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Happiness is…

Aristotle said, “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” Yet, historically many have grappled with what happiness truly means. Its essence has been expounded upon by psychologists, philosophers, preachers, and gurus. While products and pills have been marketed as the magic cure-all for depression, the true essence of happiness remains a debate.  

Recently Michael Norton, a psychologist and assistant professor at Harvard Business School, conducted tests to figure out the correlation between money and happiness. Drake Bennett of The Boston Globe writes “First, they surveyed 632 Americans on their general happiness, along with what they spent their money on, and found that higher ‘prosocial spending’ – gifts for others and donations to charity – was indeed correlated with higher self-reported happiness. They followed this up with a more detailed look at 16 workers before and after they received a profit-sharing bonus from their company. They found that the only factor that reliably predicted which workers would be happy six to eight weeks after the bonus was their prosocial spending – the more money people spent on charity and gifts for others, the happier they were.”

Though these results might suggest that money is only a means to being happy by allowing someone the ability to be charitable, many would still agree that money is essential to relieving many of the stressors of everyday life. Others would argue that it’s not that simple and question the merits of a test that quantifies something they argue is not quantifiable.

Simon Critchley chair of philosophy at the New School for Social Research writes for The New York Times, “Happiness is not quantitative or measurable and it is not the object of any science, old or new. It cannot be gleaned from empirical surveys or programmed into individuals through a combination of behavioral therapy and anti-depressants. If it consists in anything, then I think that happiness is this feeling of existence, this sentiment of momentary self-sufficiency that is bound up with the experience of time.”

For some, happiness is material gains and amassing goods, and for others, happiness is friendship and fulfilling relationships. So who’s right? What is the correlation between material goods, physical and emotional well-being?

Astrid Pujari, M.D. writes for The Seattle Times, “The road to happiness is very different than the road to ‘not depressed.’ On the road to ‘not depressed,’ you can afford to coast, perhaps, as long as you don’t hit a major crisis or change in terrain. But the road to happiness takes hard work. Contrary to what many people would tell you, people don’t just randomly ‘become happy.’ They work at it. They practice. They take care of their emotional health with the same attention others would give to their cholesterol or weight.”

What does happiness mean to you? Do you think money buys happiness? Is our understanding of happiness a shifting experience? Do the pressures of modern society limit our abilities to contemplate? And if so, do these distractions deter our happiness quotient? Is happiness something that must be worked at?  What is the relationship between democracy and the potential for happiness?  How much do everyday annoyances affect our potential for overall fulfillment?

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