The Oxford Dictionary of English defines happy as ‘feeling or showing pleasure or contentment’. The Kingdom of Bhutan puts happiness at the heart of government policy, and Harvard University and the University of East London run degree courses in happiness. Is attempting to optimize happiness a sensible goal, or just plain daft? What makes us happy? We are not motivated to seek happiness per se, so we can only experience it as a by-product of acting on the motivations we are provided with. We are motivated to maximise our reproductive fitness, so participating in any activity which has the potential to increase our reproductive fitness is a potential source of happiness. For example, in men this could be any competitive activity. Examples for women could include going on a diet or getting engaged. However, even if we’re successful in completing a reproductive fitness-enhancing activity, lasting happiness would breed complacency, which would compromise our motivation to continue attempting to maximise our reproductive fitness. So we have evolved so that each time an objective is reached if feels like you’ve achieved little because your focus quickly shifts to the next objective resulting in an endless series of disappointments. So, like the Red Queen in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, life can feel like a journey that consists of running but going nowhere. The key to happiness is likely rooted in having consistently low (and realistic) expectations and learning to enjoy the journey. Sometimes the more you know, the more depressing things become: I am at ease with the fact that my life is utterly pointless, yet I know that I must compete to the end. Men have no choice.

  • Darwinian Happiness
  • "Buddhists who meditate may be able to train their brains to feel genuine happiness and control aggressive instincts, research has shown."
    Can Buddhists transcend mental reservations? by Steve Connor

    "...the list of factors that appear to bring happiness was topped by autonomy, the feeling that your activities are self-chosen and self-endorsed.
    Following that, the survey of U.S. college students listed the most important factors influencing happiness to be competence (the feeling that you are effective in your activities), relatedness (feeling a sense of closeness with others) and self-esteem.
    Gallup and coworkers conclude that the women who were directly exposed to semen were less depressed.
    Finally, a paper published this week suggests there is another factor that leads to an increase in happiness, albeit a slight one. A 15-year study of more than 24,000 individuals living in Germany showed that people get a boost in life satisfaction from marriage. The happiness boost is very small, however, and is probably due to favorable initial reactions to marriage, which are then followed by a return to prior levels of happiness."
    Happiness and how to achieve it by Rowan Hooper

    "In a large longitudinal study that sheds new light on the association between marital status and happiness, researchers have found that people get a boost in life satisfaction from marriage. But the increase in happiness is very small -- approximately one tenth of one point on an 11-point scale -- and is likely due to initial reactions to marriage and then a return to prior levels of happiness. Data from the 15-year study of over 24,000 individuals living in Germany also indicates that most people who get married and stayed married are more satisfied with their lives than their non-married peers long before the marriage occurred."
    Reexamining Adaptation and the Set Point Model of Happiness: Reactions to Changes in Marital Status by Richard E. Lucas et al.

    "The evidence is clear: our wellbeing depends on cooperation and the public good, not personal enrichment"
    Money and happiness by Polly Toynbee

    Happiness = P + (5xE) + (3xH)
    Just to explain, P stands for Personal Characteristics, including outlook on life, adaptability and resilience.
    E stands for Existence and relates to health, financial stability and friendships.
    And H represents Higher Order needs, and covers self-esteem, expectations, ambitions and sense of humour.
    The formula for happiness

    '"people who strongly value the pursuit of wealth and possessions report lower psychological well-being than those who are less concerned with such aims." In other words, we know that more or better clothes and cars and gadgets fail to produce lasting happiness. What we may not have suspected, and what Kasser illustrates with ample evidence, is how the mere desire for these things actually leads to unhappiness when such desires dominate people's value systems.
    The more we aspire to make money, in other words, the less likely we are to use it to pursue truly enriching and fulfilling ends. Even pervasive fantasies of winning the lottery and walking off the job and into freer, happier lives prove to be misguided. Kasser relates a study in which lottery winners are found to be no happier than people who received no such windfall and "actually reported being less pleased with everyday events" and simple pleasures.'
    The High Price of Materialism reviewed by Lisa E. Reardon

    "The happiest people surround themselves with family and friends, don't care about keeping up with the Joneses next door, lose themselves in daily activities and, most important, forgive easily."
    Psychologists now know what makes people happy by Marilyn Elias

    "Psychologists at the University of Sussex found that people who get involved in campaigns, strikes and political demonstrations experience an improvement in psychological well-being that can help them overcome stress, pain, anxiety and depression."
    Protesting May Be Good for Your Health

    'Though he realizes that individuals have little control over their affective dispositions, Kahneman said people do control the variable that can make them happier - allocation of their time.
    "One way to improve life is simply by tilting the balance toward more affectively good activities, such as spending more time with friends or reducing commuting time," he said.'
    Memory VS. Experience by Naina N. Chernoff

    "Winning just £1,000 can be enough to change a person's outlook on life, suggests the study by researchers at the University of Warwick.
    However, less than £1m is unlikely to have a lasting effect on a person's happiness and experts found a strong marriage and good health were more likely to make people feel content than money."
    Money 'can buy you happiness'

    "Numerous studies have shown that pets - or at least the presence of animals - can have medical benefits that are beyond dispute. These range from lowering blood pressure to lessening anxiety and depression and even to faster healing times after surgery."
    Rx for a better life? Get a pet, and do it now Contact: Keith Randall

    "Scientific studies reveal yoga may be the key to bliss."
    Yogis Score High on Happiness by Angela Pirisi

