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55-aspetti di vita quotidiana, gioia,Taccuino Sanitatis, Cas

Joy, tacuinum sanitatis casanatensis (XIV century)

Happiness is an emotional or affective state that is characterized by feelings of enjoyment and satisfaction. As a state and a subject, it has been pursued and commented on extensively throughout world history. This reflects the universal importance that humans place on happiness. Euphoria is the feeling of intense happiness.


In the Nicomachean Ethics, written in 350 B.C.E., Aristotle stated that happiness is the only thing that humans desire for its own sake. He observed that men sought riches not for the sake of being rich, but to be happy (although the term we translate as 'happiness' in Aristotle cannot be adequately defined as either an emotion or a state). Those who sought fame desired it not to be famous, but because they believed fame would bring them happiness. 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.

States associated with happiness include well-being, delight, health, safety, contentment, and love. Contrasting states include suffering, depression, grief, anxiety, and pain. Happiness is often associated with the presence of favorable circumstances such as a supportive family life, a loving marriage, and economic stability. Unfavorable circumstances, such as abusive relationships, accidents, loss of employment, and conflicts, diminish the amount of happiness a person experiences. However, according to several ancient and modern thinkers, happiness is influenced by the attitude and perspective taken on such circumstances.

Various forms of happinessEdit

Many English language terms refer to various forms of happiness and pleasure. These terms vary in the intensity of the pleasure they describe, as well as the depth and longevity of the satisfaction. These include: bliss, joy, joyous, carefree, jubilant, exultant, cheerful, playful, amused, fun, glad, gay, gleeful, jolly, jovial, delighted, euphoric, ecstatic, thrilled, elated, enraptured, comfortable, harmonious, and triumphant. Gratification is a deep satisfaction gained from becoming totally absorbed in a complex activity or by working toward meaningful goals. Happiness can also be achieved in various other scenarios.

Societal theories of happinessEdit

Societies, religions, and individuals have various views on the nature of happiness and how to pursue it. Western society takes its concept of happiness, at least in part, from the Greek concept of Eudaimonia [How to reference and link to summary or text]. 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).

For Americans, the happy or ideal life is sometimes referred to as the American dream, which can be seen as the idea that any goal can be attained through sufficient hard work and determination, birth and privilege notwithstanding [How to reference and link to summary or text]. While many artists, writers, scholars, and religious leaders can and do consider their work to fall within the American dream, it is usually thought of as relating to financial success [How to reference and link to summary or text]. Writers such as Horatio Alger promoted this idea, while many writers, such as Arthur Miller, criticized it [How to reference and link to summary or text].

In all nations, factors such as hunger, disease, crime, corruption, and warfare can decrease happiness [How to reference and link to summary or text].

Psychological viewEdit

Positive psychologyEdit

In his book Authentic Happiness Martin Seligman, one of the founders of Positive Psychology, describes happiness as consisting of both positive emotions (such as ecstacy and comfort) and positive activities (such as absorption and engagement). He presents three categories of positive 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 which are significantly different: pleasure and gratifications. The bodily and higher pleasures are "pleasures of the moment" and usually involve some external stimulus.

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 pursuing a meaningful life.

An important stipulation is that Martin Seligman's definition of happiness is one among many in the field of Positive Psychology.

This view has been challenged by existential therapists such as Emmy van Deurzen who takes the definition of authenticity as related to a person's capacity to face mortality rather than to their capacity for happiness. In this view it is not happiness but meaning that is of most importance.

Mechanistic viewEdit

Biological basisEdit

While a person's overall happiness is not objectively measurable, this does not mean it does not have a real physiological component. The neurotransmitter dopamine, perhaps especially in the mesolimbic pathway projecting from the midbrain to structures such as the nucleus accumbens, is involved in desire and seems often related to pleasure. Pleasure can be induced artificially with drugs, perhaps most directly with opiates such as morphine, with activity on mu-opioid receptors. There are neural opioid systems that make and release the brain's own opioids, active at these receptors. Mu-opioid neural systems are complexly interrelated with the mesolimbic dopamine system. New science, using genetically altered mice, including ones deficient in dopamine or in mu-opioid receptors, is beginning to tease apart the functions of dopamine and mu-opioid systems, which some scientists (e.g., Kent C. Berridge) think are more directly related to happiness. Stefan Klein in his book "The Science of Happiness" links these biological foundations of happiness to the concepts and findings of Positive Psychology and Social Psychology.

