Can I learn the secret of happiness?

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1. The pursuit of happiness

We talk about it all the time. But do we actually know how to be happy? Or what that even means?

Some of the greatest thinkers have tried to put their fingers on something that covers a broad range of emotions and can be nurtured by simple personal interactions or triggered by events that are far beyond our control.

When we think about being happy, do we know what we are actually aiming for, and is happiness worth all the time and energy we use chasing it?

2. Happiness makes the world go round

If happiness makes the world go round, first we should consider definitions from across the globe. Click on the map to find out how different cultures embrace happiness.

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This selection of definitions seems to show that, like beauty, happiness could well be in the eye of the beholder. Research suggests that while personal feelings of pleasure are the accepted definition of happiness in Western cultures, East Asian cultures tend to see happiness as social harmony and in some parts of Africa and India it is more about shared experiences and family.

3. The secret to happiness

Is there a secret formula for happiness?

4. Redefining happiness

It’s a conundrum that has always challenged the world’s best brains. Are we any closer to an answer?

Buddha taught that the path to happiness starts from an understanding of the root causes of suffering. The journey to attain true happiness requires an unflinching look into the face of a reality where all life is seen as suffering.

Ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus saw happiness as the central goal of human life. He defined it as pleasure and an absence of pain. He recommended withdrawal from the ‘rat race’ in favour of a life of contemplation in his Garden of Friends.

Thomas Aquinas was an influential Catholic priest, philosopher and theologian. He believed enjoyment concerns satisfaction of worldly desire, whereas happiness means obtaining absolute perfection, which by definition can only be found in God.

Philosopher Ayn Rand developed a philosophical system called Objectivism, which defined the concept of “man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity”.

Simone de Beauvoir was an intellectual and existentialist philosopher. She believed that "self-knowledge is no guarantee of happiness, but it is on the side of happiness and can supply the courage to fight for it”.

Ed Deiner, AKA Dr Happiness, is a leading researcher in positive psychology who theorises that ‘subjective well-being’ is a crucial component of happiness that can be measured. He also argues there is a strong genetic component to happiness.

5. Positively unhappy

Though being happy is generally considered to be positive and healthy, it’s not necessarily the best state of mind for every situation. Many experts in the field propose it can affect other aspects of our lives in a negative way.

Psychologists including Barbara Fredrickson have found that too much positive emotion, or more precisely too little experience of negative emotion, can make people less adept at facing new challenges.

It’s even been suggested that the very pursuit of happiness itself is enough to lead to unhappiness, with the desire to meet society’s expectations and goals creating anxiety and stress.

6. Are we happier than our ancestors?

Do you think advances in areas such as medicine and technology have generally made us happier than previous generations?