Is Happiness Truly All That Good?
Everyone 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. We think that searching for happiness is beneficial in life, however, it is the pursuit of happiness that leaves negative side effects. Studies have shown that people who extremely value happiness are also less likely to attain long-term happiness, which is explained by lower levels of psychological well-being and life satisfaction. However, identifying the purpose of life will result in more life fulfillment and satisfaction.
According to most North Americans, they value wanting to be happy above many other goals with the expectation that happiness not only feels good but is beneficial for you. Happiness is usually defined in terms of personal positive feelings or a personal gain. However, the more value that people invest in happiness, the less happy they are in actuality. It has been shown that striving for personal gains can damage connections with others. For example, people who have high self-esteem often fail to attend to others’ needs and are unaware of how their actions can affect others. In addition, a narrow determination of achieving goals can cause people to disregard others’ feelings. Setting a small focus for achieving your happiness goal can be regarded as a selfish drive that neglects the emotions of those who surround you. This causes the pursuit of happiness to damage people’s relationships with others, resulting in loneliness. By ruining your relationships and connections with the people surrounding you, your search for happiness has left you with no one you can emotionally or physically connect to. Studies were conducted and they examined correlations between valuing happiness and reports of loneliness in a large community sample. Another study was conducted as well to test the effects of experimental manipulation of valuing happiness on loneliness, through self-reports and a hormonal indicator, progesterone, of social connection. These results concluded that valuing happiness is linked to greater indications of loneliness. This can lead to those pursuing happiness being at risk for poor mental health associated with more depressive symptoms.
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 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, 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 possessions, image, and status, from intrinsic ones, which aim at outcomes like personal growth and community connection. Those who acquire so many materialistic items feel a superficial high that they have added so much value to their life. If there is a high intensity of happiness, people experience no psychological or health gains and may experience costs. When feeling happy, we tend to feel less inhibited and more likely to explore new possibilities and take risks. People in this heightened ‘happiness overdrive’ mode engage in riskier behaviors and tend to disregard threats. For example, when experiencing high degrees of positive emotions, some individuals are more inclined to engage in riskier behaviors, such as alcohol consumption, binge eating, and drug use. Although they feel powerful and that nothing matters anymore, their life has little to no meaning as a superficial life of selfish dedication to instant gratification is unfulfilling in the bigger picture.
By comparing two different lifestyles side by side, the differences of happiness will most likely become clearer. Let’s say you see one stranger who would appear to be happy, and she would most likely define herself as happy. However, she is not. She feels pride in her excellent home, where she lives with her respectable family that she has created. She has a secure job where she has worked to reach her current position and she has a comfortable lifestyle. You may call her content with where she is in life. Another stranger you see lives in a rented, confined apartment and lives by himself. He does not have the same job security as the other stranger, so he manages to scrape by while freelancing. Let’s say he is happy. He often donates whatever he can to improve the welfare of others and participates in every cause that he encounters if it will better the world or ease the suffering of others. He will gladly share his lunch with anyone, even if it means he goes hungry. We might prefer to be the first stranger, but the second stranger is more likely to be happy. This is the result of not pursuing your own selfish happiness, but finding meaning and purpose in your life, and letting the feeling of fulfillment follow.
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 is important in that when present, it is a prevailing theme of a person’s identity, and it provides a basis for behavior patterns in everyday life. As a life goal, a purpose creates frequent goals and targets for dedicated efforts and motivates a person to dedicate their resources in certain directions and toward specific goals. This is evident for people who go out of their way to tend to the needs of others, opposed to just themselves. 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. Following the path of a purpose can cause positive elements of well-being such as life satisfaction, serenity, and mindfulness.
DeAngelis, T. (2004). Consumerism–Consumerism and its discontents. https://www.apa.org. https://www.apa.org/monitor/jun04/discontents
Gruber, J. J. (n.d.). Four ways happiness can hurt you. Greater Good. Retrieved November 4, 2021, from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/four_ways_happiness_can_hurt_you.
Gruber, J., Mauss, I. B., & Tamir, M. (2011). A Dark Side of Happiness? How, When, and Why Happiness Is Not Always Good. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6(3), 222–233. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691611406927
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
Mauss, I. B., Savino, N. S., Anderson, C. L., Weisbuch, M., Tamir, M., & Laudenslager, M. L. (2011, September 12). The Pursuit of Happiness Can Be Lonely. Emotion. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0025299
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I agree with that, ZZBird, and I’ve already given this exact hypothesis a bit of thought myself. It’s VERY difficult to convince a skeptical reader that you have something specific to offer on a topic as “squishy” as happiness, so I would recommend a narrative and illustrative approach.
You’ve already done the groundwork for a vivid comparison in your nicely-reasoned Definition Argument. It clearly and thoroughly explains the difference between “happiness” and “life satisfaction.” So you’re halfway to making a compelling case that there’s a difference between the two and that only one will help us avoid suicide. 🙂
In “The Opposite of a Black Sneaker” I illustrate a student’s attempt to answer this very question. Review the comparison between Frank and Ernest and see if it helps you strategize a way to use characters to embody your concepts. To me, this seems the best technique to avoid having abstractions argue with one another.
Let me know if it’s helpful. Thanks!
I’m enjoying the ride, ZZBird, as I float along with the general tide of your argument, but I can’t see the banks of the river very often, so I’m not sure which direction we’re headed. This is partly the result of your very long paragraphs that contain too many main ideas. This one breaks down into several sections that should each get some space and definition.
While I appreciate very much being part of your conversation with your readers, ZZBird, and am delighted that you found my example of Frank and Ernest pertinent and useful, you’ll have to cite me as a Reference if you’re going to fully incorporate my illustration and much of my original language in your paper. You can do so with proper credit. Otherwise you are violating the academic integrity code. You could say, “in a lecture he wrote for his writing class, David Hodges offered the example of two people that help us redefine happiness.” After that, you can paraphrase all you want without worry.
I appreciate your feedback, Professor Hodges! Your example was very helpful and furthered my explanation. I apologize for not properly citing the source, which I will fix.