Difficulties in defining internal experiencesEdit

It is probably impossible to objectively define happiness as humans know and understand it, as internal experiences are subjective by nature. Because of this, explaining happiness as experienced by one individual is as pointless as trying to define the color green such that a completely color blind person could understand the experience of seeing green. While one can not objectively express the difference between greenness and redness, it is possible to explain the physical phenomena that cause green to be observed, the capacities of the human visual system to distinguish between light of different wavelengths, and so on. Likewise, the following sections do not attempt to describe the internal sensation of happiness, but instead concentrate on defining its logical basis. It is therefore important to avoid circular definitions -- for instance, defining happiness as "a good feeling", while "good" is defined as being "something which causes happiness".

In other animals aside from humansEdit

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For animals, happiness might be best described as the process of reinforcement, as part of the organism's motivational system. The organism has achieved one or more of its goals (pursuit of food, water, sex, shelter, etc.), and its brain is in the process of teaching itself to repeat the sort of actions that led to success. By reinforcing successful decision paths, it produces an equilibrium state not unlike positive-to-negative magnets. The specific goals are typically things that enable the organism to survive and reproduce.

By this definition, only animals with some capacity to learn should be able to experience happiness. However, at its most basic level the learning might be extremely simple and short term, such as the nearly reflexive feedback loop of scratching an itch (followed by pleasure, followed by scratching more, and so on) which can occur with almost no conscious thought.

However, to avoid oversimplification, domesticated animals may require needs beyond food, water, sex, and shelter (such as human company, petting, or perhaps needs which mimic that of their owners). Typically, the more domesticated an animal is, the more closely their goals match human behavior.

In humansEdit

When speaking of animals with the ability to reason (generally considered the exclusive domain of humans), goals are no longer limited to short term satisfaction of basic drives. Nevertheless, there remains a strong relationship of happiness to goal fulfillment and the brain's reinforcement mechanism, even if the goals themselves may be more complex and/or cerebral, longer term, and less selfish than a non-human animal's goals might be.

Philosophers observe that short-term gratification, while briefly generating happiness, often requires a trade-off with negative repercussions in the long run. Examples of this could be said to include developing technology and equipment that makes life easier but over time ends up harming the environment, causing illness or wasting financial or other resources. Various branches of philosophy, as well as some religious movements, suggest that "true" happiness only exists if it has no long-term detrimental effects. Classical Utilitarianism is a theory of ethics based on quantitative maximization of happiness.

From the observation that fish must become happy by swimming, and birds must become happy by flying, Aristotle points to the unique abilities of man as the route to happiness. Of all the animals only man can sit and contemplate reality. Of all the animals only man can develop social relations to the political level. Thus the contemplative life of a monk or professor, or the political life of a military commander or politician will be the happiest.

In contrast, Zhuangzi points out that only man is endowed with the ability necessary to generate complex language and thought—language and thought that can be used to distinguish between things and form dichotomies. These dichotomies then formed, man tries to find reasons to like one side of things and hate the other. Hence, he loses his ability to love freely, in true happiness, unlike the rest of his animal brethren.

In artificial intelligenceEdit

The view that happiness is a reinforcement state can apply to some non-biological systems as well. In artificial intelligence, a program or robot could be said to be "happy" when it is in a state of reinforcing previous actions that led to satisfaction of its programmed goals. For instance, imagine a search engine that has the capacity to gradually improve the quality of its search results by accepting and processing feedback from the user regarding the relevance of those results. If the user responds that a search result is good (i.e. provides positive feedback), this tells the software to reinforce (by adjusting variables or "weights") the decision path that led to those results. In a sense, this could be said to "reward" the search engine. However, even if the program is made to act like it is happy, there is little doubt that the search engine has no subjective sense of being happy. Current computing technology merely implements abstract mathematical programs which lack the creative power of natural systems. This does not preclude the possibility that future technologies may begin to blur the distinction between such machine happiness and that experienced by an animal or human.

