A blueprint for happiness | Sunday Observer

A blueprint for happiness

28 February, 2021

The naked truth is that we do everything to reach that elusive goal of happiness. People try to achieve happiness through religion, philosophy, art, literature and music. Today, however, we have realised that happiness can be achieved through science, especially psychology. During the past 100 years psychologists have been probing happy and unhappy people to zero in on the factors that make a difference. They believe that genes account for about 50 per cent of your happiness. You can identify them easily when you move in society. Happy people always have a smile on their faces. They hardly lose their temper. Most of the time, they are willing to help others achieve happiness.

The other 50 per cent of happiness can be achieved through conscious effort. For instance, if you have no money in your pocket, you will never be happy. Therefore, you will have to find a way to earn sufficient money to sustain yourself and others near and dear to you. If you are financially self-sufficient, half the battle is over. When you do not have money, you cannot buy food, clothes and other necessities. But money has to be earned in honest ways. You should never try to earn money through illegal or immoral methods. Some people inherit wealth, but others have to earn it through various means. On average, those who have money are happier than others who have no wealth.

The link between money and happiness is rather complicated. Although the average income has gone up, happiness levels remain static. In the 1960s an average office worker’s basic salary was Rs 80. With various allowances his take-home pay will be around Rs 200. With that salary he could live happily as the cost of living was very low. At that time you could find a room in a house by paying Rs 60 for meals and lodging. Today, workers get higher salaries but they are not sufficient to meet the monthly expenses. Whatever job you are doing, you should be able to earn sufficient money to buy your basic needs and a little more to be saved for a rainy day.

Dollars buy status

Andrew Oswald, an economist at Warwick University in Coventry, England says, “Dollars buy status, and status makes people feel better.” You may have met people who have accepted relatively low-paid jobs because of status. Most media people are not highly paid, but they are happy because they are popular among the people. Some people give up their well-paid jobs to become journalists because of the prestige which generates happiness.

In an experiment involving 18,000 university students, scientist Alex Michalos found that there is an “aspiration gap” among them. Most of them wanted to earn money not only to support them but also to help their families, neighbours, and friends.

When they are unable to earn a substantial amount of money, they become unhappy. The happiness they derived is much more than what they got from earning money. Michalos said, “The gap measures just blow away the absolute measures of income.”

Sometimes people who get well-paid jobs remain unhappy. They always want something more. In a survey involving urban dwellers, it was found that even rich people want more money to buy expensive household items and vehicles. When their craving is insatiable, the good life always remains just out of reach.


We find highly intelligent people in society. In a survey it was found that intelligence has no impact on happiness. This is a tricky situation because most intelligent people know how to remain happy.

Researchers speculated that intelligent people have higher expectations such as passing examinations and collecting certificates and honours. For instance, most people want to use the title’Dr’ in front of their names. They think that it is one way of earning social recognition. Sometimes, they insist that they should be addressed as ‘Doctor’.

Some people are born happy and others are born unhappy. David Lykken, a Behavioural Geneticist says, “One half of our feelings of well-being is determined by what is going on in our lives and the other half by a “set point” of happiness.” That means our happiness is genetically determined. Our parents’ good sense and training will also have an impact on our happiness. The impact of income, status, religion or education on happiness is very much less.

Society consists of extroverts and introverts. According to psychological research, extroverts tend to be happier than introverts. Extroverts mix with the people quite easily and they are open and outgoing. They find happiness in different situations quite easily. Introverts do not have that facility as they are bent inwards. Most introverts are loners and dreamers.

After seeing a good film an extrovert will talk about it enthusiastically and share his pleasure with others. An introvert will not talk a word about the film and keep all the thoughts to himself.

Most companies employ good-looking people at the reception because they exude happiness. When a well-known actor enters an airport everybody will look at him. People derive happiness by looking at a good-looking man or woman. Does it mean that life is kinder to good-looking people? It seems to be so. There is a scientific reason as well.

Attractive faces of actors are highly symmetrical and symmetry is a reflection of good genes and a healthy immune system. It logically follows that good-looking people are healthier and happier than others. Even if you are not so good-looking, you can genuinely believe that you look great. But most of us think we are not so good-looking.

I spent a few days in a slum in order to understand their lifestyle. The wage-earners are mostly daily-paid workers. They consume alcoholic drinks, smoke and some of them use drugs. They live in a cramped place without any modern facilities. But I found that most of them were happy with their lot in life. In a survey involving slums in India it was revealed that slum-dwellers were the happiest of people in society.

Are married people happier than singles? In a research involving 42 countries it was found that married people are happier than singles. But the question remains whether marriage made them happy or happy people get married.

In another study done in Germany, it was found that happy people are more likely to get married and stay married. Unhappy people are more likely to remain single. In order to derive happiness, you have to get married. That means couples living together are less happy because there is no deeper security in their relationship. Insecurity, more than anything else, eats into happiness.

Religious belief

Most religious people believe in the existence of an after-life. Research reveals that belief in an after-life can give people meaning and purpose of life. Those who have no such faith feel alone in the world and remain unhappy. As Dr Harold Koenig of Duke University says, “Religious belief can be a very powerful way of coping with adversity.” The involvement in religious activities will also make participants happy.

We all grow old, but old age should not be a reason for unhappiness. Research has found that older people are more realistic about their goals and they know what they can achieve. As Laura Carstensen, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University says, “A goodbye kiss to a spouse at the age of 85, for example, may elicit far more complex emotional responses than a similar kiss to a spouse at the age 20.”

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