Friday, February 11, 2011


 Ronni Bennett who writes the wonderful blog  Time Goes By (click on link) posted her second publication on the subject of happiness.  I urge you to read it [after you have read mine, of course.  ;-) ].  Ronni included a video of a lecture on the subject by Psychologist Daniel Kahneman.

I recently flew on Southwest Air and their entire on-board magazine Spirit was on the subject of happiness.  Because of Ronni's  previous post on the subject I brought the magazine home.

I just re-read the article and Psychologist Kahneman was quoted in the article.  His statements included the illustration of the man who listened to a symphony and had it ruined by a screeching sound at the end.  The man said his entire experience of listening to this beautiful music was ruined by the ending.  Dr. Kahneman pointed out that he had enjoyed 25 minutes of listening to rhapsodic music before the end.  The question was, how much of our happiness is locked up in perception?  (To get the entire story go to the video on Ronni's post).

Sentences on happiness from the article jumped out at me. 

Happiness is sometimes called well being, life satisfaction, or (by those who study the subject) Positive Psychology.  We give it the nickname Happiness.

What it isn't is money.  A study found that people living below the poverty line rated their life satisfaction on a par with those above it.
(This seems contradictory to what Daniel Kahneman was saying.)

It isn't youth.  As we get older we tend to accentuate positive memories leading to higher overall contentment.

It isn't the opposite of sadness.  Dr. Sonja Lyubomirski, a researcher at the University of California, Riverside states she would use two different measures, one for happiness and one for depression.

Happiness isn't an emotion at all says Dr. Sonja - it's more an overall  characteristic or disposition.

Psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar says that it's a combination of meaning and pleasure .  We need what we're experiencing to be meaningful.

Dr. Sonja and her peers claim that we can change our levels of happiness. Much of our happiness lies in our perception.

She claims that happiness is a combination of meaning and pleasure. She states the we need what we're experiencing to be meaningful.

She, and many of her peers claim that we can change our levels of happiness.  She is convinced that we can become happier, but you have to work at it every day of your life.

Try to be grateful, try to be optimistic, to invest in relationships, or do whatever it takes to make you happy.   What all of us can do to perpetuate our happiness is to spread it to others through acts of joy and kindness.  It is contagious if we choose it to be.

There is an on-line test written by Dr. Martin Seligman can take to find out your happiness level is.   Register for Seligman test (click on link)

 My personal feeling is that there are levels of happiness.  If I get up after a good night's sleep with nothing hurting I have the contented feeling of all's right with my world.  If I am anticipating seeing a  member of my family or going to a pleasurable event my feeling of happiness rises.  When I see my daughter's smiling face as I enter the airport gate my happiness knows no bounds.  Psychologists claim it is not an emotion, but I am not so sure.  It feels like an emotion to me.

If you have been around a toddler recently you probably know the song "If you're happy and you know it clap your hands."  And I am sure you joined in singing it.  Didn't you immediately feel happier?  I think Dr. Sonja is on to something.

Okay - a one an'a two.  Lets all sing If you're happy and you know it clap your hands.  


Ronni Bennett said...

I most agree with Dr. Sonja Lyubomirski that happiness is less an emotion than a characteristic or disposition.

That meshes with my sense of my own happiness - not elation, different from joy - just how I am. I've always tooted along just being - well, happy. It gets lost in times of grief or despair but I'm always aware that those are temporary states that time will help lift.

By the way, that study about income doesn't contradict Daniel Kahneman whose studies have found that $60,000 is the delineator. The poorer from the number, the unhappier people are. But above that level of income, the happiness level is flat. Money buys comfort, but not happiness.

Oh, and I'd call singing along with a toddler more joy than general happiness, but that's me.

Thanks for the shout out.

Looking to the Stars said...

I'm a singing :)
I no longer am concerned about happiness. I enjoy every minute that gives me pleasure. Maybe, some would say that is what they call happiness. Being content, is what I would call it :)

rummuser said...

Very interesting Darlene.

I took the Seligman test for authentic happiness and scored 3.79 in a scale of 5. Under all parameters, I scored more than 80% of all participants. I think that I am blessed.

I shall now take the new test "Are you flourishing?"

Darlene said...

