How Do We Become Happier People?

Happiness can be defined as pleasure, joy, exhilaration, bliss, contentedness, delight, enjoyment, and satisfaction. All these words mean the same thing yet can be very difficult to understand while it can be even more difficult to attain the full feeling behind these words. Many people think that having their cars, or skis, or whatever other material possessions they want will make them happy. Others believe there must be some sort of deeper connections in order to achieve true happiness. The New Science of Happiness,” an article in Time Magazine by Claudia Wallis, argues that the largest contributing factor for one’s levels of happiness are feelings of gratitude and their ties to family and friends. However a peer-reviewed journal titled “Orientations to Happiness and Life Satisfaction: The Full Life Versus the Empty Life,” by Christopher Peterson, Nansook Park, and Martin E. P. Seligman, argues that there are three distinguishable orientations to happiness. The New Science of Happiness”, an article in Time Magazine, discusses how Martin Seligman, a University of Pennsylvania psychologist, brings together two other leading psychologists, Ray Fowler (past C. E. O. of APA), and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (best known for studying a happy state of mind called flow) to try and change the direction psychology is heading. This new direction was one that focused on the positive side of psychology. “For most of its history, psychology had concerned itself with all that ails the human mind: anxiety, depression, neurosis, obsessions, paranoia, delusions.

The goal of practitioners was to bring patients from a negative, ailing state to a neutral normal, or, as Martin Seligman puts it, “from a minus five to a zero. “” (Wallis 2005). Seligman and his colleagues want to instead study what makes people happy. These three psychologists want to see what makes people go form a neutral level to a plus five. Research shows that not money, education, youth, or even good weather affects your level of happiness.

The conclusion that these psychologists came to is that religion, among other things, can help to increase levels of happiness; however it is hard to tell whether it is the higher power part of religion or the community aspect. It also argues that close friends and family members which one has a commitment to spending time with help to raise levels of happiness. “Word needs to be spread,” concludes Diener [a University of Illinois psychologist]. “It is important to work on social skills, close interpersonal ties and social support in order to be happy. (Wallis 2005). So the question becomes can we, as humans, become happier people? “The New Science of Happiness” states there are multiple things one can do to become a happier person. Becoming more engaged in what you do can give your life more meaning, making one happier. Also a gratitude journal, a diary in which one writes down things that they are grateful for, which is used daily can help to make people happier. Finally the article says that performing acts of kindness or altruism five times a week shows a measurable boost in happiness.

However, Seligman has conducted similar experiments that give the conclusions stated above and has another opinion. His argument is that the best and most effective way to increase ones happiness is to make a gratitude visit; in which one writes a testimonial thanking someone-someone whom you owe a debt of gratitude- then visiting that person to read it to them. Then he argues to maintain that happiness one must find out their strengths and figure out new ways to perform them.

According to a peer-reviewed journal titled “Orientations to Happiness and Life Satisfaction: The Full Life Versus the Empty Life,” by Seligman and two other fellow psychologists, Christopher Peterson and Nansook Park, there are three distinguishable orientations to happiness. It states that these orientations are compatible and can be pursued simultaneously, and that each is directly connected to life satisfaction. The journal argues that the three orientations to a satisfying life are hedonism [devotion to pleasure as a way of life], eudemonia [happiness as the result of an active life governed by reason], and engagement (Peterson 2005).

The main interest of this study was to see how the control group acted upon these three orientations. The goal was to see whether those who said they believe in pursuing pleasure actually have more sensually gratifying experiences than those who do not, and whether those who supported engagement as an orientation to happiness more frequently lose themselves in highly absorbing activities, or whether those who agreed with the ideas that represent a life of meaning are more likely to perform service to others.

It is assumed that these orientations shape conduct and therefore produce more or less happiness (Peterson 2005). The research that Peterson, Seligman, and Park performed showed that an orientation to engagement differs from orientations to pleasure or meaning. They also found that an orientation to pleasure is not as strong of an individual predictor of life satisfaction as orientations to engagement or meaning (Peterson 2005).

Both of these articles, “The New Science of Happiness” and “Orientations to Happiness and Life Satisfaction: The Full Life Versus the Empty Life,” state that although many psychologists argue that happiness cannot be increased, the research each respective article has shows that happiness can be increased. However each article has different reasons for how it can be increased. “The New Science of Happiness” gives more simple and easy tasks that one can do to become happier. These tasks range from a gratitude journal, to performing five acts of kindness a week.

The article ultimately says the best way to increase happiness is to write a letter to some who deserves gratitude form you, then read it to them. It states later to maintain happiness one must find their strengths, and then figure out how to use them in new ways. The peer-reviewed journal argues that there are three main orientations of happiness: engagement, hedonism, and eudemonia. These three orientations are all compatible and can be pursued together, meaning that for each person their pursuit of each orientation will be different, but ultimately will determine how happy that person is.

Each of these articles shows how happiness can be changed; they each have similar reasons yet the peer- reviewed journal is based off of direct research while Wallis, the author of the Time Magazine article, gets her information from many different, and inconsistent sources.

References Peterson, C. &, Park, N. &, Seligman M. (2005). Orientations to happiness and life satisfaction: The full life versus the empty life. Journal of Happiness Studies, 6, (25-41). Retrieved October 17, 2009, from EBSCO Host. Wallis, Claudia. (January 9, 2005). The New Science of Happiness. Retrieved October 16,2009, from

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