Purposeful Happiness in Life
Emotions, such as happiness, sadness, anger, or jealousy are a natural part of human psychology. When people think of these emotions, they normally define these emotions with examples of short-term moments. Happiness is described as an array of positive emotions including joy, pride, or gratitude. It can also be defined as a mental and emotional state of well-being. Everyone, including me, has a different interpretation of happiness and what exactly is the cause of it. The value of happiness is deemed very high in today’s society, which is evident by the increasing search for guidance through motivational speakers, life coaches, and self-help books all with the main focus of increasing happiness. Happiness is defined in terms of personal positive feelings or personal gain. For example, eating their favorite food or going to the beach can make someone happy. However, the distinction between pleasure and life satisfaction is not regularly identified.
The feeling of pleasure and short-term happiness can scientifically be defined by chemicals released by the brain which work to regulate a person’s mood, perception and view on life. Four main brain chemicals that induce happiness include dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins. In Happiness & Health: The Biological Factors- Systematic Review Article, experts have shown that biological endogenic factors that influence happiness are divided into five major areas: brain and neurotransmitters, endocrine glands and hormones, genetic factors, physical health, and typology and attractiveness. Neuroscience studies have shown that parts of the brain (amygdala, hippocampus, and limbic system) and neurotransmitters (dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, and endorphin) play a role in the control of happiness. A few studies have also pointed to the role of cortisol and adrenaline (adrenal gland) and oxytocin (pituitary gland) in controlling happiness. These factors are also accompanied by exogenic influences such as social, cultural, and economic factors. Our actions, surroundings, and emotions in turn influence our body chemistry. Any action we perform, our body will react to. We have control over most of our emotions, as we are aware of what we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. The actions we perform will result in signals in our body to release these chemicals, which cause feelings of pleasure and happiness.
In terms of life-long happiness, that definition is a bit more complex. People have a tendency to chase or long for a false sense of happiness, that is influenced by what others deem as proper success. This phenomenon is seen in the common personal desires for wealth, power, influence, or love. Materialistic values play a huge role in our society’s definition of happiness and success. The need for materialistic items is linked under the common desire for wealth as anything that has a monetary value is valued most by people. The author of Consumerism and its discontents, Tori DeAngelis, explains that in today’s world we own so many materialistic items and endless other commodities that weren’t around in the past 50 years, but are we any happier? Consumer culture has reached a high and there has been a decrease in life satisfaction. In psychologist Tim Kasser’s book, “The High Price of Materialism”, Kasser describes how people who organize their lives around extrinsic goals such as acquiring materialistic items, report greater unhappiness in relationships, poorer moods, and more psychological problems. He differentiates extrinsic goals, which focus on personal aspects such as, possessions, image, and status, from intrinsic ones, which aim at outcomes like personal growth and community connection. “Material things are neither bad nor good,” claims James E. Burroughs. “It is the role and status they are accorded in one’s life that can be problematic. The key is to find a balance: to appreciate what you have, but not at the expense of the things that really matter–your family, community, and spirituality.”
Happiness in life is usually identified by life satisfaction. Life satisfaction can be defined as the extent to which a person finds life meaningful, full, or of high quality. It can be seen as an endorsement of or positive attitude toward one’s life overall. As people reflect on their life choices and where they are today, they are inclined to think about how they feel about the journey and what they wish to accomplish with the rest of their time. The term “life satisfaction” is often used as a synonym for “happiness” and is often either associated with or identified as a substantial component of well-being. However, there are two individual implications of the word “satisfaction” that are used in various circumstances. In one instance, “satisfaction” can refer to the perceived fulfillment of expectations or living up to the standards. In other instances, “satisfaction” can refer to a feeling of being pleased with something. Due to these different implications of the word “satisfaction,” there are two different understandings of life satisfaction when analyzing a person’s emotions toward their life’s meaning or purpose.
The purpose of life is important for psychological and physical well-being, and it is both a goal for and a means to a fulfilling life. Purpose can be defined as a key, self-organizing life goal. Purpose is central in that when present, it is a prevalent theme of a person’s identity, and it is self-organizing in that it provides a basis for behavior patterns in everyday life. As a life goal, a purpose creates continual goals and targets for devoted efforts. Self-organization should be found in the goals people create, the effort that is devoted to these goals, and the process of decision-making when confronted with conflicting options of how to distribute limited resources such as time and energy. A purpose motivates a person to dedicate their resources in certain directions and toward specific goals and not others. This creates a sense of determination that fuels a person to continue toward their short-term goals. Terminal goals and projects are created and followed due to the existence of a purpose. As a life goal, a purpose cannot be achieved, but instead there are frequent objectives for efforts and resources to be devoted. A purpose creates a foundation that allows a person to be more resilient to obstacles, stress, and strain. If people have the assurance of a larger purpose or a bigger picture, they are more likely to be motivated to push through and hurdles. Also, persistence is deemed easier with a life goal that resonates across time and context. Following the path and direction of a purpose can lead to other elements of well-being such as life satisfaction, serenity, and mindfulness.
Dfarhud, D., Malmir, M., & Khanahmadi, M. (2014). Happiness & Health: The Biological Factors- Systematic Review Article. Iranian Journal of Public Health, 43(11), 1468–1477. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4449495/
Hall, A. (2014). Life Satisfaction, Concept of. Encyclopedia of Quality of Life and Well-Being Research, 3599–3601. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-0753-5_1649
Kashdan, T.B. & McKnight, P.E. (2009). Origins of Purpose in Life: Refining our Understanding of a Life Well Lived. Psihologijske teme, 18 (2), 303-313. Retrieved from https://hrcak.srce.hr/48215