*Ronni Bennett - I guess I just don't get it. If it causes you to feel a certain way, isn't that an emotion? To me a characteristic is a trait; some people are laid back and others are volatile. That's what I would term a characteristic. But volatile people can feel happy. I do understand that a person who deals well with turmoil will be happier than a person who falls apart. I suppose that is a characteristic.

I know I can be dense, but I would like to have this explained to me. I am easily confused. :-(

Thanks for setting me straight on the supposed income disparity. I guess that part of his talk went over my head.

*Looking to the Stars - I think most people refer to being content as being happy. I think I will let the psychologists sort it out.

*rummuser - You are, indeed, blessed. Maybe you are proof that happiness is a characteristic.

Kay Dennison said...

Happiness is relative. Money doesn't buy happiness but it's hard to be happy when one can't meet one's basic expenses. Been there; done that.

Right now I'm not happy for a variety of reasons -- none of which I have any control over so now I have to figure out how I can change things and get back to being my crazy self.

Darlene said...

*Kay Dennison - Wasn't it Sophie Tucker who said "I've been rich and I've been poor and rich is better."?

I hope you can be happy again soon.

Kay Dennison said...

Probably. Rich has nothing to do with happiness but it doesn't hurt. :) Sartre said "Hell is other people." and there's a modicum of truth in that. I can deal with really awful circumstances and come through just fine and I've proved it time and again. Most of my dissatisfaction comes from people in my life. But I'll be all right -- I always land on my poor old feet. This week the demons have been very much with me.

joared said...

I, too, experience happiness as occurring at differing levels dependent on the stimulation, my attitude and mood.

Is our language leading us astray from Dr. Lyubomirski view of happiness? Just asking, 'cause we say, "I feel happy, sad, angry, mad, lonely, content, hot, cold, wet, dry, I feel like I have something in my eye. Oh, I feel pain and I feel pleasure."

Darlene said...

*joared - You make a very good point. Semantics, semantics, semantics.

Anne said...

I think happiness is really difficult to measure. I am in general happy, but things can happen to make me quite unhappy. My sister is usually unhappy. She has suffered from depression for much of her life and the last time I saw her she did a lot of crying about a lot of things that seemed relatively trivial to me. And yet, on the surface her life is as good as mine. And she has a good deal more money (so, as Ronni and others say, it isn't money). I read Ronni's post and watched the video it contained. I haven't thought of a good comment yet. It's a lot to think about. (Thanks for the video on the Grand Canyon -- more of that later.)

Darlene said...

*Anne - Depression is such a terrible disease. It sounds like your sister is suffering from clinical depression and should be on medication. If not, then she badly needs psychotherapy to find out why she is so negative. It's hard to be around someone who is self pitying.

rummuser said...

Something seems to be wrong with Ronni Bennett's site. I am unable to access it.

Darlene said...

*rummuser - I don't know what the problem is. I just clicked on the link and it was working. Try copying and pasting this URL into your browser and see if you can get the site.

Rain said...

One thing about toddlers is if they are happy, you know it. If they are not happy, you also know it. They don't pretend nothin' about any of it. I don't know that that is great philosophy for us though other than I believe we can't always be happy. We can't even make short term happiness anyway our goal. I think wondering whether I was happy would tend to make me unhappy. I prefer to just be whatever it is and not try to define it-- unless something like a tooth (and there are many other examples) is hurting and I better define it.

One Woman's Journey said...

A lot to think about
I know for the first time in life that I am at peace.
A lot has happened in my life that I wish had not. There are things that upset me from time to time. But every day is a new day and I try to start anew. Not easy - sometimes - but I try...

Nance said...

Ordinarily, you and I hit on absolutely every note together, which makes us wonderfully happy blog-panions. Therefore, this one little matter won't matter.

Still, as a psychologist, I've got issues with Seligman and his Happiness agenda. Most of the scholarly and clinical psychologists passed him on by quite some time ago. Once upon a time, he was well-respected, but he seems to have sold out to commercial interests, primarily.

There are plenty of folks who feel bad about not being able to drum up sufficient happiness just by willing themselves to it; they are known as the emotionally ill and the incidence in the lifetime of most normal humans of at least one period where they would meet minimum criteria for a diagnosis is very high.

