In pursuit of happiness

What makes people feel happy? Everybody will have their own answer to this question, but of course you can come up with some common denominators. Being in good health and having some money to be able to live decently are on the top of their list for most people. The desires will start to differ widely at the question how much money you would need to live decently and what would be the interpretation of a ‘decent’ life.

When you ask people whether they are happy, worldwide about eighty percent of persons respond to this question with a “yes”. Not a bad score considering the fact that in this world every time somewhere there’s a war going on and the fact that wealth is distributed rather unequally among the world’s inhabitants.

About eighty percent of people in the world consider themselves happy. (© Kalim -

About eighty percent of people in the world consider themselves happy. (© Kalim –

Essentially if you are going to answer the question whether you are happy or not, you will compare yourself with people in your environment. This is fortunate. If we wouldn’t look for the answer in our close surroundings, three-quarter of the world’s population would consider themselves very unhappy due to the unreachable – seeming – happiness of the happy few. Comparing within your own level, on the one hand gives you the satisfaction that you are better off than many other people and on the other hand stimulates you to try to do slightly better so you will reach the circle of people who are just a little bit happier than you.

For many centuries, philosophers and psychologists have been debating about the definition of happiness. The pursuit of happiness is one of the most important motives of human beings. From an evolutionary standpoint this drive is a really useful mechanism of survival. Generally speaking, to feel happy signifies you are satisfied with your life and you experience many positive emotions and few negative.

The feeling of happiness certainly also has a genetic component. Possibly, everybody is born with a built-in base value for happiness. After a very unhappy or a very happy event your sense of happiness automatically returns to that base value. In general, this base value is situated above neutral, as is shown by the fact that the great majority of the world’s population calls itself happy.

The human being has an outstanding ability to adapt. Many people are able to make the most of even very bad circumstances. Take for example the people who reemerged very strong mentally from the concentration camps after the Second World War. Our brains are excellently equipped for regulating our emotions and recalibrating them if necessary. The feeling of happiness is the result of a successful adaptation.

The older we become, the more experience we have in adapting and the better we get at it. That’s why people generally become more happy when they grow older. In addition, elderly people usually have acquired a greater emotional stability. They have less problems and have more time to undertake enjoyable activities than younger people.

Happy people share a few characteristics: they are mostly extroverted; they radiate self-confidence; they are optimistic; and they think themselves in full command of their lives. Too bad for you if you don’t posses these qualities… It has always been widely accepted that you are stuck with your personality and that you have to learn to cope with it throughout your life.

“Not so”, say British researchers. It is truly possible for your personality to change with the times. And they found that small adjustments to your personality, like trying to be more extroverted and conscientious and being more open to new experiences, lead to a larger increase in your feeling of happiness than earning more money, getting married, or finding a new job.

Even deliberately putting a smile on your face will make you feel happier. (© KAR -

Even deliberately putting a smile on your face will make you feel happier. (© KAR –

If you are in a cheerful mood regularly, you will strengthen your immune system and lengthen your life span. Laughter relaxes muscles, improves blood flow, and stimulates production of certain substances in the brain that make you feel good. This goes true even if you don’t laugh spontaneously, but consciously put a smile on your face. It is two-way traffic. When you feel good, you will smile. But inversely you will start to feel better by stretching your risorius, the muscle of facial expression that produces a smile.

Another remedy to cheer you up may be to do a bit of gossiping. According to our calvinistic upbringing it is bad manners to gossip about other people, but it has a positive influence on your wellbeing, as American research showed. It will generate a feeling of relief when you are able to ventilate your frustration about someone. This diminishes the stress you are experiencing and makes you feel better.

Your mother was right though when she told you not to lie. Telling the truth is better for your health. American scientists sent a group of students off with the assignment not to tell lies for a certain period of time, not even white lies. At the end of the period, the students not only had less mental problems, but even suffered less physical complaints, like headaches or sore throats, than a comparable group of students who had continued their daily routines with an occasional lie.

Research focused on clothing and mood in women, but men surely feel emotions with certain types of clothing as well. (© diecidodici -

Research focused on clothing and mood in women, but men surely feel emotions with certain types of clothing as well. (© diecidodici –

If everything else fails in your pursuit of happiness the ultimate salvation may be in your wardrobe. According to British researchers, your mood strongly influences your choice of clothes in the morning. Most women turn out to pull a jeans from their wardrobe when they feel somewhat depressed. The favourite dress only comes down from its hanger when the owner feels great. It turns out your clothing not only influences the way other people react to you, but also reflects and influences the mood of the person who wears the clothes.

To improve your mood you have to put on clothing we associate with a happy feeling. As a rule, this concerns a well cut garment, which shows off your figure and which is made of fine fabric in bright colours. So for your wellbeing, it is better to throw away that poorly fitting, unflattering, stuffy jeans.

Now I’m looking forward to the next research results to learn what clothes do to the mood of men.


Happy foot © Barbara-Maria Damrau –

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