(Established in 1988)
A Neuro-Behavioral Medicine Clinic
Dr. Gautham's Neuro
The Secret of Happiness
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The Ancient Greeks believed that there may be many ways to be happy but all of these ways must have something in common -- to be happy you must live consistent with our innate human nature. You cannot just choose to do anything and be happy. You must live the right way to be happy. There is a right way. If you try to live the life of a hedonist, for instance, you will not be happy because you will not be developing all of your potential. Implied then in this philosophy is the belief in objectivity in judging happiness, that there is an objective human nature and it must be followed to some extent for a person to be happy.
Epicurus, on the other hand, believed that the secret to life was learning to control desire. The wise man, according to Epicurus, learns to live a simple life and not attempt to structure life on the basis of big expectations and desires. Also, Epicurus argued that one can't be happy using others to satisfy individual desires.
Abraham Maslow, better known for his Motivation Theory, believes that humans have innate biological tendencies that are basically good. Human nature, given the right environment, is good. We are biologically programmed to be happy, and will be happy, if we are given the right environment. Unlike the Greeks, Maslow places a lot less emphasis upon developing the mind and our reasoning ability to be happy. Maslow believes that to be happy, a person must go beyond just wanting things for oneself and that this will naturally happen if our basic needs are met.
In other words, the biggest mistake people make is thinking that happiness involves things we need to get. Sure material things are important, but material things should be instruments for security, a basic need, and to be really happy, to fulfill our biological potential, we need to feel what Maslow calls "other-directedness." So there are things we need to receive -- food, sex, affection, security, self-esteem (basic needs), and there are things we need to feel (Maslow calls these meta-needs). Other-directedness means that we need to feel a sense of caring for something outside ourselves. We need to care, love, and have concern for others, be concerned about justice for others, have a desire to gain knowledge for its own sake, or be involved in the development of something (a cause, a family, a business) for its own sake.
Social comparison is a fact of life and cannot be avoided. It's all around us, every day, every minute. You compare your day with that of your spouse. You compare your child with that of your sibling. You compare your dress with that of your friend�.and so on. Such comparison gives rise to a state of discontent. Some people can be said to be actually suffering from a state of CHRONIC discontent. They are never satisfied with what they have and always look at the seemingly �greener side�. This results in anxiety disorders and depression. Others can be said to be suffering from a �learned helplessness�. They cannot do anything for themselves and always look to others for help. And when such help is perceived to be not forthcoming, they become depressed. You could say that such people wallow in self-pity or even feel distressed when there is no cause for unhappiness.
Myers and Diener considered personal relationships, religious faith, and the "flow" of working toward achievable goals as possible determiners of individual differences in the happiness set-point. Examples of happy 'unemployed' people can be found among middle and upper-class people of an earlier era who did not need to work, and did not do so. As far as we can see they were perfectly happy, because they had a fairly ordered way of life, with extensive duties, achievable goals, and orderly pursuits, and valued interpersonal relationships. Money and possessions were only viewed as the means of achieving these goals. Thus, you could say that such people were happy �with the bare necessities�
Then came the advent of �materialism�. Money and possessions began to be viewed as the end in themselves leading to status seeking and development of yardsticks for judging success and well-being. Envy and possessiveness became acceptable personality traits, and acquisition began to be viewed as the key to success and happiness. People began to develop more and more unrealistic expectations about the benefits of material goods. And developed links between material wealth and personal qualities. Recent research suggests that such central materialistic aspirations are strongly related to unhappiness, anxiety and depression.
Richard A. Easterlin, an economist at the University of Southern California, argues that money can equate to happiness only if one's own income grows while others' stagnate or fall. A recent study of the relationship of money to Well-being concluded that it�s not the money, but the motives that are related to happiness. Positive motives to make money, such as security, market worth, pride, and freedom of action (leisure, charity, impulsive spending etc) result in less importance being attached to money as an end in itself and greater well being. Negative motives, such as social comparison and allaying of self-doubt, result in money and materialistic values being considered the most important, and thence to lack of happiness.
Existentialists, on the other hand, deny that there is some essential human nature that must be followed, and in its most radical form, denies that happiness is possible at all. All that is possible is honesty, but do not make the mistake that the existentially honest person, the "authentic person" to use Sartre's language, is happy. Life is crazy and the best one can do is be honest about it.
