Happiness: do we have a choice?

Happiness: do we have a choice?

As I frequently do, I bring to you today another interesting article on happiness from ScienceLine.

Here at The Happiness Institute we’ve always considered happiness to be something we choose (or don’t choose) to enjoy. But as this article quite rightly points out, the choices we make are at least partially determined by the circumstances in which we live and a number of other variables.

Here’s a sample paragraph…

Ludwig Wittgenstein, a famous 20th century philosopher, was miserable all his life. Depressed and anxious, he once wrote in his diary, _ã–There is no happiness for me; no joy ever._㝠Yet minutes before he died, he muttered: _ã–Tell them I_ã_ve had a wonderful life._ã

The concept of happiness is universally understood, yet escapes all comprehension. Can someone really be both unhappy everyday and happy over a lifetime? Does the notion of happiness change throughout the world, between communities, between people? Most importantly, do we have any choice in the matter?

The article then goes on and ultimately concludes with…

However, Graham agrees with Kagan that definitions of happiness do vary _ã” hence the paradox of the happy peasant and frustrated achiever. _ã–Very poor rural respondents with very limited means report to be very happy,_㝠said Graham, but _ã–people who have actually made a lot of progress and increased their income report to be miserable._㝠This finding is puzzling, but according to Graham, it may be partly explained by the expectations people set for themselves in different situations.

For example, a poor person surrounded by crime and corruption may adapt to his situation and try to find happiness in day-to-day experiences, like spending time with friends and family. A wealthy person in more privileged circumstances may work long hours for a promotion (judging a prestigious job to be an important component of a good life), but not have many happy moments as she goes through her day.

Graham thinks that people may evaluate their happiness based on whichever dimension _ã” happiness at the moment, or life evaluation _ã” they have a choice over.

_ã–If you_ã_re a poor peasant in Afghanistan and just don_ã_t have the agency to change your life circumstances _ã_ then surely you derive your happiness from a simpler definition _ã” happiness as contentment,_㝠Graham said. But if you have the capacity (through money or education) to lead a purposeful life, she explained, you think of happiness in the life evaluation sense.

In other words, when it comes to happiness, our choices may matter _ã” but it depends on what the choices are about, and how we define what we want to change.

To read the full and original article, and for some Sunday food for thought…JUST CLICK HERE