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May 2017
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ON THE HUNT FOR HAPPINESS



Emotions are key components of our lives and we often get the incentives that drive our day from them. Even though every single emotion is important and allows those who experience an emotion to feel alive, us humans are especially looking for the feelings and emotions which make us feel good and satisfy us. In other words, we are on the hunt for the emotional state of being called happiness. Happiness gives us a general sense of satisfaction and its intensity varies depending on the number and strength of positive emotions which we experience.

This state of well-being, especially in its most intense form - joy - is not only experienced by the individual, rather it is accompanied by general activation of the body.

Many studies highlight how being happy has notable, positive repercussions on the behaviour, cognitive processes and general welfare of a person. Who are these happy people? Studies attempting to answer this question show that happiness does not depend so much on demographic variables, such as age or sex, nor to a significant extent on beauty, wealth, health or culture, rather, it seems that the characteristics associated with happiness are those relating to personality, such as extroversion, self-confidence and feeling in control of oneself and one's future.

Emotions: THE COLOUR OF EXISTENCE

Emotions are key components of our lives and they give colour and flavour to our existence, even if, in a society like the Western society that is founded upon the primacy of reason, emotions are considered with suspicion and fear. In fact, it could not be any other way because, if reason lets mankind rule over himself and things, then emotions often produce turmoil and conflict, they are never controllable and, sometimes, they lead us to say or do things that, once the emotional impulse has worn off, we regret. Yet it is emotions which let us enjoy life and it is precisely from emotions, no matter how small or big they are, that people hope to obtain new stimuli to make the days pass. Furthermore, how could we say we were living to the full if we never experienced joy, the tremor of loss or fear, the heat of passion, the abandonment of nostalgia and the weight and desperation caused by suffering? 
However, even if every single emotion is important and lets us feel alive, people are especially looking for the feelings and emotions that make them feel good and satisfy them. In other words, we are on the hunt for the emotional state of being called happiness.

HAPPINESS: some definitions

The subject of happiness has always been a passion of us humans: writers, poets, philosophers and ordinary people think, describe and look for this state of ecstasy. In order to try to define this condition, some scholars have emphasised the emotional component, such as feeling cheerful, whilst others stress cognitive and reflective aspects, like considering yourself as being satisfied with life. Happiness is sometimes described as contentment, satisfaction, peace, fulfilment and sometimes joy, pleasure and fun. 

  • According to Argyle (1987), the leading scholar on this emotion, happiness is represented by a general sense of overall satisfaction which can be broken down in terms of satisfaction in specific areas, such as marriage, work, leisure, social relationships, self-fulfilment and health.
  • Happiness is also related to the number and intensity of positive emotions that a person experiences and, ultimately, it is an event or a sudden and rather intense emotional process which is better described as joy. In this case, happiness can be defined as the emotion that follows the fulfilment of a need or the realisation of a desire and in itself, alongside experiencing pleasure, a certain amount of surprise and activation also appears.

What happens when we are happy?

Everybody, in a more or less prominent way, feels emotions and, in a certain sense, we act on them in a visible and conscious way, we share them with others by speaking or writing about them and we are even able to immortalise emotions in works of art.
What happens inside of us when we are happy though?

  • Some authors claim that the feelings felt most frequently by those who are happy or joyful are intense, positive bodily sensations, a reduction in physical fatigue, being focused and concentrated and being more aware of your skills.
  • Quite often, happy people feel free and spontaneous and they talk about feeling good in relation to themselves and people close to them and they describe their surroundings as meaningful and colourful.
  • People who experience positive emotions, such as joy and happiness, show signs of a general activation of the body which includes an acceleration of the heart rate, an increase in muscle tone and skin conductance and, finally, irregular breathing.
  • Those who are happy also smile a lot and, in fact, smiling is often accompanied by a bright and open look, which is the most representative, unmistakeable and universally recognisable sign of happiness and joy.

Who is happy?

Most probably, anyone looking at the people close to them can identify a friend, relative or acquaintance who is considered by everyone to be the quintessential happy person, someone who never gets down, even when he/she is faced with difficult or annoying situations and who always has a joke ready and looks calm in every context.
What does happiness depend on? Are there aspects which make some people more susceptible to feeling happy and joyful rather than negative and down?
It is very difficult, and maybe impossible, to answer this in a sufficiently accurate way. However, research about happiness highlights how being happy does not depend on age or gender, nor does it depend on beauty, wealth, health or culture. In fact, it appears that the characteristics most associated with happiness are those relating to personality and in particular those relating to extroversion, self-confidence and feeling in control of oneself and one's future
According to Argyle and Lu, an extrovert is happier because he/she is more social, makes friends easier, participates in more public and collective activities and has more interests and fun. Furthermore, a happy person is also a person who is at ease with him/herself and is confident about his/her skills and perceives a fundamental congruence between what he/she is and what he/she would like to be. In other words, the more people are able to accept what they are, including accepting all their merits and limitations, the happier they are. Similarly, the more a person thinks he/she can, reasonably, control things which happen in his/her emotional, social and professional life, the happier this person is and so are those involved in the situation.

Happiness and well-being

Positive states of being can influence both our behaviour and out thought processes considerably, making them more adequate and functional in everyday situations. It is therefore clear to see that all of this has positive effects on feeling good about yourself and others.
When people are in a good mood, they think differently compared to when they are in a bad mood. For example, it has been shown that a good mood makes us describe social events in a positive way and makes us think we are socially able, we feel confident and full of self-esteem. Furthermore, when we are happy, we tend to judge ourselves more positively, we feel full of energy, we do not care so much about our weaknesses and we spend less time thinking about our problems. Lastly, it has been noted that the happier we are, the more we care about and take part in social and artistic activities, the more attention we pay to general political issues and the more we feel inclined to accept new and stimulating tasks, even if they are difficult.


From this point of view, it is not surprising that a positive emotional state induces optimism, and Mayer and Volanth even found a direct correlation between a good mood and the estimated likelihood of positive events.
Being happy also makes us more daring. Isen and Patrick highlighted how joy more or less leads on to underestimating the seriousness of risks, thus we behave in a less prudent way. 
However, it has been noticed that this can only occur if the decision that must be made does not bring any serious risks. When we feel happy, not only does the world seem more colourful and desirable, but the people around us also seem better. It is perhaps for this reason that many experiments reveal that happy people are those who are more open, generous and selfless. Lastly, as far as cognitive aspects go, it has been observed how a good mood has positive influences on our learning abilities, memory and creativity. In other words, when we are happy, we learn more easily, we learn more and what we learnt stays with us for longer.

HAPPINESS: instructions for use

Given the advantages that being happy brings, we could ask if there are methods which help us to feel happy or get in a good mood when we feel down. D’Urso and Trentin claim that there are a series of activities and attitudes which go with or can encourage a state of well-being. These are:

  1. not blaming ourselves entirely for unpleasant things that happen to us;
  2. spending time with happy people;
  3. doing physical exercise;
  4. not comparing yourself (your well-being, beauty, wealth, etcetera) to other people;
  5. identifying what we like to do at work and make the most out of it;
  6. taking care of your body and appearance;
  7. recognising the links between a bad mood and poor health: feeling bad is often, and more than other factors, what puts us in a bad mood;
  8. setting our expectations according to our skills and the opportunities situations provide us with;
  9. helping people who like to be helped;
  10. not making plans that take too long to fulfil;
  11. hanging around with people who you like and who like you;
  12. not coming to general conclusions about failures;
  13. making a list of activities which make us feel good and put us in a good mood.

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