Mystics (Hindu / Buddhist / Christian philosophers) emphasize controlling of thoughts and seeing reality more clearly. In this way, one will be able to calmly accept what happens to you in this life and be prepared for the happiness that will come as a precious gift. Put simply, there are precious gifts from life all around you every day. But for most of us, our minds are too full of worries to see them.
More than 2,300 years ago, Aristotle wrote that reason, our rational capacity, should help us recognize and pursue what will lead to happiness and the good life. In short happiness lies in the way we perceive life. Some people do seem to be happier on average than other people are. Although people adapt surprisingly quickly to both good news and bad, the set-point around which happiness varies from time to time apparently differs from one person to another.
Happy people are better at disregarding information about others' success and concentrate on their own performance. Happy people don't ruminate. They concentrate on inner personal standards. If they think much about the better performance of another person, it is typically to learn something from it to make themselves better. People in good moods tackle problems in a different way from those in neutral or sad moods. They move more quickly, adopt the simplest strategy, and accept the first solution they find Optimistic people minimize their misfortunes, while pessimistic people tend to blame themselves when things go wrong and ascribe good events to chance. Optimistic people, generally feel that good things will last a long time and will have a beneficial effect on everything they do. And they think that bad things are isolated: They won�t last too long and won�t affect other parts of life. Unhappy people, in contrast, tend to dwell on negative feelings about themselves and others.
Then, of course, there is the nature Vs nurture debate. The nature camp says an individual�s ability to feel good is predetermined by his or her genetic makeup. Emotions � both positive and negative � are designed to get us to do things that are good for our genes. For Darwinian psychiatrists, who believe that emotions are the products of millions of years of natural selection, negative moods are not necessarily defects that need to be corrected. Writer Stephen Braun likens moods to emotional nerves, pointing out that we need them to protect ourselves from pain and to ensure that our behavior minimizes pain in the future. Basically, if you put your hand on the stove and get burned once, you will not do it again. If you put your hand on the stove and cannot feel any pain, you will continue to put your hand on hot stoves
For the nurture camp, happiness is a habit that can be cultivated. By engaging in meaningful work, play, relationships and activities, as well as by training your mind, they claim, you can learn to see that the grass is indeed just as green on your side.
Then there are those, who think that all this hoopla about being happy may be misguided. In our sometimes-frantic pursuit of this elusive emotion, some psychiatrists say, we forget that it is relative and that without depression or negative moods we could never recognize bliss, much less survive day to day
Social relationships and sense of community have much to do with happiness level. By far the greatest predictor of happiness in the literature is intimate relationships. Data from the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center reveal that people with five or more close friends (excluding family members) are 50 percent more likely to describe themselves as "very happy" than respondents with fewer. . Overall, married people have been found by researchers to be happier than unattached individuals. When you take a closer look, what's making the happy marriage is what researchers call `mutual self-disclosure,' or intimacy of feeling appreciated and heard." Another factor is called domestic equity, a term indicating the degree to which partners "perceive over time that what they give and get when attending to household matters is in balance." Feeling there is some equitable division of chores and responsibilities goes a long way toward a happy relationship
Another survey showed that people who valued high income, job success and prestige more than close friends and a loving marriage were twice as likely to be "fairly" or "very" unhappy. At the top of the list of what elevates or deflates everyday moods are our associations with other people: romance, family, friendships, the groups we join, how we compare ourselves with others, whether we judge people -- even encountering a friendly face at the neighborhood store or restaurant.
In short, we lose happiness in our pursuit of what we feel we lack as compared with others.
There is a growing movement that advances the notion that human beings can cultivate happiness, just like any other habit. It believes that the traditional psychology has done a disservice to society by focusing on what�s wrong with people, rather than what�s right. According to this school, people can be taught to be optimistic and �dispute their catastrophic thoughts,� Unhappy people are to examine negative thoughts as though someone external whose goal is to make them miserable was saying them. They then learn to dispute the arguments with positive ones, thereby developing of their own internal optimist. But, like all self-development programs, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Anything can only be learned if it is put into practice on a regular basis.