There’s a lot of interest in happiness these days
Some of it comes across as trivial and self-interested, which leaves many of us fairly cynical about the whole thing. But there is also some pretty serious science going on as well. Psychology in particular has come up with loads of research, especially through the recent discipline of Positive Psychology.
Some people view this as frivolous “happy science”
But as it turns out, serious-minded scientists are making some surprising discoveries. In the past, psychology focussed especially on mental illness, but these new insights have highlighted actions that enable people to flourish in life.
For example, they’ve shown that people who habitually practise appreciation of, and gratitude for, the good things in their lives are more healthy, content and successful!
This goes against the cultural grain, because we live in an age that tells us that it’s only when we achieve a particular lifestyle or status that we can find happiness. But practising gratitude doesn’t cost money!!
Having said that, there are a couple of things that I wonder about
Positive Psychology alone tells just part of the story. Without other perspectives, it can leave open the possibility of:
- A ‘me’-focus: my primary motivation is to ‘make myself happy’. So if I practice gratitude or do some random acts of kindness every day, then I’ll get more satisfaction in life! Is that the best kind of motivation?
- An anecdotal approach to life: ‘I’ll try some prayer or meditation, then a bit of walking in the countryside and add on optimism-cultivation’ (all things that have been shown to make a positive impact on wellbeing). All well and good, but will a patchwork quilt of good things lead to a truly fulfilled life? The anecdotal approach lacks integration and an underlying purpose; and without these, it’s difficult to find answers to deeper questions like – what are our lives really all about?
Let me know what you think!