Monday, December 15, 2008


The other day on the evening news there was a story about a scientific study of happiness from Harvard. It's a fascinating study and the piece on the news was really interesting, but the thing that most intrigued me was my own reaction to one particular scene from the report (I hope you'll pardon my fascination with myself).

The scene was a typical man-on-the-street interview, with the journalist asking the question "What makes you happy?" It's a perfectly logical question, right?

My initial, gut-level reaction to that question was (can you guess it?): Confusion!

Yup, I found that question entirely confusing. What makes me happy? That question doesn't make sense to me. I'm one of those strange creatures for whom happiness seems to be the default state - it's where I start, largely independent of external circumstances. I can't explain it, and I'm not sure I can claim much credit for it. I'm sure it's 90% biochemistry, genetics, luck and how I was raised (thanks, Mom & Dad!). 

The point is, nothing in particular makes me happy - which is to say, everything makes me happy. And really, make is the wrong word. I'm just generally happy to start with - there's no "make" about it.

A question that makes more sense to me is "What makes you not happy?" (Answer: being tired and/or being away from my family for too long).

FOLLOW-UP NOTE: After I wrote this post, I came across an article in The Week that talks about how people have a "default position," a baseline level of happiness. Hey, that's what I thought!


JafaBrit's Art said...

I guess I am the same, but what I find disturbing in the usa is the happiness industry. If one is feeling a bit down, cheesed off (sometimes due to health, circumstances, or just having a normal down) there is a concern or a belief one is depressed. Or if one can cope with the realities of life or confront them (like I do with some of my art) one must be somewhat a negative person.
In England it is the opposite, if one is cheerful all the time it can be viewed as negative LOL! sheesh, sometimes you just can win.
jafabrit happily skipping off into the sunset

Tori said...

I'm surprised you didn't mention what I found most interesting about the study when I heard about it, that being near happy people, even if you don't interact with them, increases your odds of being happy!
I also have to jab you a little bit, Houdani. You definitely ARE one of those people whose starting line is one of happiness - in fact, you were happy even during those teen angst years, if I recall... However, that's just not the case for everybody. I was told a couple of years back by a coworker that I was the "most positive person he'd ever worked with." If you are remembering me (correctly) from high school, then you know that I've gone through some big transformations since then. It's taken a lot of work and help but I can say that I am definitely a happy person nowadays. (And... to go back to the original study... knowing you in high school... did it bring my non-happy baseline UP to a less-non-happy place? Or is the study flawed? LOL.)

The Dan Ward said...

JafaBrit - I agree, the happiness industry around here is terrible. Being down is not a disorder or a defect, and it's a shame that so many people (including medical professionals) view it that way. Depression is often a medical/chemical issue, but I suspect we're WAY over-diagnosing that one.

Tori - I think you're right. My baseline happiness quotient has been pretty steady throughout the years, even including high school. Glad to hear yours is up! The bit about happiness being contagious was indeed the main point of the story. I didn't mention it because that part seemed obvious (like, did it really take a study to figure that part out?)

And yeah, I hope I've been able to boost the happiness-level of the people around me (tho like I said, being down is not a disorder)

Deb said...

I have to say you are one of the happiest, most positive people I've ever known!! :) Lucky me!

dad said...

Hi Dan: you've got another 'involved' issue going strong here again.... my 2 cents... and you'v heard this before many times.....Happiness (or S) = R (Reality or Envrionment) over our own E (Expectations)....the constant is the R and the independent variable is our own E.... Dad