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Echothymia: Affective resonance between different people that makes understanding possible.

Happiness is an emotional or affective state that is characterized by feelings of enjoyment, pleasure, and satisfaction. As a state and a subject, it has been pursued and commented on extensively throughout world history. This reflects the universal importance that humans place on happiness.

States associated with happiness include well-being, delight, health, safety, contentment, and love. Contrasting states include suffering, depression, grief, anxiety, and pain. Happiness is often associated with the presence of favorable circumstances such as a supportive family life, a loving marriage, and economic stability. Unfavorable circumstances, such as abusive relationships, accidents, loss of employment, and conflicts, diminish the amount of happiness a person experiences. However, according to several ancient and modern thinkers, happiness is influenced by the attitude and perspective taken on such circumstances.

Many English language terms refer to various forms of happiness and pleasure. These terms vary in the intensity of the pleasure they describe, as well as the depth and longevity of the satisfaction. These include: bliss, joy, jubilation, exultation, euphoria, ecstasy, elation and gratification.

Philosophical views of happiness

In the Nicomachean Ethics, written in 350 B.C.E., Aristotle stated that happiness is the only emotion that humans desire for its own sake. He observed that men sought riches, or honor, or health, not for their own sake but in order to be happy. Note that "eudaimonia", the term we translate as "happiness", is for Aristotle an activity rather than an emotion or a state. Happiness is characteristic of a good life, that is, a life in which a man or woman fulfills human nature in an excellent way. The happy person is virtuous, meaning he or she has outstanding abilities and emotional tendencies which allow him or her to fulfill our common human ends. For Aristotle, then, happiness is "the virtuous activity of the soul in accordance with reason": happiness is the practice of virtue. Aristotle argues that happiness depends both on variables that we can fully control, especially virtue, and some variables that we can only partially control, such as wealth and social relationships.

Many ethicists make arguments for how humans should behave, either individually or collectively, based on the resulting happiness of such behavior. Utilitarians, such as John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham, advocated the greatest happiness principle as a guide for ethical behavior.

[edit] Societal theories of happiness

Societies, religions, and individuals have various views on the nature of happiness and how to pursue it. Western society takes its concept of happiness, at least in part, from the Greek concept of Eudaimonia[citation needed]. Eudaimonia (Greek: εὐδαιμονία
For Americans, the happy or ideal life is sometimes referred to as the American dream, which can be seen as the idea that any goal can be attained through sufficient hard work and determination, birth and privilege notwithstanding[citation needed]. While many artists, writers, scholars, and religious leaders can and do consider their work to fall within the American dream, it is usually thought of as relating to financial success[citation needed]. Writers such as Horatio Alger promoted this idea, while many writers, such as Arthur Miller, criticized it[citation needed].

Factors such as hunger, disease, crime, corruption, and warfare can decrease happiness.

[edit] Psychological views

[edit] Early theories

Buddha is probably the earliest recorded thinker to discuss the role of the mind in the pursuit of happiness, including the psychological origins of mental dysfunction, and positive interventions to remove such dysfunction through the practice of the eightfold path, and especially mindfulness and concentration. According to Buddha,"Mind is the forerunner of states of existence. Mind is chief, and (those states) are caused by the mind. If one speaks and acts with a pure mind, surely happiness will follow like one's own shadow!".

The Chinese Confucian thinker Mencius, who 2300 years ago sought to give advice to the ruthless political leaders of the warring states period, could well be the second figure to ponder over the psychological roots of happiness. Mencius was convinced that the mind played a mediating role between the "lesser self" (the physiological self) and the "greater self" (the moral self) and that getting the priorities right between these two would lead to sagehood. Furthermore he argued that if we did not feel satisfaction or pleasure in nourishing one's "vital force" with "righteous deeds" that force would shrivel up (Mencius,6A:15 2A:2). More specifically, he mentions the experience of intoxicating joy if one celebrates the practice of the great virtues, especially through music.

About one hundred years later the Hindu thinker Patnjali, author of the Yoga Sutra, wrote quite exhaustively on the psychological and ontological roots of bliss (See Marvin Levine, the Positive Psychology of Yoga and Buddhism).

[edit] Positive psychology

In his book Authentic Happiness Martin Seligman, one of the founders of Positive Psychology, describes happiness as consisting of both positive emotions (such as ecstasy and comfort) and positive activities (such as absorption and engagement). He presents three categories of positive emotions related to the past, present and future.

