaustively on the psychological and ontological roots of bliss.[7]

In the Nicomachean Ethics, written in 350 B.C.E., Aristotle stated that happiness is the only emotion that humans desire for its own sake. He observed that men sought riches, or honor, or health, not for their own sake but in order to be happy. Note that eudaimonia, the term we translate as "happiness", is for Aristotle an activity rather than an emotion or a state.[8] Happiness is characteristic of a good life, that is, a life in which a person fulfills human nature in an excellent way. People have a set of purposes which are typically human: these belong to our nature. The happy person is virtuous, meaning they have outstanding abilities and emotional tendencies which allow him or her to fulfill our common human ends. For Aristotle, then, happiness is "the virtuous activity of the soul in accordance with reason": happiness is the practice of virtue.

Many ethicists make arguments for how humans should behave, either individually or collectively, based on the resulting happiness of such behavior. Utilitarians, such as John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham, advocated the greatest happiness principle as a guide for ethical behavior.

Scientific and psychological views

Positive psychology

This section does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (June 2009) Main article: Positive psychology

Martin Seligman asserts that "pleasures of the moment" typically involve external stimulus.[9] Above, A man laughs as he attempts to balance three birds on himself. In his book Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman, one of the founders of positive psychology, describes happiness as consisting of "positive emotions" and "positive activities". He further categorizes emotions related to the past, present and future. Positive emotions relating to the past include satisfaction, contentment, pride and serenity. Positive emotions relating to the future include optimism, hope and trust. Positive emotions about the present are divided into two categories: pleasure and gratifications. The bodily and higher pleasures are "pleasures of the moment" and usually involve some external stimulus.[9]

Gratifications involve full engagement, flow, elimination of self-consciousness, and blocking of felt emotions. But when a gratification comes to an end then positive emotions will be felt. Gratifications can be obtained or increased by developing signature strengths and virtues. Authenticity is the derivation of gratification and positive emotions from exercising signature strengths. The good life comes from using signature strengths to obtain abundant gratification in, for example, enjoying work and creative activities. The most profound sense of happiness is experienced through the meaningful life, achieved if one exercises one's unique strengths and virtues in a purpose greater than one's own immediate goals.

Biological approach

The evolutionary perspective offers an alternative approach to understand what happiness or quality of life is about. Briefly, the questions to be answered are: What features are included in the brain that allows humans to distinguish between positive and negative states of mind, and how do these features improve the survivability of humans? Answering these questions points towards an understanding of what happiness is about and how to best exploit the capacities of the brain with which humans are endowed. The perspective is presented in detail by the evolutionary biologist Bjørn Grinde in his book Darwinian Happiness, as well as in a more formal way.[10]

Research findings

Some researchers have found that about 50% of one's happiness depends on one's genes, based on studying identical twins, whose happiness is 50% correlated even when growing up in different houses.[12] About 10% to 15% is a result of various measurable life circumstances variables, such as socioeconomic status, marital status, health, income, and others. The remaining 40% is a combination of unknown factors and the results of actions that individuals deliberately engage in for the purpose of becoming happier. These actions may vary between persons; extroverts, for example, may benefit from placing themselves in situations involving large amounts of human interaction. Also, exercise has been shown to increase one's level of momentary subjective well-being significantly.[11] Michael Argyle developed the Oxford Happiness Questionnaire[13] as a broad measure of psychological well-being. This has been criticized as an aggregate of self-esteem, sense of purpose, social interest and kindness, sense of humor and aesthetic appreciation.[14] Though it may be impossible to achieve any comprehensive measure of happiness objectively, some physiological correlates to happiness can be measured through a variety of techniques. Stefan Klein, in his book The Science of Happiness, links the dynamics of neurobiological systems (i.e., dopaminergic, opiate) to the concepts and findings of positive psychology and social psychology.[15]

Happiness in social networks

Human relationships are consistently found to be the most important correlation with human happiness. A widely-publicized study from 2008 in the British Medical Journal reported that happiness in social networks may spread from person to person.[16] Researchers followed nearly 5000 individuals for 20 years in the long-standing Framingham Heart Study and found clusters of happiness and unhappiness that spread up to 3 degrees of separation on average. Happiness tended to spread through close relationships like friends, siblings, spouses, and next-door neighbors, and the researchers reported that happiness spread more consistently than unhappiness through the network. Moreover, the structure of the social network appeared to have an impact on happiness, as people who were very central (with many friends and friends of friends) were significantly more likely to be happy than those on the periphery of the network. Overall, the results suggest that happiness might spread through a population like a virus.[17][18]

