The Science of Happiness

Smile AM

Positive psychology - which examines human flourishing - has seen incredible advances. Psychologists have identified happiness components while neuroscientists have investigated associated brain states.

Happiness is a complex topic, with genetic predispositions and environmental influences playing key roles. But there are clear patterns.

Psychological Aspects

Since Aristotle, psychologists have generally defined happiness as the result of two separate aspects: pleasure (hedonia) and eudaimonia (meaning or well-being). Pleasure stems from fundamental animal instincts that encourage us to pursue what brings pleasure while avoiding those that don't; while meaning or well-being requires more complex psychological concepts that are hard to measure.

Hedonic psychology seeks to understand the nature and effects of pleasurable experiences, while eudaimonic happiness seeks to investigate feelings of engagement and purposefulness. Psychologists have also attempted to comprehend how these two components interact within the brain.

Many key questions relating to hedonic and eudaimonic psychology remain unanswered, yet progress has been made in identifying specific components of happiness and their underlying neural correlates. Studies of hedonic happiness have demonstrated how pleasure states correlate to activity in the brain's reward centers while eudaimonic feelings correlate to activation in social connection and self-worth networks in the brain.

Theories regarding the source of happiness vary significantly. While some claim genetic and inherited factors play a part, other research points toward environmental and societal influences as being more influential on an individual's level. None of these explanations has proven convincing; likely somewhere in-between lies the truth.

One reason happiness can be difficult to measure and define is due to its many different influences. Changes to certain factors may have immediate and direct impacts on happiness while in other cases they can have more subtle ramifications. Researchers tend to investigate factors which are affected by changes in behavior - positive psychology researchers often focus on studying the influence of things such as exercise and nutrition on one's happiness while other experts look into how relationships and work environments influence happiness levels.


People spend billions each year on self-help books, aromatherapy treatments and coaches in search of happiness. This massive industry operates under the assumption that our external environments determine our happiness levels; however, experts all agree that your choices matter more than the environment in creating and maintaining a life filled with fulfillment and fulfillment.

Positive Psychology (PP) was pioneered by pioneering psychologists such as Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers who believed that human well-being could be improved through intentional activities, with people taking control of their lives to achieve this aim. Today's happiness research is further validating this approach, showing us how our daily choices can have a dramatic effect on levels of joy and contentment.

A major breakthrough was achieved in 1996 when researchers David Lykken and Auke Tellegen conducted twin studies with identical and fraternal twins, asking each to rate their own level of happiness, before finding that identical twins who shared more genes (on average 50%) than fraternal ones had more comparable ratings of happiness.

Research has uncovered that our genetic makeup plays an integral part in our level of happiness. Genes that predispose us toward optimism or the ability to find meaning and purpose are known to contribute significantly towards greater levels of wellbeing, while genes that influence how our body responds to stress may also have an effect on overall happiness levels.

Many scientists hold the belief that genetics and environment interact and correlate. According to the gene-environment interaction or rGE model, genetic differences account for about 40% of individual happiness differences while remaining factors can be contributed by environmental influences which are unique for each person.

Happiness research is rapidly evolving. Scientists are beginning to comprehend how happiness works and have established several interventions within this field. Over time, we may use these findings as the basis for designing policies, activities, and environments which enable genetic potentials while mitigating vulnerability and risk.


Environment refers to everything around a person, from the bustle of an office setting to the tranquil beauty of a mountain range. It provides people with physical environments within which they think and behave; its effect being significant for both psychological and behavioral processes. Environment studies encompass many fields.

Environments of countries are one of many criteria used to measure their quality of life, such as GDP; economic measures like GDP; availability and accessibility of state support such as social security; as well as various indicators of good governance and general welfare. Happiness has increasingly become one of the cornerstones of these metrics - in addition to positive emotions such as joy or gratitude, as well as negative ones such as stress.

Happiness can be a powerful driver of sustainable development and progress toward the Global Goals, and countries with higher levels of happiness tend to produce less pollution and environmental damage.

Researchers are studying environmental factors and their impact on happiness. One such study examined different landscapes people live in, finding those more connected with nature reported higher levels of happiness. Other research has compared urban and rural living and noted that city dwellers tend to be happier.

Environment factors that impact happiness are of great interest to those involved with sustainability as they can guide policies and practices. A growing number of countries are measuring and reporting citizens' levels of happiness publicly - this data being used to inform policy decisions such as allocating more resources towards maintaining this level of happiness among its population.

Recent paper proposes that it is crucial for us to evaluate how a country's environment, particularly social and natural aspects, impact citizens' happiness in order to make informed decisions about sustainable development. They propose an all-encompassing measure of happiness incorporating length of life and argue this should be used as the key criteria in selecting appropriate forms of development projects.

Personal Choices

Researchers have discovered a few activities you can do to increase your happiness, such as exercising or making healthier food choices that require effort but offer long-term rewards. A study by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky revealed that people rated commuting to work, sleeping well, having intimate relationships and socializing with friends and family as their favorite daily activities; television viewing earned low ratings while doing nothing sported the lowest marks.

Certain activities require more effort than others, so it is essential to understand your personal temperament and response to choice. For example, you might be an "maximizer," someone who likes to weigh all their options before making a decision - although this approach might help get the best deal, it could make relaxing more difficult and hinder the pleasures of leisure time.

Psychotherapist Sonja Lyubomirsky speaks at a TED talk and discusses how she has come to recognize that happiness can be learned and nurtured, so it's essential that positive experiences be sought out - such as spending time with loved ones, undertaking challenging mental exercises or exploring your spirituality.

Importantly, happiness and success are inextricably linked. Achieve success to experience joy; but happiness may exist regardless of success levels.

Happiness requires resilience - those who can adapt well to setbacks are better at recovering, while happy individuals tend to be more accepting of uncertainty in their lives.

Science of happiness research continues to expand rapidly worldwide. Although genetics and biology cannot be changed directly, there are other ways you can enhance your quality of life such as practicing gratitude, being mindful, socializing with close friends and cultivating compassion.

Finding happiness lies in finding an equilibrium between things we cannot change and those that can. Gain research-backed strategies for leading a happier and more meaningful life using compassion, gratitude, mindfulness and awe as tools.


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