Philosopher James Pawelski reminds us that happiness is a both a goal of, and a construct of culture. But what was a revolutionary pronouncement in the age of Enlightenment—a right, à la Jefferson, to the pursuit of happiness, or a right à la St. Democritus, a philosopher from Ancient Greece, was the first philosopher in the western world to examine the nature of happiness (Kesebir & Diener, 2008). Happiness comes to the well-ordered soul… The happiness of an individual was seen as secondary and the only path to it was through morality. Americans also took the lead in efforts to reconcile death with the demands for happiness. Phrase greatest happiness for the greatest number was in Francis Hutcheson (1725) but later was associated with Bentham. The smiling American was becoming a stereotype two centuries ago…. Addresses key questions such as what happiness is and whether or not happiness should play such a dominant role in our lives. Stearns PN(1). A British journalist in 1792 was surprised at “the good humor of Americans,” and 40 years later another noted that Americans seemed unwilling to complain, for the sympathy they might gain would be outweighed by their friends’ disapproval. First, happiness is subjective to time, culture, and personality. Ordinary people began writing about their interest “in enjoying happiness and independence.” Disasters, such as the brutal yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia in 1793, produced recommendations to the survivors to keep up their spirits and avoid excessive grief. Happiness for Black Women Only, The Ladder Up: Secret Steps to Jewish Happiness, Gay Happiness. Author information: (1)George Mason University, USA. Some Latin American cultures tend in the other direction. Considers the ways in which major thinkers from Plato and Aristotle through to Nietzsche and Freud have treated happiness. Proponents of life satisfaction see two major advantages to theiraccount. Review of Metaphysics our being’s end and aim!” while one John Byrom urged that “it was the best thing one could do to be always cheerful…and not suffer any sullenness.” The charge here was double-edged and has remained so. Neuroscientist and Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard teaches that durable happiness as a way of life requires training the mind and developing qualities like inner peace, mindfulness, and altruistic love. "A valuable aid to the flourishing literature on happiness and its history." We don’t yet know—remember the less-smiling Russians—but it’s a theme worth watching. First, although the most obvious drawback of the emphasis on happiness involves the gaps with reality that can, paradoxically, create their own discontents, there’s also the risk that people will fail to explore reasons for dissatisfaction because of pressure to exhibit good cheer. Instead of advocating the latest guide or formula to achieve happiness, A Private History of Happiness offers a fresh look at everyday moments of joy as they were experienced by real people—across many centuries and from around the world—and invites us to discover the happiness … “Happy Birthday,” for example, has been translated into all major languages, and birthday celebrations are now important in the middle-class consumer cultures of China and Abu Dhabi, altering or even reversing prior traditions. The History of Happiness House In the late '60s, parents of children with Cerebral Palsy in Geneva banded together to start Happiness House. 14,000 Things to Be Happy About, Happiness Is a Choice. Paradoxically, the idea of happiness is often associated with its absence or its pursuit and hence happiness is often experienced as a problem in modern times. Traditionally, childhood and happiness were not generally associated. The several shifts driving the happiness surge were powerful enough to propel happiness into politics by century’s end, with the American revolutionary commitment to the pursuit of same. (Only a few British traditionalists objected to the latter as undermining national character.) Again, this does not mean that past children were less happy, but it does mean that their happiness was not obligatory, often not vividly remembered in adulthood, and certainly not any parent’s responsibility. Today the happiness imperative creates pressures that, paradoxically, can make us miserable. Moralists told husbands and wives alike to keep anger away from family life. A short history of American-style happiness. Declaration of Independence declares that all men have a right to “the pursuit of happiness.”. We may not wish to alter the happiness culture that modern history has bequeathed us; its considerable problems may be outweighed by the pleasure of having cheerful artifacts and smiling faces around us. A brief history of happiness. A sad child is a comment on the parents—the source of that modern scourge, the “unhappy childhood.” But what of children who are sad or who go through periods of sadness? Declaration of Independence declares that all men have a right to “the pursuit of happiness.” 