The Search For Happiness
Philosophers from the early centuries onward have long been captivated by the search for happiness. Their theories have been varied throughout the years, but they all believed they had ultimately solved the mystery. Ancient Greek philosophers were certain the key to happiness could be unlocked through intelligence. Epicureans believed happiness could be found in life’s simple pleasures. Later philosophers were convinced that living a virtuous life led to happiness. 1
Continuing this age-old study, psychologists today are researching the science of well-being, that is, people’s feelings of happiness and their satisfaction with life, to determine what makes some people happier than others. Are younger people happier than the older generation? Are wealthier people happier than those who are less well-off are? Is happiness equally attainable for everyone, or are some people destined to never find joy in their lives? New research is providing fascinating answers to these questions.
Studies on happiness conducted in the 60s and 70s, focused on outside variables such as age, marital status and income to explain the individual differences in happiness. Results found that married people, wealthier people, and younger people did actually seem to be happier than others who didn’t fall into those categories due to the availability of psychological, physical and material resources. Early studies also indicated that an individual’s personality had a great deal of influence on how people viewed the world and their purpose and place in it. Today, researchers believe that although all of these factors certainly influence a person’s well-being, they may not be totally accurate indicators of a person’s overall satisfaction with life. More recent studies have found just the opposite to be true.
DOES AGE MATTER?
“If all our happiness is bound up entirely in our personal circumstances, it is difficult not to demand of life more than it has to give.”
Psychologists surveyed more than 2,700 people across the United States aged 25 to 74 to determine the effect of age on happiness. They found that in fact, older people were happier than other adults, despite declines in physical health, deaths of friends and spouses, and other rigors of aging.
Older individuals, through years of life experience, know what kinds of external events increase and decrease their positive and negative emotions. Thus, they achieve a better “affect balance” by selecting people and situations that will minimize negative and maximize positive emotion.”