I have yet another video to show you this week.
Admittedly, this video isn’t as interesting as the placebo one of last Saturday. I find the speaker repeats too much and the content got a little boring. However, it is an interesting topic in itself, positive psychology. The science of happiness.
Is it possible to have a science of happiness? We tend to have a suspicious attitude towards science, and psychology as well, on how they can capture every facet of a complex human being. Happiness, and other emotions, are regarded as highly personal components of each and everyone of us. We take pride in defending our emotions from public eye. Those phony psychologists, thinking they know everything about our thoughts and feelings! I’m sure they know nothing about my fear, or my sorrows. They only know the supposed brain secretions that occur when I feel fear, but that’s not the same as knowing my fear. And my fear can’t be identical to everyone else’s fear, because it defines whom I am.
Positive psychology doesn’t pretend to know what you’re feeling. In fact, it gives you free rein to feel as you wish. As the man in the video said, we’re supposed to let our feelings flow. It’s suppressing them that’s detrimental to our well-being, and society teaches us to suppress our emotions. We learn not to seem angry even if people do us wrong. We learn to beam even when we’re miserable. The aim of positive psychology is really to promote fulfillment in people’s everyday lives, to enable positive human flourishing. They investigate factors that purportedly promote happiness, such as age, parenting, weather, financial wealth and intelligence, among others. None of these are reliable indicators except for age, where it’s said that people aged between 40 to 50 are the least happy of all the age groups.
So what can one investigate scientifically about happiness? There are 3 branches of positive psychology.
1. The pleasant life, or how people experience positive feelings from entertainment, hobbies etcetera
2. The good life, or how people experience “flow” when they are optimally engaged in their primary activities. This is more of work-related, or play-related. The idea that people’s strengths match the level of their task at hand.
3. The meaningful life, where people feel that they are contributing to a larger system than themselves, such as a social group, a religion, a tradition, a movement etcetera.
It has been said that people are happier when they build on 6 virtues that we are innately attuned towards. They are: wisdom & knowledge, courage, humanity, justice, temperance (that is, mercy and prudence etcetera) and transcendence (that is, appreciation of beauty, good humour etcetera). It goes to suggest that when we are good people, we feel much happier.
But of course, is this a rosy picture of reality? Critics have said that positive psychology doesn’t explain the atrocities of the Nazi regime, and also that it’s been said that slightly depressed people actually have a less distorted view of reality and are less prone to racial prejudices. Does this mean we should stop pursuing happiness, or that we should do it in moderation? Just as someone can be overly optimistic, can someone also be overly happy?
And last of all, what do you think makes you happy? Is it a short-term addiction like chocolate or is it something supposedly meaningful, such as religion or marriage?