Conditions That Can Make You Happier
“Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”
“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”
Living a happy, good, fulfilling, or meaningful life should be, as Aristotle says, the whole aim and end of our existence. The psychologist Jonathan Haidt wrote a wonderful book, “The Happiness Hypothesis”, its about how we achieve happiness, he explores the many different angles that we can become happier. From the ancient answers of philosophy linked to the modern findings in psychology, I believe Haidt wrote one of the most important books of our time.
In one section Haidt explores the first formulation of a “happiness equation”: H = S + C + V. Happiness (H) equals the set point of our genetic heritage (S) plus the external conditions (C) plus voluntary actions (V).
For this post we will focus on the conditions (C).
One of the most popular answers to finding happiness is expressed as such: ‘happiness comes from within’, meaning we are bound to become miserable to the external world through attachments and harm. Therefore, we must first learn to cultivate being happy from within or internally without any external stimuli. Theres a lot of truth from this answer brought forth by Buddha and the stoic philosophers of Ancient Greece and Rome, however, it is not entirely true. Certain conditions due affect our happiness, some more than others, and once we know about these conditions we can design the the right environment and and be happier.
People who live or work somewhere with constant disturbing noises such as next to a highway or next to a construction site, will be less happy. Chronic noise interferes with concentration, impairs cognitive tasks and increases stress.
Studies show that people who have longer commutes, notably ones with high traffic potential, arrive at work with higher levels of stress hormones. It’s worth shortening your commute if you want to be happier (Plus, you save on one of the most valuable thing in the world: time).
Lack of control
Lack of control relates to the last two: noise and commuting. One of the most active roles to why disturbing noises and high traffic makes us miserable, is that you can’t control them. Studies show that patients in a hospital given more control are happier, more active, and more alert, and these benefits were still visible eighteen months later.
This one is about our appearance. Overall, attractive people are not happier than unattractive people, however, people who improve their appearance such as plastic surgery or a fitness transformation lead to lasting increase in happiness.
Humans are ultra social beings. We need each other to survive and to reproduce. We need each other to live meaningful lives because our social relationships construct our identity. Relationships are the most important out of all the other conditions to affect our happiness. Negative relationships can make us extremely miserable because we experience pain when we are with them as well as when we are with out them. We’re constantly thinking of our relationships. Social neuroscientists call this the “default network”, that is, the default state of our brains. For the negative relationships, we’re remembering the pain they made us feel or dreading the future pain they will inflict. We can cut out the negative relationships and keep the good ones. I know this is hard, but you need to stay strong. It’s for the best.
Originally published at www.behavioralsavings.com on June 12, 2016.