There are arguments to be made about what happiness is. Is it a state of being? Is it our perception and reaction to various events throughout our lives? Is it avoiding that which we might find displeasing? Some would argue that happiness is something that we must work toward as humans, some may even argue that we cannot attain real happiness in this life – that what we experience now in our mortal life is only a build-up to true happiness in the afterlife. Others believe that happiness is simply just a matter of how we see and engage the world around us.
There are several concepts within the field of psychology alone that suggest different means and different matters regarding how to attain happiness. One of the more prominent fields over the last several years is a study called positive psychology. The study entails examining ‘what makes living worth living,’ according to Psychology Today. What it aims in doing is validating the good in one’s life: that focusing on the good events that happen is as essential as using what is regarded as healing psychology to counteract the bad. Some have misconstrued the purpose of positive psychology over the years, but those who studied it and developed it suggest that positive psychology is meant to complement healing psychology, not to supersede it or suggest that positive psychology is more critical to one’s life than using healing psychology to sort through traumatic events. What positive psychology hopes to establish is that focusing on and acknowledging positive, beneficial experiences is just as necessary to one’s mental health as attempting to correct or mitigate the effects of negative, detrimental experiences. In short, it’s not just about avoiding or correcting painful things that happen in our lives; it’s also about giving weight to the good, pleasurable things that happen in it as well.
Considering the obvious subjectivity of happiness, as many different things have a wide-ranging emotional impact on many different people, psychology is also well-known for having developed several different scales used to determine one’s own measure of contentment or satisfaction with regard to their lives. The Subjective Happiness Scale, a 4-item questionnaire, is one such test, developed by Sonja Lyubomirsky and Heidi Lepper. While not necessarily greatly detailed or in-depth, the test itself is said to measure a perceived quality of life by the individual rather than a perceived quality found by outside sources, that being other people or psychologists themselves.
Many things influence our perception of happiness according to psychology, and there are a few prominent theories regarding the hierarchy or structure of these needs. Abraham Maslow proposed a hierarchy of “needs” that all humans should observe in an attempt to attain happiness.
- Physiological – the basic needs in order for a human to survive at all, including food, water, air, clothing, and shelter. These needs should be satisfied first and foremost, as all other needs are pointless without survival.
- Safety – security against stress or potential dangers. Some of these safety measures come in the form of personal protection, financial stability, and avoidance of injury or illness.
- Social belonging – the satisfaction of interpersonal relationships. These can come in the form of friendships, family, and romantically inclined relationships.
- Esteem – the need for respect or acknowledgment from peers or those involved in one’s life. A lack of attention to this part of the hierarchy can lead to cases of inferiority complex or depression and can have a great impact on higher levels within the hierarchy.
- Self-actualization – acknowledging one’s own potential and taking steps to realize it and accomplish as much as one can or feels he/she should within his power. Realizing this need within the hierarchy requires significant understanding and accomplishment within the baser levels.
- Self-transcendence – relating one’s self-actualization to higher needs and goals no longer pertaining strictly to the self, “refers to the very highest and most inclusive or holistic levels of human consciousness.”
Suggesting that one may be happy or unhappy in one’s life appears to base itself greatly within internal understanding as a result of a lot of external sources – how we interpret and react to the world around us, and how we can apparently adapt ourselves in living: not only to avoid the negative experiences as often as possible, like having a car that’s a lemon but to embrace, acknowledge and understand the positive ones as well.