The dawn of a new year is upon us. It is a time to seize opportunities that bring forth personal development, growth and desired levels of happiness.
Happiness is not a simple concept though in modern times, ironically, the pursuit of happiness can often be a source of angst. Despite it being the most cherished of all human emotions, happiness remains the most elusive, often depicted as the eternal carrot, always coveted but never acquired.
So where are we going wrong?
To some degree it’s simple: most of us in the developed world are under the illusion that without life’s requisites of extreme wealth, success and a great marriage we will never be happy. The pressure of ‘having it all’ has a clear detrimental effect on our lives. What we are setting out to share with you in this post is not a mindless rant on the paradox of happiness. Instead we aim to sow seeds of thought, to inspire you to be visionaries, to think more laterally and to encourage you to join us on our mission towards a happier future. Are you ready?
The Economics of Happiness
During the current economic downturn and its accompanying austerity measures, the world economy reported a notable increase in growth in what economists (not philosophers) define as the ‘happiness industry.’ Described by some as an ‘unscientific’ concept, happiness has since been proven to have direct links with the growth and sustainability of the world’s economy, placing more emphasis on the tangible benefits to understanding and measuring individuals’ state of well-being.
The ‘Happiness industry’ otherwise known as the ‘Wellness industry’ is big business. It includes anything from beauty and anti-aging products to personalised medicine and healthy eating programmes.
According to the Global Spa Summit report 2010, the global market size of the ‘Wellness Industry’ was estimated to be worth just over US$1.9 trillion.
Yes, that’s right, the consumer market for wellness is huge and growing rapidly, businesses are now competing to make us feel happier, or seemingly so.
Interestingly, the concept of happiness has long been a focal point for big brand advertising, but this is increasingly becoming the case in recent times.
Coca Cola for instance, back in 2006 launched a commercial entitled ‘The Happiness Factory’. This featured bouncy fluffy creatures, encapsulated in a world of euphoria representing the bursts of joy and ‘physical uplift’ found in ‘every bottle of Coke’.
The advert depicts Coca Cola as a symbol of togetherness, good times and a promise of a better tomorrow, selling the concept of happiness in a bottle. As loyal fans were left spellbound by the ad’s artistic wizardry, Coca Cola were proud to announce a surge in profits and consumer demand, defying the negative impacts of the global recession at the time. Though few have replicated the marketing success of Coca Cola, by and large companies are finding it much harder to compete with continuing shifts in consumerism, forcing them to change old business habits in exchange for new.
Happiness – a new business paradigm
To gain a competitive edge, consumer focused companies are adjusting their business models to become ‘agents of happiness,’ where they either create an environment of happiness, or intervene to mitigate where people feel happy. A perfect example is Zipcar, a convenient, easy to use, car sharing service, which presents a new, cheaper innovative and hassle free alternative to owning your own car. Another is Skype, which uses VoiP technology allowing family and friends to talk for free via the internet, avoiding prohibitive international dialling charges. These companies have flourished in filling the void of ‘dissatisfaction’ for consumers over the past decade and the trend seems to be growing.
The ‘Happier’ app launched early last year seeks to address our search for happiness, encouraging its users to capture and share happy moments throughout the day, with the aim of increasing levels of happiness. Though this concept may seem rather basic, the brainchild of the app Nataly Kogan, explained plans to collate data on what makes their users happy with the ultimate intention of building a happiness graph.
The big question is, why would collating statistical data on our happiness be so important?
Firstly, in the business world there’s a growing movement towards standardising the measurement of well-being that leads to happiness. Secondly, the combination of ‘big data,’ our social graph and artificial intelligence means that companies will soon be able to measure individual progress towards well-being, set against the backdrop of our pursuit towards doing the same. In the near future, our virtual identities will be easily visible and our actions will be just as trackable as our influences.
If you’re still thinking that all this talk of happiness and well-being seems flaky and irrelevant, then you’re also missing a major trend that’s beginning to influence global social politics.