    "Everyone wants to be happy, right? Wrong, says Ed Diener, a psychologist in the emerging field of "subjective well-being"-- a professor of happiness in all but name--at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He's found that happiness is more than just a warm glow, it's firmly rooted in culture. And guess what? Money really does make you happier--but for maximum gain you have to be poor to begin with.
    Overall, Scandinavian countries seem to be the happiest. Income is very important to happiness up to a point, and it correlates with democracy, human rights, infrastructure, longevity and other things. But once you allow for that, cultural factors that have little to do with income seem to make a big difference. If you take income out of the equation--if you level the playing field, in other words--the happiest people are Hispanic."
    Cheer leader

    "A study that followed couples for more than 25 years has revealed some of the factors that contribute to a happy life during middle age. Among the most important is a stable and loving relationship, researchers say.
    The study also showed that factors such as high self-esteem and earlier experiences, such as when an individual first had sex and whether they enjoyed school, could also be important."
    Secrets of Happiness in Middle Age

    "College girls are most likely to be satisfied with life in middle age if they were eager to have sex when young, US researchers claim.
    But male students are most likely to be content in their 40s if they waited longer before having sex at college."
    `Sex at college is key to happy life'

    "Road to Happiness Not Paved with Money"
    Road to Happiness Not Paved with Money: Study

    "One of the field's most intriguing early conclusions holds that money does indeed make people happier but that it is less potent than imagined.
    Statisticians call this Simpson's paradox. In England, for example, married people are as a group happier than they were three decades ago. Unmarried people are, too. But because the ranks of the unmarried have grown and because unmarried people are not as satisfied as married people, overall happiness has still declined.
    In a recent paper, Mr. Blanchflower and Mr. Oswald even put a crude cost on certain life conditions. A lasting marriage seems to be worth $100,000 a year, they said, because all else being equal, a married person is as happy as a divorced- and-not-remarried person who makes $100,000 more than the married person. Losing a job and remaining unemployed costs men $60,000 worth of happiness a year. And in what the authors described as yet more evidence of discrimination, being black costs $30,000 a year of happiness.
    The research has also found that women remain happier than men today, but that the gap has narrowed as -- and perhaps because -- women have entered the work force in larger numbers. In fact, men are about as happy today as they were in the early 1970's; nearly all of the decline since then is among women.
    The data have even offered a bit of an explanation for the dread with which many people view their 40th birthdays. It turns out that happiness reaches a nadir for most people right around 40. Before then, people seem to focus on all of the possibilities in front of them. After 40, more seem to be satisfied with what their life entails at the moment, Mr. Blanchflower and Mr. Oswald say.
    People who say they are happy tend to have low blood pressure. They more often make a genuine smile (known scientifically as a Duchenne smile, when two different facial muscles fire). And their spouses and friends often describe them as happy."
    If Richer Isn't Happier, What Is? by David Leonhardt

    "ECONOMISTS have for the first time discovered the price of happiness, and it is at least £1m. New research suggests that, contrary to folklore, money can bring happiness, but it takes a large amount."
    Money can buy happiness, but it takes $2.5 million by David Smith

    "Researchers found that areas where residents had high civil involvement were happier than those with more wealth but less community participation."
    Study finds community work linked to happiness by Rex W. Huppke

    "Attaining popularity or influence and money or luxury is not what makes people the happiest and is at the bottom of the list of psychological needs, according to a new study. Topping the list of needs that appear to bring happiness are autonomy (feeling that your activities are self-chosen and self-endorsed), competence (feeling that you are effective in your activities), relatedness (feeling a sense of closeness with others) and self-esteem."
    What makes people the happiest?

    "What others think about you may affect your own health and well being. A new study found that college students held in high esteem by their roommates were happier and had less physical problems than those who were not liked as much."
    What others think is important to health and happiness

    "Beautiful people are ruining others' chances of happiness. At least, that is the conclusion of mathematicians, who have found out what many people have known for years: personality is more important than looks."
    Beautiful people 'ruin' lives

    "An evolutionary perspective offers novel insights into some major obstacles to achieving happiness. Impediments include large discrepancies between modern and ancestral environments, the existence of evolved mechanisms "designed" to produce subjective distress, and the fact that evolution by selection has produced competitive mechanisms that function to benefit one person at the expense of others. On the positive side, people also possess evolved mechanisms that produce deep sources of happiness: those for mating bonds, deep friendship, close kinship, and cooperative coalitions. Understanding these psychological mechanisms--the selective processes that designed them, their evolved functions, and the contexts governing their activation--offers the best hope for holding some evolved mechanisms in check and selectively activating others to produce an overall increment in human happiness."
    The evolution of happiness

    "Positive psychology is a growing movement that advances the notion that human beings can cultivate happiness, just like any other habit."
    Ha! Ha! Happiness

    Born to Be Happy, Through a Twist of Human Hard Wire
    BEHAVIOR; Born to Be Happy, Through a Twist of Human Hard Wire

    "Women exposed to their partner's semen during sex may find themselves feeling happier than those who use a condom, say scientists."
    Semen 'makes women happy'

    "Women from the richest areas are most likely to be unhappy with their bodies, Canadian scientists say."
    Women from wealthy areas 'less happy with body image'

    "Gay adults are just as pleased with their overall quality of life as their straight counterparts, a team of researchers reports."
    Study: Straights, gays equally happy with life

    "THE secret of a long and faithful marriage is to marry a short man, according to research."
    Short guide to a happy marriage

    "Happy Thoughts May Prolong Life"
    Happy Thoughts May Prolong Life

    "Visible changes in the way the brain works give clues to physical differences between optimists and pessimists, scientists find."
    Brain scans spot 'happy thoughts'

    "Even happy experiences can't reduce stress, new research shows"
    Even happy experiences can't reduce stress, new research shows