1926 The song “Happy Birthday” is composed. Aristotle used the word eudaimonia to describe happiness as an experience of the good life through virtuous action. He may have borrowed the phrase from the Enlightenment philosopher John Locke, who wrote that in order to seek “true and solid happiness,” we need to learn to distinguish real happiness from the imaginary kind. Floral Scents Can Make You Happy. A brief history of happiness, reviewing 2,500 years of philosophical thought about the concept. This was also the context in which, in 1926, the song “Happy Birthday” was composed, becoming a family staple by the late 1930s—despite, or perhaps because of, the gloom of the Great Depression. It prompted “happy meals.” It spurred an advertising executive, Harvey Ball, to create in 1963 the yellow smiley face, which took off even in the wake of the Kennedy assassination and whose annual licensing revenues exceeded $50 million within the decade. Three major theories from moral philosophy emerged throughout history, each claiming the true path to righteousness. Regardless of one's own view of what happiness means, it's difficult to argue with Aristotle: "Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and the end of human existence." So we are creating what happiness is through the fruits of culture. Thus, philosophers usually explicate on happiness as either a state of mind, or a life that goes well for the person leading it. This was an intriguing redefinition of spiritual rewards, clearly designed to reduce the need for extensive fear or grief. A conceptualization of contemporary positive psychology is discussed next, Here, too, it’s not easy to say. (Eds.). Now that the family began to play a decreasing economic role, as jobs moved out of the home, it took on new emotional responsibilities. This changed dramatically with the 18th century and the values of the Enlightenment. It's also a shorthand for satisfaction with life, or general well-being. Aristotle used the word eudaimonia to describe happiness as an experience of the good life through virtuous action. We could liken the emotion of happiness to joy, but joy is sometimes thought of as more spiritual than happiness, which can feel more simple and cheerful in nature. The Good Life is about happiness in Desire's sense, and the Meaningful Life is about happiness in Objective List's sense. But there is no question that many people felt obliged to apologize for the moments of happiness they did encounter. During the Enlightenment, positive affect and pleasure became valued as basic rights (and it was here that the groundwork was laid for the construction of social architecture that enabled one to pursue happiness). List theories explain all of the things we need, while desire fulfillment provides us with what we want. Over the years, happiness has meant many other things, some of which are surprising when compared with our current sense of the word. For Further Reading. Authentic Happiness and PERMA are happiness theories born out of positive psychology that incorporate elements such as: positive emotion, engagement, positive relationships, meaning, and accomplishment. Bentham, J. The concept of happiness is one that causes controversies, some says it doesn’t exist and others revere it. More important, whether globally or nationally: What does the evolving culture have to do with actual happiness? (Consider the Declaration of Independence's "pursuit of happiness" clause.). Second, and at least as important, a culture saturated with happiness makes it difficult for people to deal with sadness, in themselves and others. Copyright © 2020 Harvard Business School Publishing. Philosophers have been inquiring about happiness since ancient times. Without historical perspective, American expectations seem so normal and so natural that they’re difficult to evaluate. In I. Boniwell & S. Davis (Eds.). Author Peter N Stearns 1 Affiliation 1 George Mason University, USA. The debate over theories of happiness falls along a couple of lines.The most interesting questions concern the choice between lifesatisfaction and affect-based views like hedonism and the emotionalstate theory. Today we think of happiness as a right and a skill that can be developed. The happiness surge applied even more clearly to family life. Meaning "pleasant and contented mental state" is from 1590s. Whereas happiness had once been seen as a rare and special achievement in a world of suffering and pain, now there was a growing consensus that … The rising American divorce rate of the later 19th century owed much to expectations that family reality often could not match—another problem that has hardly disappeared. All sorts of advertisers (a newly distinct profession) discovered that associating products with happiness spurred sales. The "happy" life is sometimes called the good life, or the "choice-worthy life", which incorporates all of those goods we would choose for ourselves, including virtues and ethics. Components include, certainly, the intellectual shift toward a higher valuation of matters in this world and a reduced commitment to traditional Christian staples such as original sin—all part of the cultural environment created by the Enlightenment. To Herodotus, the happiness known as eudaimonia implied possession of a guiding spirit, or "daimon". It helps explain another American invention, the laugh track, to assure people they were happy even when comedy fell short. In ancient Greek tragedy, happiness was considered a gift of the gods. In the 18th century, the Enlightenment ushered in the notion that happiness was the attainment of a worthy life. The new middle-class work ethic came close to arguing that work should be a source of happiness. For Further Reading. Happiness is something that has been researched every which way, resulting in some incredibly interesting findings. In this brief history of happiness, philosopher Nicholas White reviews 2,500 years of attempts to answer such questions. The history of happiness Harv Bus Rev. In the 18th century, the Enlightenment ushered in the notion that happiness was the attainment of a worthy life. The obvious question is why, and while some causes are pretty clear, we probably still fall short of a fully satisfactory explanation. We know that at least a quarter of depression diagnoses are mistakes, confusions of normal sadness with a pathological state. Happiness and the Moral Good Traditionally, happiness has been associated with the moral good (Haidt, 2006). Until the 18th century, Western standards encouraged, if anything, a slightly saddened approach to life, with facial expressions to match. The History of a Cultural Movement That Aspired to Transform America When a cultural movement that began to take shape in the mid-twentieth century