United Nations ‘World Happiness Report’
Rising suicide rates in rich countries such as Sweden and Japan along with low levels of morale in nations most affected by the economic crisis, as well as war have led to the publishing of the United Nation’s, World Happiness Report.
Back in July 2011, the General Assembly passed a resolution proposing that each country should measure its own people’s happiness in an effort to establish an alternative philosophical approach to measuring a country’s economic success, as a counter to the traditional gross domestic product (GDP) metrics system, revealing little about the well-being of the people. Although this approach has been hotly debated, it clearly illustrates the relevance and credibility the concept of happiness carries within political circles.
Photo from UNSDSN www.unsdsn.org
The World Happiness Report 2013 uncovered a notable decline in happiness compared to the previous study, across most Western European countries, namely Greece, Italy, Spain, Turkey, North America and some Middle Eastern regions.
Whilst the report provided a comprehensive insight into the economic and political factors which affected levels of happiness, critics would argue that it failed to acknowledge inherent cultural trends and attitudes of the minds of the people.
So bleak, so chic
Cue France, the least happy amongst its richer peers. According to the World Happiness Report 2013, France, famed for its cultural delights in elegance, sensuality, quality and form has throughout its cultural history cultivated the philosophy of ‘romantic miserabilism’ and opulent ‘pessimism’.
Victor Hugo, a well known poet who famously wrote ‘Meloncholia’ described melancholy as “the happiness of being sad.” Charles Pierre Baudelaire, another famous poet wrote in his diary, ‘I do not pretend that joy cannot be allied with beauty, but I do say that joy is one of its most vulgar ornaments; whereas melancholy is, as it were, its illustrious companion.” Much of this tradition is firmly fixed in the minds of the French today.
France is a country dominated by the rational thoughts and bourgeois values of the past treating its philosophers, intellects and writers, such as Hugo and Baudelaire, as national treasures.
A nation where doubt is its first philosophical reflex, the French mind has been tailored to experience the world with skepticism and a critical eye. Some believe that this is the affectation of the elite, while others might say that it’s more chic and more spiritual to doubt everything than to be optimistically naïve.
This is by no means is an attack on the French; rather this segment serves as an understanding and the importance of their cultural habits. Some would even argue that critical impulse has promoted cultural innovation and creativity throughout France’s history. Indeed, the most creative periods have often followed extreme bleak times. French designer Christian Lacroix once pointed out that war and revolution in France have been times of “creative reinventions, the moment when new forms of luxury come into play”. In short, perhaps the French need dissatisfaction and the need to doubt to remain culturally inventive. Maybe we could all adopt French values and ‘do away’ with the pursuit of happiness altogether. While this is clearly an interesting train of thought, we cannot deny that we need happiness to survive.
‘Virtue ethics’ of Happiness
In his research works ‘Virtue Ethics’, Aristotle begins with the claim that every activity aims at some end. For example, you go to school to get a job; however, the end activity in this example namely getting a job, could lead to another activity such as receiving money to buy food. If this pattern were to continue we would find the end point is always pursued for the sake of something else. So what then becomes the ultimate end point? The answer is happiness.
Aristotle believes that happiness is never pursued for the sake of something else, it is the final goal, it is ‘the complete good,’ or the ‘good that is self-sufficient’. If on the basis we pursue happiness for itself it is then more valuable than any other activity. He further explains that the soul of a man is somewhat different to all other living things, as it lives in accordance with reason. When a person’s soul lives in accordance with reason it is called a ‘virtue’.
Aristotle goes on to argue that virtues such as love, kindness and benevolence are chosen in order to exist in a state of happiness. In other words the virtue becomes the activity and happiness the end goal. In observation of Aristotle’s work, we think it’s safe to say that our function as human beings is to pursue activities that make us happy, a very important point indeed.
Medical science has also documented that negative emotions can harm the body. Serious and sustained stress or fear can alter biological systems in a way that over time adds up to “wear and tear” and eventually illnesses, such as heart disease, strokes and diabetes.
So could a sunnier outlook mean fewer colds and lower levels of heart disease?
