On March 20 the world celebrates the International Day of Happiness. The UN General Assembly established it in 2012 to remind that the pursuit of happiness is an inherent desire of every person on the planet.
Happiness is an important part of human life at all times. Many of us believe that happy people are more successful, they live longer, recover faster, have strong relationships, and earn more money. The question of what happiness is, how to find it and not to lose it, worries not only an ordinary person, but is the subject of discussions of scholars, philosophers, theologians and, of course, psychologists. In modern psychological science, happiness is seen as a value and as an affective state.
We talk about human happiness from the point of view of psychology with Associate Professor of the Department of General Psychology, Psychological Assessment and Counselling of School of Medical Biology, Candidate of Sciences (Psychology) Natalia Baturina.
- Natalia, how has the perception of happiness changed?
- The problem of happiness has been known to mankind since ancient times. In the 1st century BC, 280 concepts of what happiness is have already been described. In those distant times, the concept of happiness as something to be earned, as a gift from the gods, prevailed. And the main question of concern was, what the virtues a person should have had in order to receive such a gift. Hence, happiness was tied to some objective virtue.
The statement of Aristotle is quite interesting. He said that people had different happiness; it was important who you asked about it. In other words, happiness can be of a different quality for various people.
Another important thought of the great thinker: “The activity of the soul in the fullness of virtues is an inner work." It is this idea that has developed and is relevant in our time!
In the Middle Ages, it was believed that happiness existed only in the “best worlds” and that it could be obtained after death, suffering in mortal life. The discussion about human happiness in the 19th century is interesting from a historical point of view. Not only philosophers and thinkers were contributing, but the topic of happiness was central to literature. “Man was created for happiness, like a bird for flight,” said the great writer Maxim Gorky. In fact, the pursuit of happiness is natural for everyone on our planet.
- And what did modern psychological science manage to find out about happiness?
- The beginning of the study of the phenomenon of happiness and well-being began in the 70s of the 20th century. An attempt has been made to reduce by indirect signs, what makes a person happy. Happiness was associated with such parameters as health, youth, material security. No doubt, such results were consistent with common sense and existing stereotypes, but it was necessary to prove it through empirical research. American psychologist Ed Diener created a simple, but very informative “Subjective well-being” methodology. It was necessary to find out how people assessed their lives in the present moment and over a longer period. A huge amount of data was obtained on various samples. And it turned out that the level of happiness had nothing to do with age. In mature and even old age, a person also experiences positive emotions and they are no less than those of young people. Another “wit works woe” myth was invalidated: no connection with the level of intelligence was found. Health and happiness also turned out to be little related. It was about a subjective sense of health. Moreover, they figured out the relation between happiness and money. Material well-being and the level of happiness are related in the case when a person hardly satisfies his basic needs, but if we are talking about the so-called “middle class”, then happiness begins to depend on completely different factors.
- What does happiness consist of?
- Based on research in recent years, there are several components that contribute to the feeling of human happiness. Let's list them in ascending order. First, these are external conditions. We are talking about those circumstances that a person can influence the least. This is the family, country, region where the person was born. In addition we should mention the genetic predisposition, which is an invariable condition. No doubt, the availability of good housing, a car, etc. makes life more pleasant, but does not add joy if a person has not a very healthy lifestyle to put it mildly. Therefore, in order to achieve happiness, it is necessary to focus on personal actions to harmonize life. And this is the next, very important component, which is a personal activity! First of all, it is an activity in personal choice. It is important that this choice is conscious in everything: in relationships, goals, plans, self-realization. Now the psychology of happiness is developing rapidly, the results of new research are being published. And the general trend is that stable, sustainable factors that predict well-being are only a part of it, and the most important thing is what we ourselves can do for happiness.
- What is the most common misbelief about happiness?
- It should be noted that there is not even one, but several misbelieves. And these misbelieves, at their core, can be very complex, requiring psychological correction. In my consulting and everyday practice, I have come across the following statements, which, in my opinion, prevent a person from being truly happy and satisfied with his/her life. I will try to compose some top statements: “I will be happy when….”. Anything can be substituted here: when I graduate from university, get married, have a child, win an Oscar award, and so on. Another misbelieve is that “Happiness must be earned” and “Happiness is not combined with problems and crises in the world.” As an antithesis, I want to share a personal rule of life: “Happiness is made up of subtle things.” Of course, achieving big and significant goals gives a feeling of flight, acute happiness, but this does not happen so often, and subtle things, such as a good book, chatting with friends, walking in the park, and others, can be organized by us! And at the same time we feel satisfied and happy.
- Fyodor Dostoevsky said: “Happiness does not lie in happiness, but in the achievement of it.” Do you think that a person must always strive for something, achieve and never stop?
- A person needs to have a goal, which he/she aspires to, whether it is big or small. But if we talk about the pursuit of happiness as a separate goal, then it can even be dangerous, and here's why. Happiness is an emotional state, a reaction to something that happens in the outside world, and life is a process. It turns out that we experience happiness, satisfaction as a signal that everything is going well and could not be better. Consequently, motivation is zeroed: a person feels good anyway! A striking example is people who use drugs, so they just strive to experience happiness in an easy way. That is why, I agree with Fyodor Dostoevsky.
- You say that the level of happiness has nothing to do with age. Does the attitude towards happiness change with age or not?
- When young there is very large amplitude of emotions, any emotions are experienced more sharply. In adulthood, the internal attitude changes, a philosophical, wise view of life events appears, so to speak, a person can be completely happy from simple things: for example, the sun is outside the window, nothing hurts, wonderful seedlings have grown. In other words, a mature person experiences less so-called acute happiness, but the share of calm absolute happiness increases. But here we need to make an amendment: everything depends on the person himself, his features and character.
- The perception or feeling of happiness, to some extent, depends on the temperament, the type of the nervous system. Is it possible that not everyone knows how to be happy?
- In fact, such studies have been carried out. The fact is that the types of temperaments differ in the dynamics of the emergence and intensity of emotional states, and, therefore, people with different temperaments experience differently, but everyone can and should be happy!
- Natalya, is there a book that you would advise to read to a person who is in a state of seeking happiness and its components?
- Nowadays in the information space there are a lot of books about happiness, success, and well-being. Many of them contain practical recommendations, but in my opinion, it is important to understand the essence of the phenomenon. In this regard, I would like to recommend an excellent book “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience" by M. Csikszentmihalyi, which has influenced my attitude to happiness. I would like to quote from this book: “Happiness does not depend on the events taking place around you, but on our interpretation of them. Happiness is a state, which everyone should be prepared for, grow it and keep it within ourselves. People who have learned to control their experiences will be able to influence the quality of their lives. This is the only way each of us can come closer to being happy."