Most East Asian cultures also have lower happiness expectations than Americans are accustomed to. When most people today use the word, they mean positive emotion or positive affect. Meaning "pleasant and contented mental state" is from 1590s. People prior to the late 17th century thought happiness was a matter of luck or virtue or divine favor. Happiness and its opposites." Philosopher James Pawelski reminds us that happiness is a both a goal of, and a construct of culture. 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. In this article is recounted how the view of happiness has changed with time. The push went beyond popular books and articles. Bentham, J. The Greek philosophers introduced another idea that's had a long history in the West: Happiness isn't a matter of indulging desires and feeling good. 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. No matter how much you have, you want more in order to sustain the same level of satisfaction. The cultural commitment to happiness promoted new efforts to associate work with happiness, through experiments in human relations techniques or just piped-in music. Bentham, J. This was an intriguing redefinition of spiritual rewards, clearly designed to reduce the need for extensive fear or grief. This construction of ‘happiness as a problem’ has a long history from Marx and Durkheim to contemporary writers such as Ahmed and Furedi. Sadness is often mistaken for a pathology. Only in the early 20th century were child-rearing manuals filled with chapters on the happiness of children. 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. Now that the family began to play a decreasing economic role, as jobs moved out of the home, it took on new emotional responsibilities. The term happiness is used in the context of mental or emotional states, including positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy. Sinful humanity had best display a somewhat sorrowful humility. For Further Reading. The Good Life is about happiness in Desire's sense, and the Meaningful Life is about happiness in Objective List's sense. Confucius' notion of joy was not an emotion or attainment of material objects, but an "ethical response to features of the world". A short history of American-style happiness. Alexander Pope declaimed, “Oh happiness! Happiness for Black Women Only, The Ladder Up: Secret Steps to Jewish Happiness, Gay Happiness. Consumption has not always been king in the United States. "A valuable aid to the flourishing literature on happiness and its history." 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. Americans also took the lead in efforts to reconcile death with the demands for happiness. The historical evolution of our happiness culture also suggests limitations. We know that at least a quarter of depression diagnoses are mistakes, confusions of normal sadness with a pathological state. Considers the ways in which major thinkers from Plato and Aristotle through to Nietzsche and Freud have treated happiness. It goes through the Western history of the concept of happiness, focusing mostly between the medieval and renaissance time-frames giving a more limited focus on 18th century and classical Greek lines of thought. In I. Boniwell & S. Davis (Eds.). Central to the development of Christianity, happiness held out the promise of an end … Stearns PN(1). 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. Those risks suggest the need to cut through the pervasive happiness rhetoric at certain points. With the rise of monotheist religions, happiness was involved with a virtue feel. Danes, the current polls suggest, are no longer so melancholy. Or at the very least, it is the end of the other ends we seek, even today. Will a happiness surge be part of globalization? The happiness imperative certainly hinders exploration of the gray areas of modern experience, and its compulsory quality can misfire. To explore the philosophy of happiness in life, first, the history of happiness will be examined. Harvard Business Publishing is an affiliate of Harvard Business School. Throughout history, happiness has been equated regularly with the highest human calling, the most perfect human state. We have seen that the translation of happiness norms into family and work expectations produces frustration and disappointment when experience contradicts cultural hyperbole. 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. Throughout history, happiness has been equated regularly with the highest human calling, the most perfect human state. 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. 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. The idea gained ground that heaven was a happy place marked by, among other things, blissful reunions with departed family members. This changed dramatically with the 18th century and the values of the Enlightenment. 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. happiness (n.) 1520s, "good fortune," from happy + -ness. The concept of happiness is one that causes controversies, some says it doesn’t exist and others revere it. It was no accident that this same new nation, at this same point, quietly revolutionized the approach to death by introducing the garden cemetery, where people could gain a sense of contentment, if not happiness, as they contemplated the end of life. But there is no question that many people felt obliged to apologize for the moments of happiness they did encounter. Cultures that stress happiness likely do produce more happy people, but the link is complex and fragile. New norms might also make it harder to confront experiences, such as death, where happiness is hard to find—another vulnerability of contemporary culture. The history of happiness Harv Bus Rev. Meaning "pleasant and contented mental state" is from 1590s. It inspired new workplace standards that instructed white-collar employees and salespeople in the centrality of cheerfulness. Copyright © 2020 Harvard Business School Publishing. 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”). Author information: (1)George Mason University, USA. The obvious question is why, and while some causes are pretty clear, we probably still fall short of a fully satisfactory explanation. Nor is it enough to have a few virtues; rather one must strive to … 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. The new middle-class work ethic came close to arguing that work should be a source of happiness. This has been liberating, in some respects, because it asks us to strive to … 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. One type of "happiness" that battles this adaptation is engaged activity, often called flow. But it was convenient for a rising class to believe that working people had no reason not to be happy and that laziness and bad habits disrupted not only performance but also contentment. 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. On the other, not being happy, or at least not seeming to be, was a problem to be avoided. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, The essential guide to taking care of your mind and body. Over the years, happiness has meant many other things, some of which are surprising when compared with our current sense of the word. Jan-Feb 2012;90(1-2):104-9, 153. U.S. (Only a few British traditionalists objected to the latter as undermining national character.) All rights reserved. What are their acceptable outlets? List theories explain all of the things we need, while desire fulfillment provides us with what we want. A modern Russian adage holds that “a person who smiles a lot is either a fool or an American.” It’s true that when McDonald’s arrived in Russia, in 1990, one of its first tasks was to train clerks to seem cheerful. Some, like John Stuart Mill, have believed that one can only attain happiness by striving for something else, a striving present in flow. More important, whether globally or nationally: What does the evolving culture have to do with actual happiness? During the 19th century, although the commitment to happiness in general did not escalate, there were important applications to facets of daily life. We could think of this as our conscience - though today most people don't associate conscientious action with happiness. (1978). 