Examples that are not responsive to Seligman's joy-mongering (and don't look on Seligman's site for confirmation of this, 'cause he can't sell his schtick if he admits his limitations)include PTSD (think formerly happy constituents of Gabby Giffords' district in Tucson), prolonged grief, and generalized anxiety disorder, to name a few.

In my not-so-humble professional opinion, Martin Seligman is padding his retirement via internet book sales. And creating some folks who feel even worse about themselves because they can't think their way to happy successfully. The folks who can were already doing so and don't need him.

Love that question, "Are you flourishing?" Obviously, if you're not, you're just not trying hard enough. See what I mean? All the "healthy" people are flourishing or can make themselves do so; clearly something is WRONG with the rest of us.

P.S. And I'm generally an optimist by temperament, a pessimist by policy. I've posted pretty extensively on Seligman and the Joy-Mongers in 2010. Check 'em out and shoot me a discouraging word ;)

Darlene said...

*Nance - Thank you for your informative comment. It's very enlightening coming from a professional.

I think that 'happiness' is the new cult that is being studied to death. It reminds me of the book "The Power Of Positive Thinking" and how we all tried to use it to cure our addictions. If it didn't work, then we felt guilty.

I hadn't really thought of the downside of trying to make yourself happy. Thanks for making me aware of that.

I also think that each of us define happiness differently. To me, being happy is a state of contentment and I do not know whether that is a characteristic or an emotion. As Bill Clinton so famously said, "It depends on what the definition of 'is' is."

Xtreme English said...

I'm with matter what else goes on, at heart i'm happy as a clam. i don't LIKE living alone (except when i do)(which is most of the time). it all boils down to BEING HERE NOW.

having money is very CONVENIENT--much more than not having any.

freedom from pain...holding you in the light. it's so hard to know how or what you feel (or think) when you're hurting all the time.

but you are full of light, darlene...that's gotta be a happy state.

Xtreme English said...

one more thing: do you think a person can fake happiness?

Darlene said...

*Xtreme English - Okay, I concede to the wisdom of my friends. Happiness is a characteristic.

Friko said...

Darlene, you are a wise old bird.
I am the depressive and miserable sort of person, happiness hits me rarely.
Can't say that singing along with a toddler is something I've ever tried; perhaps I'll have to find one and see what happens.

If one is determined to be miserable there's nothing much anybody can do.

paula said...

You've given us a lot to think about, Darlene. I've seen both happiness and depression in my life, plus PTSD, and am not convince we're all either one or the other. I'm basically content and positive, but life has taught me to be more cautious than I'd like to be. Do caution and concern over negative events constitute unhappiness? I don't think so. And, as Nance said, willing some things away just doesn't cut it because you can't choose your parents, much of your young life or those things that come out of the blue, like auto accidents,robberies,cancer, death of friends, etc. Still, we bop along...

Darlene said...

*Paula - I am beginning to think that happiness is being over studied. We can't be our own therapists and make ourselves happy permanently. My illustration of singing a happy song may help temporarily, but the feeling can't last.

I am ready to concede that it's a characteristic and best left to itself.

Thanks to all who commented because you made me probe more deeply into the subject and I altered my thinking about it. At least I modified my opinion.

Baino said...

Very interesting. I took the test and apparently I'm 70% happy whereas those in my demographic are about 60% so i guess I'm faring quite well. I like the idea that happiness is considered wellbeing. I think sometimes we're chasing a holy grail that doesn't exist. If we're totally euphoric all the time how do you know. We need the lows to appreciate the highs. Although I'd like to test the theory that money can't by you happiness. It would make a huge difference to my wellbeing I can tell you! Hope you're well Darlene, you're lookin' good!

Darlene said...

*Baino - I agree that it takes contrast to appreciate good things.

Yeah, money can't buy happiness but it can sure make you more comfortable in your misery. ;-)

Vagabonde said...

I like this post. I am very happy this morning – got up late and the heat does not work in the house but it is sunny and the birds are chirping. I am having a great time reading your blog. Now I’ll go down and have breakfast with a good cup of joe, then I’ll take the happiness test. I am very happy already and after oatmeal with blueberries, strawberries and expresso coffee I’ll break the chart!

Darlene said...

*Yummy - Oatmeal, Blueberries, Strawberries and Expresso sounds like a great way to start the day.