Correlation with religious involvement

There is now extensive research suggesting that religious people are happier and less stressed.[19][20] It is not clear, however, whether this is because of the social contact and support that result from religious activities, the greater likelihood of behaviors related to good health (such as less substance abuse), indirect forms of psychological and social activity such as optimism and volunteering, psychological factors such as "reason for being," learned coping strategies that enhance one's ability to deal with stress, or some combination of these and/or other factors.[21][22][23][24][25]

Surveys by Gallup, the National Opinion Research Center and the Pew Organization conclude that spiritually committed people are twice as likely to report being "very happy" than the least religiously committed people.[26] An analysis of over 200 social studies contends that "high religiousness predicts a lower risk of depression and drug abuse and fewer suicide attempts, and more reports of satisfaction with sex life and a sense of well-being,"[27] and a review of 498 studies published in peer-reviewed journals concluded that a large majority of them showed a positive correlation between religious commitment and higher levels of perceived well-being and self-esteem and lower levels of hypertension, depression, and clinical delinquency.[28][29] A meta-analysis of 34 recent studies published between 1990 and 2001 found that religiosity has a salutary relationship with psychological adjustment, being related to less psychological distress, more life satisfaction, and better self-actualization.[30] Finally, a recent systematic review of 850 research papers on the topic concluded that "the majority of well-conducted studies found that higher levels of religious involvement are positively associated with indicators of psychological well-being (life satisfaction, happiness, positive affect, and higher morale) and with less depression, suicidal thoughts and behavior, drug/alcohol use/abuse." [31]'

The individual level of happiness and religiosity correlations show up when measuring within the United States, a predominantly religious country. According to a 2007 paper by Liesbeth Snoep in the Journal of Happiness Studies, there is no significant correlation between religiosity and individual happiness in Netherlands and Denmark, countries that have lower rates of religion than the United States.[32] When measuring between countries, the least religious industrialized countries such as in northern Europe have a much higher happiness than the most religious industrialized country, the US, so cross country comparisons on religiosity and happiness seem to show a societal level correlation of increased secularization and decreased religiosity to increased happiness. It may be simply that non-religious people are less happy in a religious country, but everyone is happier in more secular, less religious countries.[33]

Correlation with political affiliation

Research in the United States shows that happiness may correlate with partisan identity. Republicans are more likely than Democrats to state that they are "very happy." The gap has been unbroken for almost four decades, and has been unaffected by political fortunes. "There is a growing body of scholarly research, not just in this country but around the world, which supports the basic finding of these Pew surveys: that Republicans (or conservatives) are happier than Democrats (or liberals), and that these gaps persist even after basic demographic factors have been controlled."[34][35] Republicans placed higher value than Democrats on marriage, children, and religion, and were more likely than Democrats to be married and attend religious services regularly.

Aging and happiness

Research in the US has found that older Americans are generally happier than younger adults. The effect does not appear to be generational, because longitudinal research found that happiness increased over time for the older people who were studied. While older individuals reported more health problems, they reported fewer problems overall. Young adults reported more anger, anxiety, depression, financial problems, troubled relationships and career stress.[36]

Other correlates

Parents are more likely to report being happier than non-parents.[37][38] Happiness is also correlated with the ability to "rationalize or explain" social and economic inequalities. [39]

In economic thought

Common market health measures such as GDP and GNP have been used as a measure of successful policy. Some economists argue that although on average richer nations tend to be happier than poorer nations, beyond an average GDP/capita of about $15,000 a year, studies indicate the average income in a nation makes little difference to the average happiness of the people in the nation.[40][41] It has been argued that happiness measures could be used not as a replacement for more traditional measures, but as a supplement.[42] Indeed it has been argued that happiness at work is the one of the driving forces behind positive outcomes at work, rather than just being a resultant product.[43]


