Since the dawn of time, humans have continuously sought for ways in which they can achieve perpetual happiness. From the struggles of Stone Age man for survival, through the emergence of civilizations in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, and Rome, to the present day technologically ridden, power-conscious, weapon-studded, and ideologically divided societies, there still remains a missing link to humanity’s final quest – the quest for a lasting joy, and a feeling of awe – the quest for HAPPINESS. This hunger continues to rage. Century upon century, every effort is being made by humans to discover the secrets to happiness.
But what really constitutes happiness? Well, in her 2007 book “The How of Happiness”, positive psychology researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky described happiness as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.” Happiness is being aware not only of the positive events that occur in your life but the fact that you are the cause of these events, that you can create them, that you control their occurrence, and that you play a major role in the good things that happen to you.
The essence of happiness to the right functioning of the state is captured in Article 36 of the 1992 of Ghana as follows: “The State shall take all necessary action to ensure that the national economy is managed in such a manner as to maximize the rate of economic development and to secure the maximum welfare, freedom and happiness of every person in Ghana and to provide adequate means of livelihood and suitable employment and public assistance to the needy”. In the same vein, the significance of happiness to individuals and indeed the collective wellbeing of humanity was the brain behind the institution of March 20, as the International Day of Happiness by the United Nations General Assembly in 2012. This event grew out of a United Nations’ resolution 66/281 adopted on June 28, 2012 affirming happiness as a fundamental human goal – and suggests that nations approach economic growth in a way that promotes well-being for everyone. The annual happiness status report, known as the World Happiness Report, ranks nations on their levels of collective happiness. In the 2018 report, Finland was ranked as the world’s happiest nation, with Ghana occupying 108th and 12th positions as the happiest nation in the world and Africa, respectively. This significance of happiness is what is often referred to as the power of happiness. Positive Psychology confirms this claim and in numerous scientific studies has proven that positive emotions has a link to better health, longer life, and greater well-being. In contrast to the absence of happiness is the problem of chronic anger, worry, and hostility, which increases the risk of developing heart diseases, and make people react to these feelings with stress and high blood pressure. A study in Harvard School of Public Health states that people who are generally hopeful were less likely to develop hypertension, diabetes, or respiratory tract infections than those who were less hopeful. When we are happy, we tend to be calmer, relaxed and opened hearted. Happiness keeps us focused on life and on the beauty of it. It keeps us healthy and more motivated to take the next step into the world. Happiness is the key to life, and the key to a successful life.
People derive happiness from different sources. A cross section of people interviewed, have expressed different opinions on what makes them happy. Emefa said that she is happy when all is calm and peaceful around her, when she does not have to struggle with people, when she is in a state of contentment. Another person, Cleo, says she derives her happiness from seeing others happy and by extending a helping hand to others. Selorm had this to say about what makes him happy, “I think nature. Seeing animals doing animals’ stuff. A squirrel in a tree will make me happy. A bird in a tree will make happy. A cat chasing some animal will make me happy. Reading an interesting book and watching an interesting game will also make me happy. Being with friends sometimes, and being alone, also makes me happy”. Teni, another person interviewed on her source of happiness, had this response, “Family, when I’m around my family, I’m very happy. Sometimes when I’m alone, meditating on certain things, I get happy”.
Aside the above interviews on how people’s happiness is influenced individually, research has shown that there are other factors that influence the overall happiness of people collectively.
One of these is the quality of government. This has been proven to have a positive effect on happiness. The more effective, incorrupt and impartial government institutions are the happier and the more satisfied with their lives are the citizens. Incorrupt and effective governmental institutions have been shown to produce trust between citizens and there is evidence that interpersonal trust increases happiness.
Additionally, gross domestic product, GDP per capita is another important variable often cited. Proponents assert that being poor is bad for happiness. They stress that we do see an increase in happiness when GDP rises, even in the rich part of the world. In direct contrast to this, is the claim by some critics of the GDP argument that the rich part of the world has not seen an increase in happiness in the last few decades although GDP has risen considerably. It therefore seems reasonable to include GDP as a control variable in the happiness analysis.
Again, happiness is very much dependent on religion and the belief systems of a person. Religion has been shown to have an effect on life satisfaction on both the micro and the macro level. Religious persons have higher subjective well-being than non-religious persons, and the more religious the population the higher the average subjective well-being in that country.
Democracy is another conducive factor to the happiness puzzle. When people are able to select their leaders, subjective well-being is higher.
Health is yet another important factor behind the feeling of happiness. To feel reasonably secure is one of many psychological prerequisites for feeling happy. Countries where people live longer and are healthier do better in terms of subjective well-being. Health is also thought to be one of the mechanisms through which higher quality of governance leads to more happiness. Where quality of governance is higher, the health care system works better, and people are healthier. This is at least the case for poorer countries mostly in Africa.
In spite of the importance of happiness to the collective and individual good of humanity, the subject has been dwarfed by two major conundrums over the years.
The first is the fact that, the happiness of one person can and is directly affected by another’s. This basic idea was expressed 250 years ago in The Theory of Moral Sentiments. In the opening pages of that book, Adam Smith argued that it is human nature to derive pleasure from the happiness of others and to suffer from the suffering of others. Smith, in that book stated: “How selfish so ever a man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it. Of this kind is pity or compassion, the emotion that we feel for the misery of others, when we either see it, or are made to conceive it in a very lively manner”. This affirms the adage that no man is an island. The lifestyle or the activity of one person can have an impact on another’s life and well-being. Therefore, a careless driver who blatantly crosses your way while driving to work can affect your mood for the day. An angry colleague at the work place, can as well distort your mood, so is an angry customer or an irritating boss or employee. Happiness is infectious. Thus, the happiness of one individual can affect that of another.
The second happiness conundrum is the notion that wealth leads to greater happiness. Fact is, the global struggle over resources and the control of inflation and interest rates as evidenced in the creation of the central banking system with the Tonnage Act of 1694 and subsequently, the passage of the Bank Charter Act of 1884 in England, which were done with a selfish motive yet under the guise of equity, has not been able to solve the problems of greed and economic dominance. Economics has stated that human’s wants are insatiable. This simple statement underscores why, like Oliver Twist, every rational being will always yearn for more when it comes to wealth. It is in light of this that a Psychologist and a Lecturer at the Ghana Institute of Journalism, Dr. Stanley Semarco, has indicated that although most people perceive money or wealth to be a major trigger of happiness, it is not a guarantee for happiness in the long run but human’s willingness to make one’s self happy. Dr. Semarco explained that psychologically, “happiness enable people to overcome their challenges, and feel hopeful about the future”. However, “true happiness”, he said, “can only come about when one finds pleasure in being of help to others”.
So the next time you feel like worrying your head unnecessarily, just remember that happiness is a two-way affair. Although it is a function of the state, it is also an individual affair. While governments have a responsibility to ensure that they put in place mechanisms that ensure the total well-being and the happiness of the citizens, individuals – you and I – have a personal responsibility to ensure that we make efforts and undertake activities that will enhance our happiness, because mine happiness is linked collectively to yours. Life can never make meaning until we derive passion out of it and this passion is the source of happiness. Thus, it is imperative for each one of us to seek for those things that excite our passion. Instead of seeking after of wealth, seek for happiness. In the end, HAPPINESS is indeed, richer than wealth.
By Valentine Adusei Agbenoworsi
The writer is an author, leadership and personal development coach, and a student journalist