Mystical (religious, spiritual, and mythological) viewEdit

Explanation of happiness in mystical traditions, especially in advanced spiritual techniques is related to full balance (conjunction, union, "secret marriage") of so called inner energy lines (energy channels of a soul or deepest dimension of the human): nadi (ancient Indian), gimel kavim (Hebrew), pillars, columns, gnostic ophis or caduceus. In balanced state two main lines (left & right, Ida & Pingala) form third line, called Shushumna or lashon hakodesh (hebr.). Speaking technically (full) activity of this third or central line is happiness. Left and right lines include all aspects of normal human life: sleep and awake, body and mind, physical and spiritual and so on. To attain balanced state of these 2 lines is a main task of life - a paradoxical result of all kinds of activities and endeavours combined with full relax or tranquillity at the same time.

In Christianity, the ultimate end of human existence consists in felicity (Latin equiv. to the Gk. eudaimonia), or "blessed happiness", described by the 13th-C. philosopher-theologian Thomas Aquinas as a Beatific Vision of God's essence in the next life. See Summa Theologiae

Personal happiness forms the centerpiece of Buddhist teachings and the Eightfold Path that will lead its practitioner to Nirvana, a state of everlasting happiness.

American Buddhist monk Thanissaro Bhikkhu gave a guided meditation: “Close your eyes and think thoughts of good will. Thoughts of good will go first to yourself, because if you can't think good will for yourself — if you can't feel a sincere desire for your own happiness — there's no way you can truly wish for the happiness of others. So just tell yourself, "May I find true happiness." Remind yourself that true happiness is something that comes from within, so this is not a selfish desire. In fact, if you find and develop the resources for happiness within you, you're able to radiate it out to other people. It's a happiness that doesn't depend on taking anything away from anyone else.” Source

Happiness and economicsEdit

Main article: Happiness economics

There is a recent trend in economics which relates happiness to economic performance and vice-versa.[1] Some studies suggest that happiness is already an economic indicator or at least can be approximately measured.[2], [3] New economic concepts could now be measured such as the Gross national happiness and the Happy Planet Index. Happy Life Years, a concept brought by Dutch sociologist Ruut Veenhoven is one of the concepts set to measure well-being combining subjective data (subjective life satisfaction, measured on a scale of 0 to 10) with objective data (life expectancy). New Economics Foundation, a British think-tank used this concept to measure the "Happy Planet Index".

On the other hand, a few researchers argue that a bigger economy doesn't always buy happiness. It is argued that happiness could be used as an economic indicator not as a replacement for more traditional measures but as a supplement.[4]

Recent developmentsEdit

Recent research conducted by Daniel Gilbert (a professor of psychology at Harvard) and others have made discoveries about the causes of happiness in humans. Work is also underway at Cambridge centre for well being by Nick Baylis, Felicia Huppert and colleagues.

Related conceptsEdit

Other concepts related to happiness are bliss, cheerfulness, cheeriness, enjoyment, mirth, euphoria, exhilaration, ecstasy, pleasure, subjective life satisfaction and light-heartedness.

A certain mix of enjoyable properties is also called Gemütlichkeit, gezelligheid.

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  • Stefan Klein, "The Science of Happiness, Marlowe 2006, ISBN 1-56924-328-X
  • David G. Myers, Ph.D "The Pursuit of Happiness: Who is Happy-- and Why", William Morrow and Co., 1992, ISBN 0-688-10550-5
  • Seligman, M.E.P., "Authentic Happiness", Free Press 2002, ISBN 0-7432-2298-9
  • Myers, D.G. (2000). The faith, friends and funds nds of happy people. American Psychologist. 55, 56-67.
  • Myers, D.G., Deiner. E. (1995). Who is happy? Psychological Science, 6, 10-19.
  • Władysław Tatarkiewicz, Analysis of Happiness, The Hague, Martinus Nijhoff, 1976.
  • Daniel Gilbert, "Stumbling on Happiness", Knopf, 2006

NotesEdit

  1. Happiness, Economy and Institutions - Bruno S. Frey and Alois Stutzer - Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich
  2. The True Measure of Success - Wired.com
  3. "Happiness" is not enough- Samuel Brittan: Templeton Lecture Inst. of Economic Affairs 22/11/01
  4. A bigger economy doesn't always buy happiness - latimes.com

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