erupted into … It’s important to stress that the happiness surge was not antireligious; a key component was the new idea that being cheerful was pleasing to God. Alexander Pope declaimed, “Oh happiness! Just was perfectly right to announce, as he did in the National Convention in 1794, that “happiness is a new idea in Europe.” In some real ways it was. Some researchers believe that hedonism and even life satisfaction are not great standards for happiness. To top it off, Authentic Happiness further allows for the "Full Life," a life that satisfies all three criteria of happiness. "Felicitators". Consumption has not always been king in the United States. Indeed, some depression may result from the difficulty of manifesting a more modest dose of sadness, making it “easier” to drift into outright illness.Every cultural system has drawbacks to go with the advantages that facilitated its adoption in the first place. "Happiness" is a word with a thousand definitions. It might … In our happiness culture there might yet be, after a couple of centuries of acceleration, room for improvement. It is also used in the context of life satisfaction, subjective well-being, eudaimonia, flourishing and well-being.. Among the exhortations: “Happiness is as essential as food if a child is to develop into normal manhood or womanhood”; “the purpose of bringing-up in all its phases should be to make the child as happy as possible.” There was some tension in the new common wisdom between a belief that children were naturally happy (all an adult had to do was not spoil things) and a nagging worry that childhood was actually more complicated (parents had to produce the necessary joy). No matter how much you have, you want more in order to sustain the same level of satisfaction. Aristotle, when he asked ‘ what is the ultimate purpose of human existence ’ alluded to the fact that purpose was what he argued to be ‘happiness’. This article offers a feminist critique of happiness. This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. We could think of this as our conscience - though today most people don't associate conscientious action with happiness. (1978). Daniel Haybron believes that it is only in the area of psychological state well-being that we get a commonsense affirmation of why happiness matters. (1978). Now of course it is certainly true that one has the tradition of classical philosophy initiated by Socrates towards the end of the 5thcentury BCE—a tradition that presented happiness or human flourishing (eudaimonia) as a function of human virtue. "—Anna Alexandrova and Ramandeep Singh, Times Literary Supplement "Based on extensive longitudinal data in four countries, this book about the science of well-being over the life course is a significant contribution not only to psychology but also ultimately to policy-making in terms of what really matters to people." But the history was still not complete, for there was yet another surge, particularly in the United States, from the 1920s onward. The Principles of Morals and Legislation. There was some complexity here: Horatio Alger stories of the beauties of work also pointed to higher earnings and social mobility—not just intrinsic happiness—as rewards. Titles, over several decades, included monuments like 14,000 Things to Be Happy About, Happiness Is a Choice, and A Thousand Paths to Happiness (with claims that this was an “emerging science”). It was in the 1830s that Harriet Martineau, often described as the first female sociologist, professed amazement at how often Americans tried to make her laugh: One stranger “dropped some drolleries so new to me, and so intense, that I was perplexed what to do with my laughter.” The smiling American was becoming a stereotype two centuries ago, as a new nation sought to justify its existence by projecting superior claims to happiness. Positive psychology, like all behavioral sciences, has roots in moral philosophy. In olden times, happiness was a rare condition given to the few who had the ability to ‘Getting closer to the Divine’, (similarly to Budha). Moreover, attitudes toward happiness don’t just vary; they change. This spontaneous way of living accorded the practitioner liberation from daily stresses, and a sense of belonging to greater concerns. happiness (n.) 1520s, "good fortune," from happy + -ness. Today we think of happiness as a right and a skill that can be developed. We may miss opportunities to improve situations, for example in work settings, because we assume that problems result from personality and not from more-objective conditions. One type of "happiness" that battles this adaptation is engaged activity, often called flow. To top it off, Authentic Happiness further allows for the "Full Life," a life that satisfies all three criteria of happiness. Central to the development of Christianity, happiness held out the promise of an end … On the other, not being happy, or at least not seeming to be, was a problem to be avoided. The list of historians working on happiness is not long, but those who’ve tackled some aspect of the subject generally agree: At the level of rhetoric, at least, a significant shift occurred in Western culture around 250 years ago. Seeing a culture as the product of historical change is an invitation to step back, assess, and then consider further change. He termed this eudaimonia – “ activity expressing virtue ”. This has been liberating, in some respects, because it asks us to strive to … This probably goes too far. In this last quote we can see another important feature of Aristotle's theory: the link between the concepts of happiness and virtue. Along with technological improvements in photography, it prompted new standards for public poses, with smiles all around, whether at family outings or in politicians’ mug shots. In East Asian religion and philosophy, Confucianism and Daoism concluded that the way to a life of fulfillment and joy was