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The Unfitting Piece of Happiness

Eliminating the single-minded search for happiness in life would increase the well-being of people who shift their focus to identifying the fulfilling purpose of life. As everyone is single-mindedly searching for happiness in their life, they are oblivious to the downsides of their actions. 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. Everyone has a different interpretation of happiness and what can bring them this positive feeling. Unfortunately, people have a tendency to chase or long for a false sense of happiness, that is influenced by what others deem as proper success, such as materialism or greed. Happiness is important, but not at the expense of what truly matters. By creating a focus around identifying the fulfilling purpose in life, people would be increasing their overall well-being. Purpose is crucial as it is a prevalent theme of a person’s identity, and it provides a basis for behavior patterns in everyday life. A purpose motivates a person to dedicate their resources in certain directions and toward specific goals, which creates a sense of determination that fuels a person to continue forward. A purpose also creates a foundation that allows a person to be more resilient to obstacles, stress, and strain. Following the path and direction of a purpose can lead to life satisfaction.

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. Happiness is defined in terms of personal positive feelings or a 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 of 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.

Everyone has a different interpretation of happiness and what exactly is the cause of it. 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 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 to 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 in happiness will most likely become clearer. In a lecture he wrote for his composition class, Professor David Hodges offered the example of two people that help us redefine happiness. 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.

Even though it has been proven through research that the pursuit of happiness is at best unrewarding and at worst disastrous, it remains for most of us a core value. We’ve been conditioned to believe that we should strive for happiness and that it’s worth fighting a war to defend our right to do so by documents as fundamental as the Declaration of Independence. It is understandable that there is a widespread belief that whether you find happiness or not will determine the value or measure of success of their life. It is easy to be immersed in how the value of happiness is deemed very high in today’s society and are surrounded by the increasing demand for guidance with the main focus of increasing happiness. Studies have shown that people who extremely value happiness are 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.

In an article, “Why You Need to Pursue Happiness,” the author, Ronald Siegel, Psy.D, claims that happiness positively impacts your health. He explains that besides the impact on longevity, there is evidence linking positive emotions to a lower risk of certain diseases and states that studies have found that people who are generally hopeful or curious appear to have a lower risk of developing hypertension and diabetes. However, this study does not address the claim at hand. Siegel uses “hopeful” and “curious” as indicators of positive emotions resulting from happiness, when in fact they are not. These terms reference temporary emotions that can appear and disappear in a moment. They are not necessarily related to happiness as someone can be hopeful in dark or challenging times or become curious as new information is presented. These in no way have a clear indication of happiness or positive emotions. These emotions can also be considered as part of someone’s personality, or traits that are commonly expressed by certain individuals. This would also not have any clear indication of happiness, as personality traits are developed as people grow and are not as easily changed.

Although Siegal claims that happiness has positive impacts on your health, it actually results in negative side effects. If people experience a high intensity of happiness, there are no psychological or health gains and people may experience costs. When feeling overly 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. This would lead to more health problems, such as increasing the risk of hypertension and diabetes.

Searching for happiness not only results in negative impacts on physical health but also on mental health. Individual happiness creates a selfish drive that shows how people are not satisfied and will continue searching for happiness. This entails negatively affecting mental and physical health. 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 a 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 relationships and connections with the people surrounding you, the search for happiness has left you with no one available for emotional or physical connection. This negatively affects mental and physical health, as it is likely to turn into unhealthy behaviors. 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 showed 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.

The author also claims that happiness fades, so you should continue to seek it out. He states, “The last, crucial 40 percent of our potential happiness is under our control. We have to work to maintain it — and the research says it’s worth the effort,” In this statement, Siegal claims that the happiness is potential, which indicates that it is not guaranteed. There is no assurance that seeking out that happiness will yield successful results. This would undermine the statement that it would be worth the effort. He also states that you must work to maintain happiness, which indicates a person would have to have it, to begin with.  There is too much value being placed in increasing or maintaining happiness levels, that the value of happiness itself is being faded. It is common for people to value wanting to be happy above many other goals with the expectation that happiness not only feels good but is beneficial. However, the more value that people invest in finding happiness, the less happy they are in actuality. People have a tendency to chase or long for a false sense of happiness, that is influenced by what others deem as proper success. They themselves are not searching for their own happiness. On the other hand, the search for the purpose of one’s life is a true reflection of the person. The purpose of life is important for psychological and physical well-being as 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 people search for happiness, people become greedy and more likely to exhibit less self-control. 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. Consumer culture is super prevalent in today’s time 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. Those who obtain so many materialistic items feel a superficial high where they feel they have added so much value to their life. This unforgiving cycle of greed relating to materialistic items is an effect of the unrelenting search for happiness.

References

Cui, P., Shen, Y., Hommey, C. et al. The dark side of the pursuit of happiness comes from the pursuit of hedonia: The mediation of materialism and the moderation of self-control. Curr Psychol (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-021-02104-9

DeAngelis, T. (2004). Consumerism–Consumerism and its discontents. https://www.apa.org. https://www.apa.org/monitor/jun04/discontents

‌ Dfarhud, D., Malmir, M., & Khanahmadi, M. (2014). Happiness & Health: The Biological Factors- Systematic Review Article. Iranian Journal of Public Health43(11), 1468–1477. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4449495/

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 Science6(3), 222–233. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691611406927

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

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. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0025299

Siegel, R. (2015, May 16). Why you need to pursue happiness. Next Avenue. Retrieved December 11, 2021, from https://www.nextavenue.org/why-you-need-pursue-happiness/.  

Zerwas FK, Ford BQ. The paradox of pursuing happiness. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences. 2021;39:106-112. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352154621000541. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cobeha.2021.03.006.

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