Positive emotions relating to the past include satisfaction, contentment, pride and serenity. Positive emotions relating to the future include optimism, hope and trust. Positive emotions about the present are divided into two categories which are significantly different: pleasure and gratifications. The bodily and higher pleasures are "pleasures of the moment" and usually involve some external stimulus.

Gratifications involve full engagement, flow, elimination of self-consciousness, and blocking of felt emotions. But when a gratification comes to an end then positive emotions will be felt. Gratifications can be obtained or increased by developing signature strengths and virtues. Authenticity is the derivation of gratification and positive emotions from exercising signature strengths. The good life comes from using signature strengths to obtain abundant gratification in, for example, enjoying work and creative activities. The most profound sense of happiness is experienced through the "meaningful life", achieved if one exercises one's uniques strengths and virtues in a purpose greater than one's own immediate goals.

Prior to Seligman, Abraham Maslow pioneered the idea that psychology should examine the trajectory of happy people, as well as examining why sad people were sad.

[edit] Mechanistic view

[edit] Biological basis

While a person's overall happiness is not objectively measurable, this does not mean it does not have a real physiological component. The neurotransmitter dopamine, perhaps especially in the mesolimbic pathway projecting from the midbrain to structures such as the nucleus accumbens, is involved in desire and seems often related to pleasure. Pleasure can be induced artificially with drugs, perhaps most directly with opiates such as morphine, with activity on mu-opioid receptors. There are neural opioid systems that make and release the brain's own opioids, active at these receptors. Mu-opioid neural systems are complexly interrelated with the mesolimbic dopamine system. New science, using genetically altered mice, including ones deficient in dopamine or in mu-opioid receptors, is beginning to tease apart the functions of dopamine and mu-opioid systems, which some scientists (e.g., Kent C. Berridge) think are more directly related to happiness. Stefan Klein in his book "The Science of Happiness" links these biological foundations of happiness to the concepts and findings of Positive Psychology and Social Psychology.

[edit] In animals not humans
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For animals, happiness might be best described as the process of reinforcement, as part of the organism's motivational system. The organism has achieved one or more of its goals (pursuit of food, water, sex, shelter, etc.), and its brain is in the process of teaching itself to repeat the sort of actions that led to success. By reinforcing successful decision paths, it produces an equilibrium state not unlike positive-to-negative magnets. The specific goals are typically things that enable the organism to survive and reproduce.

By this definition, only animals with some capacity to learn should be able to experience happiness. However, at its most basic level the learning might be extremely simple and short term, such as the nearly reflexive feedback loop of scratching an itch (followed by pleasure, followed by scratching more, and so on) which can occur with almost no conscious thought.

However, to avoid oversimplification, domesticated animals may require needs beyond food, water, sex, and shelter (such as human company, petting, or perhaps needs which mimic that of their owners). Typically, the more domesticated an animal is, the more closely their goals match human behavior.

[edit] In humans

When speaking of animals with the ability to reason (generally considered the exclusive domain of humans), goals are no longer limited to short term satisfaction of basic drives. Nevertheless, there remains a strong relationship of happiness to goal fulfillment and the brain's reinforcement mechanism, even if the goals themselves may be more complex and/or cerebral, longer term, and less selfish than a non-human animal's goals might be.

Philosophers observe that short-term gratification, while briefly generating happiness, often requires a trade-off with negative repercussions in the long run. Examples of this could be said to include developing technology and equipment that makes life easier but over time ends up harming the environment, causing illness or wasting financial or other resources. Various branches of philosophy, as well as some religious movements, suggest that "true" happiness only exists if it has no long-term detrimental effects. Classical Utilitarianism is a theory of ethics based on quantitative maximization of happiness.

From the observation that fish must become happy by swimming, and birds must become happy by flying, Aristotle points to the unique abilities of man as the route to happiness. Of all the animals only man can sit and contemplate reality. Of all the animals only man can develop social relations to the political level. Thus the contemplative life of a monk or professor, or the political life of a military commander or politician will be the happiest.

In contrast, Zhuangzi points out that only man is endowed with the ability necessary to generate complex language and thought--language and thought that can be used to distinguish between things and form dichotomies. These dichotomies then formed, man tries to find reasons to like one side of things and hate the other. Hence, he loses his ability to love freely, in true happiness, unlike animals.

