Happiness and the dangers of belief in the written word :)

It’s interesting how gullible we humans are. If we read something or watch it in a documentary, we are more likely to believe it. Then there is the magic of Google. If you write enough on a topic, you start showing up in search results on the topic – regardless of how much you really know. Soon enough someone comes along taking you for an expert in the field and asks to interview you.

And so I was pleasantly surprised to be mistaken for an “International Expert on Happiness” and asked to answer a few questions. I started by telling my interviewer that she was up for a big disappointment if she thought I was an expert on happiness, but decided to play along.

I reproduce some of my answers below for your reading pleasure 🙂

How would you define happiness?

Happiness is an emotional or affective state that is characterized by feelings of enjoyment and satisfaction. As such, like being in love, you are either happy or not, but don’t necessarily know why – you just are. As a result, many people define happiness as things they do or have, as Charlie Brown does below:

HAPPINESS
From You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown
(Clark Gesner)

Happiness is finding a pencil.
Sleeping in moon light.
Telling the time.
Happiness is learning to whistle.
Tying your shoe
For the very first time.
Happiness is playing the drum
In your own school band.
And happiness is walking hand in hand.

Happiness is two kinds of ice cream.
Knowing a secret.
Climbing a tree.
Happiness is five different crayons.
Catching a firefly.
Setting him free.
And happiness is being alone every now and then.
And happiness is coming home again.

Happiness is morning and evening,
Daytime and nighttime too.
For happiness is anyone and anything at all
That’s loved by you.

Happiness is having a sister.
Sharing a sandwich.
Getting along.
Happiness is singing together
When day is through,
And happiness is those who sing with you.

Happiness is morning and evening,
Daytime and nighttime too.
For happiness is anyone and anything at all
That’s loved by you.

However, while doing those things makes Charlie Brown happy – sometimes – they may not work for you.

What do you consider to be an important step toward happiness?

Despite what I said above there are clear deliberate steps you can take towards being happy.

Specifically:

  1. Don’t equate happiness with money.
  2. Don’t commute.
  3. Exercise regularly.
  4. Have lots of sex.
  5. Devote time and effort to close relationships.
  6. Pause for reflection, meditate on the good things in life (in other words be grateful).
  7. Seek work that engages your skills, look to enjoy your job.
  8. Give your body the sleep it needs.
  9. Don’t pursue happiness for its own sake, enjoy the moment.
  10. Take control of your life, set yourself achievable goals (in other words have goals).
  11. Have an optimistic attitude and outlook on life.

You might argue that things like “being grateful” are not easy to do, but even something as artificial as writing three good things that happened to you today in a notebook every day has been proven to work extremely well!

Do you believe it is possible for an individual to be truly content most of the time?

Absolutely! Many people are generally happy just because – based on a combination of their upbringing and genes. However, even if by default you were only of average happiness, you can take the 11 deliberate steps mentioned above to make you significantly happier.

Non-sequiturish conclusion: The average academic journal article is read by 7 people, including the author’s mom. Maybe the real experts should be writing blogs 🙂

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  • But Fabrice, you *are* an international expert on happiness. As all of us reading this can attest, you are remarkably successful at causing yourself to be – and to remain in a state of – happiness. That may not make you an expert in the I-have-a-PhD-in-this-subject sense but should qualify you as a guru in the field.

  • Aaaaarghhh!
    My ego just got so big it’s pushing me out of the room!
    Trying to fight it…
    It’s really really tough…
    I am suffocating…
    Must get secret weapon!
    There deflated!
    It was close!
    I almost died!

    Giving me compliments will get you anything 🙂

  • As Niestzche says, happiness is the feeling that power is increasing and the will is yielding to that sense of power, that resistance is overcome. In Christianity, a life lived in constant suffering brings,(in theory of course), ultimate happiness upon death. I think that immediate happiness, or elation, comes from different sources, a successful business, great sex, a good movie, a compliment from someone one admires (and even more so when the compliment comes from a rival).

    Dopaminergic receptors in the brain respond in beautiful unison to all these impulses. In essence, dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine are the chemicals that make us happy. Nevertheless, as in any brain system, or life in general, happiness can develop a sort of plateau, in which more of that reward is needed to achieve the same degree of satisfaction. This is of course, varies tremendously between individuals. Someone with an addictive personality will be more likely, to develop an addiction to a primer (drugs, sex, extreme sports), that will bring about the same feeling of euphoria.

    There was an interesting article I read a few years ago in the New York Times about a study that followed levels of happiness over a period of 2 years. The subjects were people who recently had won the lottery, people who had just lost their vision or limbs due to an accident. Initial levels of happiness were very different. Obviously the people who lost function were very sad at the beginning of the study and people who won the lottery were very happy. However, after 6 months, amazingly, the levels of reported happiness of both groups had become almost the same. People who lost function had learned to cope and appreciate life again, and those who won the lottery, had lost that initial sense of happiness quite precipitously.

    For me, watching the whole first season of 24 in one day has made me very, very happy! lol

  • Fabrice,

    I’m a newcomer here, and I must say I had a very, very good time reading you. I must aknowledge I’ve always felt a bit sceptic about “happiness theorization”, perhaps due to a quite conceited and somehow romantic notion that happiness derived from some kind of magic you could NOT make theories about. If I persist in thinking that life must be considered on a single day basis, as everything can stop anytime for any of us, I tend to believe now that single days can make a whole, when intense moments combine with some kind of serenity. I’m not getting any better on the romantic front, though :o)

    So thanx for this highly humanistic, humble and clever vision. And, er, well yes, it’s a compliment :o)

  • Hello Fabrice,
    Happiness can be found in little things.
    Just some nice words that my recently re-discovered girlfriend (after 34 years!)from the States sent to me after I had sent her a cd that I recorded for her;

    it’s music that stirs my heart,
    it’s music that makes me feel whole,
    it’s music that lets me dance,
    it’s music that speaks when words cannot.

  • Hello Fabrice.

    I just found your site, and I’m looking forward to getting to know you. I have done a lot of reading and practicing on the topic of happiness, and I’d like to share with you a bit of what I’ve written:

    Happiness vs. Pleasure

    What is Happiness to me?

    Respectfully,
    Michelle Hope

  • Bonjour Fabrice,

    Well, I’m not an expert, but I do have a blog (3for365.com), which I invite you to visit.

    I really like your site and this post. May I link it? Your entrepreneurial spirit is positively infectious!

    Yours in creativity,
    Julia