All truth--material, philosophic, or spiritual--is both beautiful and good. All real beauty--material art or spiritual symmetry--is both true and good. All genuine goodness--whether personal morality, social equity, or divine ministry--is equally true and beautiful. Health, sanity, and 'happiness' are integrations of truth, beauty, and goodness as they are blended in human experience. Such levels of efficient living come about through the unification of energy systems, idea systems, and spirit systems.[1]


  1. Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary (accessed 2008-Dec-23)
  2. (see brahmavihara)
  3. Bhikkhu, Thanissaro (1999). "A Guided Meditation".
  4. Bhikkhu Nanamoli (1995). in Bhikkhu Bodhi: "The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: A New Translation of the Majjhima Nikaya"
  5. Aquinas, Thomas. "Question 3. What is happiness". Summa Theologiae.
  6. Chan, Wing-tsit (1963). A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy. Princeton, NJ, US: Princeton University Press.
  7. Levine, Marvin (2000). The Positive Psychology of Buddhism and Yoga : Paths to a Mature Happiness. Lawrence Erlbaum. ISBN 0805838333.
  8. Eudaimonia (Greek: εὐδαιμονία) is a classical Greek word commonly translated as 'happiness'. Etymologically, it consists of the word "eu" ("good" or "well being") and "daimōn" ("spirit" or "minor deity", used by extension to mean one's lot or fortune).
  9. Seligman, M.E.P. (2004). Can Happiness be Taught?. Daedalus journal, Spring 2004.
  10. Grinde, Bjørn (2002). "Happiness in the perspective of evolutionary psychology". Journal of Happiness Studies 3: 331–354. doi:10.1023/A:1021894227295.
  11. Best Benefit of Exercise? Happiness, Robin Loyd, Fox News, May 30, 2006.
  12. Sonja Lyubomirsky, David Schkade and Kennon M. Sheldon, "Pursuing Happiness: The Architecture of Sustainable Change," Review of General Psychology, Vol. 9, No. 2, 111–131, 2005
  13. Oxford Happiness Questionnaire by Michael Argyle and Peter Hills, a survey of current level of happiness. See also discussion in Hills, P., & Argyle, M. (2002). The Oxford Happiness Questionnaire: a compact scale for the measurement of psychological well-being. Personality and Individual Differences, 33, 1073–1082.
  14. The approach has been criticized as overlapping too much with related concepts, and for lacking a theoretical model of happiness. Kashdan, Todd B. (2004). "The assessment of subjective well-being (issues raised by the Oxford Happiness Questionnaire)". Personality and Individual Differences 36: 1225–1232. doi:10.1016/S0191-8869(03)00213-7.
  15. Klein, Stefan (2006). The Science of Happiness. Marlowe & Company. ISBN 1-56924-328-X.
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  28. Bryan Johnson & colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania (2002)
  29. Is Religion Dangerous? cites similar results from the Handbook of Religion and Mental Health Harold Koenig (ed.) ISBN 978-0124176454
  30. Hackney, Charles H; Glenn S. Sanders (2003). "Religiosity and Mental Health: A Meta–Analysis of Recent Studies". Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 42 (1): 43–55. doi:10.1111/1468-5906.t01-1-00160.
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  33. Will Wilkinson / The Fly Bottle Arthur Brooks on Religion and Happiness (Blogs are usually an inappropriate source to cite; however, this blog cites several academic studies. If someone has journal access, please look at those studies and cite them directly.)
  34. Paul Taylor, "Republicans: Still Happy Campers," Pew Research Center, October 23, 2008 (pdf of full report)
  35. David Montgomery, "A Happiness Gap: Doomacrats And Republigrins," The Washington Post, October 24, 2008
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  37. "The joys of parenthood". The Economist. 2008-03-27.
  38. Brooks, Arthur C. (2008). Gross National Happiness: Why Happiness Matters for America -- and How We Can Get More of It. Basic Books. ISBN 978-0465002788.
  39. Bryner, Jeanna. "Conservatives Happier Than Liberals". LiveScience.com. Retrieved 2008-06-18.
  40. Frey, Bruno S.; Alois Stutzer (December 2001). Happiness and Economics. Princeton University Press.
  41. "In Pursuit of Happiness Research. Is It Reliable? What Does It Imply for Policy?". The Cato institute. 2007-04-11.
  42. Weiner, Eric J. (2007-11-13). "Four months of boom, bust, and fleeing foreign credit". Los Angeles Times.
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External links