[edit] In artificial intelligence

The view that happiness is a reinforcement state can apply to some non-biological systems as well. In artificial intelligence, a program or robot could be said to be "happy" when it is in a state of reinforcing previous actions that led to satisfaction of its programmed goals. For instance, imagine a search engine that has the capacity to gradually improve the quality of its search results by accepting and processing feedback from the user regarding the relevance of those results. If the user responds that a search result is good (i.e. provides positive feedback), this tells the software to reinforce (by adjusting variables or "weights") the decision path that led to those results. In a sense, this could be said to "reward" the search engine. However, even if the program is made to act like it is happy, there is little doubt that the search engine has no subjective sense of being happy. Current computing technology merely implements abstract mathematical programs which lack the creative power of natural systems. This does not preclude the possibility that future technologies may begin to blur the distinction between such machine happiness and that experienced by an animal or human.

[edit] Mystical (religious, spiritual, and mythological) view

Explanation of happiness in mystical traditions, especially in advanced spiritual techniques is related to full balance (conjunction, union, "secret marriage") of so called inner energy lines (energy channels of a soul or deepest dimension of the human): nadi (ancient Indian), gimel kavim (Hebrew), pillars, columns, gnostic ophis or caduceus. In balanced state two main lines (left & right, Ida & Pingala) form third line, called Shushumna or lashon hakodesh (hebr.). Speaking technically (full) activity of this third or central line is happiness. Left and right lines include all aspects of normal human life: sleep and awake, body and mind, physical and spiritual and so on. To attain balanced state of these 2 lines is a main task of life - a paradoxical result of all kinds of activities and endeavours combined with full relax or tranquility at the same time.

In Catholicism, the ultimate end of human existence consists in felicity (Latin equiv. to the Gk. eudaimonia), or "blessed happiness", described by the 13th-C. philosopher-theologian Thomas Aquinas as a Beatific Vision of God's essence in the next life. See Summa Theologiae

Personal happiness forms the centerpiece of Buddhist teachings and the Eightfold Path that will lead its practitioner to Nirvana, a state of everlasting happiness. Various exercises are taught to generate happiness, the desire for happiness [1] or the feeling of goodwill towards others.

[edit] Happiness and economics

Main article: Happiness economics

Typically market health measures such as GDP and GNP have been used as a measure of successful policy. However, although on average richer nations tend to be happier than poorer nations, beyond an average wage of about $10,000 a year, the average income in a nation makes little difference to the average happiness of the people in the nation.[1] There is a recent trend in economics to use more direct measures of happiness, such as surveys asking people how happy they are, as an alternative measure of policy success. Some studies suggest that happiness can be measured effectively.[2][3] Examples of happiness based measures are the Gross national happiness and the Happy Planet Index. Happy Life Years, a concept brought by Dutch sociologist Ruut Veenhoven is one of the concepts set to measure well-being combining subjective data (subjective life satisfaction, measured on a scale of 0 to 10) with objective data (life expectancy). New Economics Foundation, a British think-tank used this concept to measure the "Happy Planet Index". It has been argued that happiness measures could be used not as a replacement for more traditional measures but as a supplement.[4]

[edit] Religious involvement and happiness

There is now extensive research suggesting that religious people are happier and less stressed.[5][6] Surveys by Gallup, the National Opinion Research Centre and the Pew Organisation conclude that spiritually committed people are twice as likely to report being "very happy" than the least religiously committed people.[7] An analysis of over 200 social studies contends that "high religiousness predicts a rather lower risk of depression and drug abuse and fewer suicide attempts, and more reports of satisfaction with life and a sense of well-being"[8] and a review of 498 studies published in peer-reviewed journals concluded that a large majority of them showed a positive correlation between religious commitment and higher levels of perceived well-being and self-esteem, and lower levels of hypertension, depression and clinical delinquency.[9][10] Studies by Keith Ward show that overall religion is a positive contributor to mental health[11] and a meta-analysis of 34 recent studies published between 1990 and 2001 also found that religiosity has a salutary relationship with psychological adjustment, being related to less psychological distress, more life satisfaction, and better self-actualization.[12] Finally, a recent systematic review of 850 research papers on the topic concluded that "the majority of well-conducted studies found that higher levels of religious involvement are positively associated with indicators of psychological well-being (life satisfaction, happiness, positive affect, and higher morale) and with less depression, suicidal thoughts and behavior, drug/alcohol use/abuse."
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