Laura Kubzansky an associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, conducted a study in 2007 following more than 6,000 men and women aged 25 to 74 for 20 years. Kubzansky found that emotional vitality, a sense of enthusiasm, hopefulness, engagement in life and the ability to face life’s stresses with emotional balance appeared to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. The protective effect was distinct and measurable, even when taking into account behaviours such as smoking and regular exercise. Although medical scientists are yet to prove unequivocally that positive moods or happiness improve our health, there is strong evidence to suggest otherwise. Food for thought indeed.
Now that we have ascertained the importance of happiness, it leaves us with another imminent question, namely, how do we sustain and improve our overall happiness levels?
To answer this question we remind ourselves of the pressures faced by our generation today, the question and the quest for happiness almost becomes irrelevant, simply surviving in today’s current environment can be seen as challenging enough! Yet research undertaken by a growing number of psychologists are in agreement that that’s precisely where we are going wrong.
Unlocking our passions and leading a more creative lifestyle is the key to happiness. What’s interesting to note is that experts have uncovered a strong correlation between creative expression and well-being.
Although there’s no clear definition as to how we define ‘creativity’ researchers have identified it as: the ability to come up with new ideas, new links between ideas and novel solutions to problems.
Creating Smiles – ‘The Happy Show’
In his critically acclaimed 2012 exhibition, Stefan Sagmeister, the New York based graphic designer and typographist, used happiness as his subject to produce ‘The Happy Show.’ Sagmeister drew together ten years of his personal exploration of happiness, fusing film, print, infographics, sculpture and interactive installations to test the boundaries between art and design. The exhibition also attempted to increase levels of happiness amongst its visitors via mediation, cognitive therapy and mood-altering pharmaceuticals.
Photos taken from www.sagmeisterwalsh.com/work/project/the-happy-show/
Although the conceptual premise of the exhibition is rather straightforward – whether you can train the mind like a muscle to be happier – our attentions are drawn towards Sagmeister’s own personal journey towards a happier state of mind. ‘The Happy Show’ was in fact a project he commissioned for himself by himself. It became a creative pursuit of the ‘holy grail’ to which he admitted in interviews helped him overcome psychological issues he endured at the time.
Perhaps what Sagmeister stumbled across, was the enjoyment of being ‘in the zone,’ a creative process researchers call ‘flow’. It is the ‘creative flow’ which is linked to better job satisfaction, higher quality levels of social time and fulfillment and an overall increase in well-being.
The aspect of this ‘creative flow’ phenomenon is in fact something we can all enjoy by using our own unique set of skills and creative talents. In fact we cause harm to ourselves by refusing to indulge our desires to pursue our creative goals and passions.
If you’re left feeling inspired then keep reading. When it comes to our overall psychological well being the perpetual cycle of doing a job ‘for the sake of’ paying the mortgage is no longer sustainable.
Happiness, what does it mean to you?
Framework for Happiness Source: AlphaOmegaLondon
The above diagram shows a very basic “framework for happiness” which illustrates the underlying core tenets of happiness and how we can achieve it. ‘Love’ our primary function, dominates our, psychological, physical and spiritual well-being. A powerful source which is; eternal, precious, selfless, truthful, complete and perfect in every way, it is the cornerstone of our own existence. ‘Purpose’ is the point which intrigues us the most. If we set out to find our niche, to seek inspiration and enjoy the freedom of self- expression rather than live in constant fear of facing our challenges, we are more likely to lead our lives with not only a sense of purpose, but one which is meaningful. Do not underestimate the power of such steps, the combination of ‘Love’ and ‘Purpose’ will unlock the free flow of ‘Health’ enriching our lives for a happier future.
Rather than relying on our leaders and politicians to create a happier environment, we urge you to take action and strive towards making happiness the embodiment of how you live your life.
As we grasp a better understanding of what happiness is and what it can do, we believe that there are some key questions to consider:
- Will people move beyond materialism?
- Will we see the integration of happiness in policy decisions?
- Who will lead the way: Government, science, businesses or us?
Cool photos found on istockphoto.com