predicated on following the Dao, or "the way". In I. Boniwell & S. Davis (Eds.). Cultures that stress happiness likely do produce more happy people, but the link is complex and fragile. When most people today use the word, they mean positive emotion or positive affect. The transition from a largely manufacturing to a white-collar economy played a role, providing more settings in which managers could see happiness as a business advantage. Since then the pursuit of happiness has spread to every aspect of behavior, from religion and politics to work and parenting. Understanding the cultural commitment to good cheer as an artifact of modern history, not as an inherent feature of the human condition, opens new opportunities for understanding key facets of our social and personal experience. Flow is a deep, skillful engagement in one's activities, during which time can feel distorted and a sense of self can even be temporarily lost. HAPPY Meaning: "lucky, favored by fortune, being in advantageous circumstances, prosperous;" of events, "turning out… See definitions of happy. happiness (n.) 1520s, "good fortune," from happy + -ness. Bentham, J. All rights reserved. PMID: 22299510 Abstract In the 18th century, the Enlightenment ushered in the notion that happiness was the attainment of a worthy life. The Good Life is about happiness in Desire's sense, and the Meaningful Life is about happiness in Objective List's sense. Throughout history, happiness has been equated regularly with the highest human calling, the most perfect human state. The push went beyond popular books and articles. Since then the pursuit of happiness has spread to every aspect of behavior, from religion and politics to work and parenting. The history of happiness. This construction of ‘happiness as a problem’ has a long history from Marx and Durkheim to contemporary writers such as Ahmed and Furedi. Only in the early 20th century were child-rearing manuals filled with chapters on the happiness of children. Sadness is often mistaken for a pathology. This phenomenon is called the "hedonic treadmill". Christian philosophy often turned to blessedness to describe happiness, which might have even entailed suffering while awaiting one's greatest good in Heaven. Wives and mothers were urged to maintain a cheerful atmosphere in order to reward their hardworking husbands and produce successful children. The comparative angle is intriguing, especially as elements of the West’s happiness culture have been widely shared. Aristotle tells us that the most important factor in the effort to achieve happiness is to have a good moral character — what he calls "complete virtue." Some experts argue that happiness is an inborn trait, so urging a person to become happier is like insisting she become taller. Understanding the happiness imperative as an artifact of modern history, not as an inherent feature of the human condition, opens new opportunities to understand central facets of our social and personal experience. The Dalai Lama agrees, describing happiness as a skill requiring effort and time to develop an understanding of the true nature of reality. ©2020 Verizon Media. Phrase greatest happiness for the greatest number was in Francis Hutcheson (1725) but later was associated with Bentham. The Principles of Morals and Legislation. Consumerism was central. But being virtuous is not a passive state: one must act in accordance with virtue. Ethics "Nicholas White offers a brisk, informative, and readable account of various attempts, throughout the Western philosophical tradition, to articulate the meaning of that elusive term 'happiness.'" Happiness is sometimes called well-being, which has many theories for its attainment. The idea gained ground that heaven was a happy place marked by, among other things, blissful reunions with departed family members. Revealingly, by the 1940s the concept of boredom shifted from being an undesirable character trait, which good children should avoid, to presenting a challenge for parents. Smiley face is invented; annual licensing fees exceed $50 million by the decade’s end. We’re still supposed to be smiling. History of Happiness The psychological and philosophical pursuit of happiness began in China, India and Greece nearly 2,500 years ago with Confucius, Buddha, Socrates, and Aristotle. But there was no dissent from the belief that a key responsibility of parents was to solidify the link between childhood and happiness. In his article on the history of happiness, Peter N. Stearns attributes this shift in part to better living conditions, a change in thinking, and, most surprisingly, better dentistry that allowed humans to smile more freely! The historical evolution of our happiness culture also suggests limitations. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. Targeted programs ultimately included Happiness for Black Women Only, The Ladder Up: Secret Steps to Jewish Happiness, Gay Happiness, and, for the emotional omnivore, Find Happiness in Everything You Do. In this particular case one can read the facts of this phenomenon on the article A History of Happiness. Hedonism, though, is prone to adaptation; over time, we need more and more stimulus to feel the same amount of pleasure. Will a happiness surge be part of globalization? One historian has also noted the 18th century as a time of improved dentistry, when people became more willing to lift their lips in a smile; he argues that the ambivalent smile of a Mona Lisa probably reflected embarrassment at tooth decay. Harvard Business Publishing is an affiliate of Harvard Business School. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, The essential guide to taking care of your mind and body. The same applies to adults. Yet it’s only within the past two hundred years that human beings have begun to think of happiness as not just an earthly possibility but also as an earthly entitlement, even an obligation. Now off you go to hopefully spread a little happiness … These ethical theories about right and wrong present the philosophical underpinnings of psychological happiness. With the rise of monotheist religions, happiness was involved with a virtue feel. Its logic, in the context of the ascending culture of happiness, helps explain its persistence in popular religious culture to this day—even to the point where, in a recent funeral service, deceased family pets were assumed to be part of the celestial scene. Meaning "pleasant and contented mental state" is from 1590s. The article suggests that feminist histories might offer an alternative history of happiness. Some philosophers believe happiness can be understood as the moral goal of life or as an aspect of chance; indeed, in most European languages the term happiness is synonymous with luck. As one dour Protestant put it, God would encourage a person who “allowed no joy or pleasure, but a kind of melancholic demeanor and austerity.” This does not mean people were actually unhappy—we simply cannot know that, because cultural standards and personal temperament interact in complicated ways. A vast literature began to emerge that stressed simultaneously the importance of being happy, the personal responsibility to gain happiness, and the methods available. First, life satisfactio… U.S. All of this constituted the first stage in the emergence of modern Western happiness, but there were further stages, building even greater potency into the culture that still claims us. But we can at least consider the possibility of modification. With these various developments, the claim of happiness on the culture was established. The escalation of happiness built on the existing culture, but there were other contributing factors. Some, like John Stuart Mill, have believed that one can only attain happiness by striving for something else, a striving present in flow. By the time of the Romans, its cherished symbol, the phallus, was synonymous with pleasure and success. Danes, the current polls suggest, are no longer so melancholy. Some undeniable challenges emerge. Over the years, happiness has meant many other things, some of which are surprising when compared with our current sense of the word. Unlike Western notions of eudaimonia, these ways to happiness were grounded in intimate connections with nature and the larger human family. The 18th century also saw some measurable advances in human comfort for the middle classes and above, ranging from better home heating to the availability of umbrellas to provide shelter from the rain. Indeed, there seems to have been a bit of an American twist on all this even early on. When too much is expected, less actual satisfaction may result. What are their acceptable outlets? It inspired new workplace standards that instructed white-collar employees and salespeople in the centrality of cheerfulness. The happiness imperative also spread to childhood, another area where cultural norms have become so powerful that it may be hard to imagine historical contrast. It spawned new commercial empires such as the Walt Disney Company, whose corporate motto became “make people happy” and whose employees convinced customers that they were already happy simply because they were in a Disney setting. The point is that cultural variations on happiness are considerable, contributing to the findings of international happiness polls that dot the contemporary public opinion landscape. the history of happiness is presented for the sake of background into the field. Addresses key questions such as what happiness is and whether or not happiness should play such a dominant role in our lives. But there have been downsides as well. Sinful humanity had best display a somewhat sorrowful humility. Pawelski, J. " Or at the very least, it is the end of the other ends we seek, even today. On the one hand, it was now perfectly legitimate to seek happiness. Throughout history, happiness has been equated regularly with the highest human calling, the most perfect human state. During the 19th century, although the commitment to happiness in general did not escalate, there were important applications to facets of daily life. It became a national preoccupation beginning in the 1920s when business leaders began worrying that Americans were satiated, that they had all the appliances and consumer goods they wanted. Some experts argue that happiness is an inborn trait, so urging a person to become happier is like insisting she become taller. To Herodotus, the happiness known as eudaimonia implied possession of a guiding spirit, or "daimon". THIS IS HAPPINESS By Niall Williams “One of the unwritten tenets of the local poetics was that a story must never arrive at a point, or risk conclusion,” says … Those risks suggest the need to cut through the pervasive happiness rhetoric at certain points. More often, we associate happiness with pleasure. For instance, because reality is subjective, being satisfied with one's life can be a function of how high you set the bar. Ever hear someone say, “Stop and smell the roses”? The happiness imperative certainly hinders exploration of the gray areas of modern experience, and its compulsory quality can misfire. Of psychological state well-being that we get a commonsense affirmation of why happiness matters than are... House in the United States its cherished symbol, the most perfect human state and disappointment experience. It helps explain another American invention, the Enlightenment ushered in the notion history of happiness. As undermining national character. ) suffering while awaiting one 's greatest good in heaven the things we need while! Considered a gift of the Enlightenment turn to happiness were grounded in intimate connections with nature the! Key responsibility of parents was to solidify the link between the concepts of norms! 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