Happiness -Elixir of life | Sunday Observer

Happiness -Elixir of life

“Whoever said money cannot buy happiness, didn’t know where to go shopping”. So said actress Bo Derek. Having lots of money can make you happy, but as they say, money isn’t everything. But what actually is happiness? There is no iron-clad definition, but “happiness” is used as shorthand for a constellation of emotional and mental states. At its simplest, it refers to feelings of contentment or joy. The most expansive use of the word touches upon concepts such as subjective well-being, life satisfaction, and affluence. It is also the opposite of sadness.

On March 20, the World celebrated International Day of Happiness as a way to recognize the importance of happiness in the lives of people around the world. In 2015, the UN launched the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which seek to end poverty, reduce inequality, and protect our planet – three key aspects that lead to well-being and happiness. UN studies have also shown that GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom, generosity, and absence of corruption also contribute to happiness.

But what can make you happy? Most people would say being around family and friends makes them happy. Others will say having a pet or doing a hobby will make them happy. Participating in or watching sports can make many people happy. Travelling is a joyous experience for most of us. As a journalist, I am happy when I write. Does work make you happy? This is a controversial question, but some people definitely find work interesting and happy.

Back to Bo Derek. Does money really buy happiness? It appears to, at least for a small group of German college students who participated in a study on the connection between happiness and altruism, the selfless concern for the well-being of others. The study found the act of donating money to save a life produced happiness at first, but the effects didn't last. After a month, students who donated money were less happy than those who choose to keep the money for themselves.

"Prosocial behaviour does not unequivocally increase happiness," the study authors wrote," because prosocial spending naturally requires giving up something else, which may decrease happiness in its own right." It may not be ‘happiness,’ but prior research has also shown ‘prosocial spending’, which is giving donations of money to others, reduced blood pressure and improved heart health. One such study conducted in the USA asked a group of people with high blood pressure to spend US$ 40 on themselves, while another group of people, also with high blood pressure, were told to spend the money on others.

They found those who spent money on others had lower blood pressure at the end of the six-week study. In fact, the benefits were as large as those from healthy diet and exercise. In this corner of the world, we are known for happily helping others – Shramadana is a concept of volunteerism where no one goes away unhappy. It is ingrained in our psyche.

Another US research has found that spending your money on experiences could make you happier than buying a material possession, no matter how much money you spend. Led by researchers from the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin along with researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and Cornell University, the new study looked at 2,635 adults and randomly assigned them to a ‘material’ or ‘experiential’ group.

Those in the material group were told to buy material things such as jewellery, clothing or furniture, while those in the experiential group spent their money on experiences such as attending a sporting event or going to a restaurant. While the participants were spending their money on shopping or an experience, the researchers sent them random texts to monitor their emotions and their purchasing behaviour.

The findings, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, showed that happiness levels were higher for those in the experiential group compared to those in the material group, regardless of how much money the experience or possession cost. "It would be unfair to compare a shirt to a trip, but when we account for price, we still see this result where experiences are associated with more happiness," said lead author Amit Kumar.

To investigate further, the researchers then carried out a second study with more than 5,000 participants, who were asked to rate their happiness before reporting on whether they had used, enjoyed or consumed either a material or experiential purchase within the past hour. "The basic finding from a lot of experiments is that people derive more happiness from their experiences than from their possessions." The researchers say that as the memory of an experience persists over a long period of time, whereas the perceived value of a possession can weaken. This could explain why it is better to spend our money on experiences to make us happier. The lesson here is that money can indeed buy happiness – but only if you spend it wisely on something that you can recall many years later with a feeling of happiness.

We spend many hours a day looking at a screen – or a number of them (laptop, tablet, smartphone) and many people are addicted to Facebook not only to check on what there are but also to get their news fix. But European research has found that spending just 20 minutes less time on Facebook each day could increase our happiness and healthy lifestyle habits. Carried out by a team of psychologists from Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB), Germany, the new study looked at 286 participants who used Facebook for an average of an hour each day.

The findings, published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, showed that the participants who were told to reduce their Facebook usage time used the platform less, both actively and passively. In addition, those who used Facebook less were also significantly more physically active, smoked less, were significantly more satisfied with their life, showed fewer symptoms of depression, and showed fewer symptoms of addiction to Facebook after the two weeks, compared to the control group. These positive effects could also still be seen three months after the study had ended.

It would in fact be much better for us to actually have a social life instead of a virtual one (though we might have to sit out the COVID-19 Pandemic where social distancing has become the norm). Meeting friends and family for real and going out can actually make us happy, instead of looking at a screen all the time. Remember, life is short. Try to enjoy every minute of your life, take a break every now and then and take life as it comes. And be happy, always.