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Scientists Discover How to Measure Happiness Exactly

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The BBC reports on the new scientific measurements of happiness. They are beginning a six-part series on TV in the U.K. called The Happiness Formula. The series promises to help you find out how happy you are. Nifty plan.

Scientists have felt that the word “happiness” has been too vague and too surrounded by the mythos of cartoon or movie views of “happy people” dancing with pleasure. Now, however, “… neuroscientists are measuring pleasure. They suggest that happiness is more than a vague concept or mood; it is real.”

There is another epiphany, folks. Happiness is real. Pleasure is real. Do not worry that you were missing something when you didn’t hear bells and the earth didn’t shake. You might have been happy anyway.[ADBLOCKHERE]

Now here is the scientific, complex measurement process of which they speak:

Social scientists measure happiness simply by asking people how happy they are.

It is argued that what a person says about their own happiness tends to tally with what friends or even strangers might say about them if asked the same question.

This is the scientific breakthrough the world has waited for. The mad scientist asks, “How happy are you on a scale of 1 to 10?”

“About five”, you say, thinking of great sex, a good movie, and a surly waitress at lunch.

“Aha”, says he/she, “you are a moderately happy person.”

It is scientific and high-tech.

The leading American psychologist Professor Ed Diener from the University of Illinois, told The Happiness Formula that the science of happiness is based on one straightforward idea:

“It may sound silly but we ask people ‘How happy are you 1-7, 1-10?

“And the interesting thing is that produces real answers that are valid, they’re not perfect but they’re valid and they predict all sorts of real things in their lives.”

One type of measurement even tries to record people’s levels of happiness throughout the day wherever they are.

Ecological momentary assessment uses hand held computers.

The person being quizzed is bleeped and then taken through a questionnaire.

They have made amazing new discoveries:

Happy people live longer than depressed people.

Happy people have close friends, they say. (But maybe people with close friends are happier people.)

“Standard of living has increased dramatically and happiness has increased not at all, and in some cases has diminished slightly,” said Professor Daniel Kahneman of the University of Princeton. “There is a lot of evidence that being richer… isn’t making us happier”. I think that someone may have made this discovery somewhat earlier.

Happily, they also note some ways to be happier. We were waiting for this part, weren’t we?

“Look for meaning in your life.”

“Develop deep relationships with family and friends.”

It is even suggested that friendship can ward off germs. Our brains control many of the mechanisms in our bodies which are responsible for disease.

Marriage (I assume a successful one) adds seven years to your life.

Another element is “…having goals embedded in your long term values that you’re working for, but also that you find enjoyable.” I would call that doing what you like and liking what you are doing.

The first episode of The Happiness Formula was shown on BBC Two at 1900 BST on Wednesday.

Another happy place to visit is The World Database of Happiness.

There is an e-zine for those looking for A Daily Dose of Happiness. Google, alone, promises 70,400,000 more citations on the subject of happiness. Be happy. Don’t worry.

Going over to the website of the American Psychological Association and putting “happiness” into their search box yields 107 documents. They are right on it. One article,”Review of Research Challenges Assumption that Success Makes People Happy: Happiness May Lead to Success via Positive Emotions” is indicative and positive.

Personal and professional success may lead to happiness but may also engender success. Happy individuals are predisposed to seek out and undertake new goals in life and this reinforces positive emotions, say researchers who examined the connections between desirable characteristics, life successes and well-being of over 275,000 people…

Get happy, get successful. It is a good outlook.

Just as an aside, the cardiologists’ test, the New York Scale for the severity of angina (chest pain), is based on asking you how bad it hurts on a scale of 1-10. So we see that happiness and pain share some common elements like measurement on these scientific scales.

Don’t worry. Be happy.

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  • I must add that the Daily Telegraph from the U.K. has a similar but much more strongly worded take on the BBC series, “The Happiness Formula”. The article, ” Politicians, economists, teachers… why are they so desperate to make us happy?” by Frank Furedi, is sometimes direct…

    Those who are sceptical about the capacity of a government to make us happy are sometimes advised to look at Bhutan, the absolute monarchy that has adopted the politics of happiness. This is the Buddhist kingdom that has forced more than 100,000 Hindus of Nepalese origin to leave the country. It may not be very democratic, but its track record on promoting happiness is second to none. In pursuit of this cause it has boldly banned wrestling and MTV.

    In reality, neither experts nor clever policies can make people genuinely happy. Freud may have been a little cynical when he suggested that his objective was to “convert neurotic misery into ordinary unhappiness”. But he understood that true happiness was an ideal that we pursue but rarely achieve. Nor is that a problem. A good life is not always a happy one. People are often justified in being unhappy about their circumstances and surroundings. Discontent and ambition have driven humanity to confront and overcome the challenges they faced. That is why people like the Controller in Brave New World want us live on a diet of “feelies” and “scent organs”. That is also why we should be suspicious of experts who seek to colonise our internal life.

    I must admit seeing the research and the show as more humorous than dangerous; but the modern world includes more dangers that ever before. Anti-happiness rears its ugly head.

  • W. I. Cookseyw

    The search for the true meaning of happiness will get nowhere until you introduce the concept of mental equilibrium into the discussion. My own attempt to do so can be seen in the article I published at newsvine

  • Pretty funny stuff…I was in a social psych class where they talked about cliches and ones that had been “socially tested” for veracity. The one I can remember off the top of my head is the age old debate, do opposites attract or do birds of a feather flock together. After vigorous study they found that indeed, birds of a feather do flock together.

  • Dawn

    I totally disagree with their assertion about standard of living and happiness. Money can’t buy you the true things that make you happy like love and family, but it can make every single other thing in your life better, and that, indeed makes most people happy.

    Nothing like being able to pay my bills and treat my loved ones from time to time to put a spring in my step.

  • No matter WHAT makes people happy, the benefits are clear:

    The healthy results of happiness.

  • Is there any way to see the BBC happiness formula when you live outside the UK? Great article