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). The smiling American was becoming a stereotype two centuries ago…. Aristotle used the word eudaimonia to describe happiness as an experience of the good life through virtuous action. It doesn't, however, cover any thinking from other traditions, which is … 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. HAPPY Meaning: "lucky, favored by fortune, being in advantageous circumstances, prosperous;" of events, "turning out… See definitions of happy. Unlike Western notions of eudaimonia, these ways to happiness were grounded in intimate connections with nature and the larger human family. 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. This spontaneous way of living accorded the practitioner liberation from daily stresses, and a sense of belonging to greater concerns. "—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." 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. Three major theories from moral philosophy emerged throughout history, each claiming the true path to righteousness. These ethical theories about right and wrong present the philosophical underpinnings of psychological happiness. The same applies to adults. Consumerism was central. This phenomenon is called the "hedonic treadmill". 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? Over the years, happiness has meant many other things, some of which are surprising when compared with our current sense of the word. This is what most clearly explains why the intensified happiness culture of the mid-20th century has, in the main, persisted to the present day. 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. the history of happiness is presented for the sake of background into the field. Now off you go to hopefully spread a little happiness … Moreover, attitudes toward happiness don’t just vary; they change. The happiness of an individual was seen as secondary and the only path to it was through morality. Smiley face is invented; annual licensing fees exceed $50 million by the decade’s end. First, life satisfactio… 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." A brief history of happiness, reviewing 2,500 years of philosophical thought about the concept. ©2020 Verizon Media. PMID: 22299510 Abstract In the 18th century, the Enlightenment ushered in the notion that happiness was the attainment of a worthy life. Some researchers believe that hedonism and even life satisfaction are not great standards for happiness. 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". For instance, because reality is subjective, being satisfied with one's life can be a function of how high you set the bar. Even the Enlightenment turn to happiness did not initially penetrate childhood, where work and obedience continued to hold pride of place. Here are the two clearest downsides. 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. In this last quote we can see another important feature of Aristotle's theory: the link between the concepts of happiness and virtue. In our happiness culture there might yet be, after a couple of centuries of acceleration, room for improvement. Some undeniable challenges emerge. Traditionally, childhood and happiness were not generally associated. 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. Seeing a culture as the product of historical change is an invitation to step back, assess, and then consider further change. It might … 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. But there have been downsides as well. In the 18th century, the Enlightenment ushered in the notion that happiness was the attainment of a worthy life. 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! 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. The idea of happiness shifted throughout history, along with its perceived relevance and McMahon shows the different Starting out in Ancient Greece, where only a few godlike men were believed to be chosen to achieve happiness in this world and a happy life could only be judged in hindsight after a person's death, up until today, where science promises to discover the genetic secret to a happy life. Some experts argue that happiness is an inborn trait, so urging a person to become happier is like insisting she become taller. Without historical perspective, American expectations seem so normal and so natural that they’re difficult to evaluate. The Dalai Lama agrees, describing happiness as a skill requiring effort and time to develop an understanding of the true nature of reality. Today we think of happiness as a right and a skill that can be developed. More often, we associate happiness with pleasure. Addresses key questions such as what happiness is and whether or not happiness should play such a dominant role in our lives. 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. Wives and mothers were urged to maintain a cheerful atmosphere in order to reward their hardworking husbands and produce successful children. For Further Reading. 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. But we can at least consider the possibility of modification. 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. We could think of this as our conscience - though today most people don't associate conscientious action with happiness. It helps explain another American invention, the laugh track, to assure people they were happy even when comedy fell short. 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.'" 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. 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. 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. “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. He termed this eudaimonia – “ activity expressing virtue ”. A brief history of happiness. 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 … Declaration of Independence declares that all men have a right to “the pursuit of happiness.” 1926 The song “Happy Birthday” is composed. I’ve spent time since with Russian friends, discussing cultural rules on showing happiness, agreeing that differences remain. 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. Today the happiness imperative creates pressures that, paradoxically, can make us miserable. 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. 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 … 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. (1978). Today we think of happiness as a right and a skill that can be developed. 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. To Herodotus, the happiness known as eudaimonia implied possession of a guiding spirit, or "daimon". 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 … When too much is expected, less actual satisfaction may result. One's overall emotional well-being creates a more complex version of happiness that he calls "psychic flourishing". Christian philosophy often turned to blessedness to describe happiness, which might have even entailed suffering while awaiting one's greatest good in Heaven. "Felicitators". 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. Phrase greatest happiness for the greatest number was in Francis Hutcheson (1725) but later was associated with Bentham. All rights reserved. A vast literature began to emerge that stressed simultaneously the importance of being happy, the personal responsibility to gain happiness, and the methods available. 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. The article suggests that feminist histories might offer an alternative history of happiness. The Good Life is about happiness in Desire's sense, and the Meaningful Life is about happiness in Objective List's sense. The Principles of Morals and Legislation. It is also used in the context of life satisfaction, subjective well-being, eudaimonia, flourishing and well-being.. Declaration of Independence declares that all men have a right to “the pursuit of happiness.”. 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. Some experts argue that happiness is an inborn trait, so urging a person to become happier is like insisting she become taller. By the time of the Romans, its cherished symbol, the phallus, was synonymous with pleasure and success. The New York State Elks Club and the Women's Club of Geneva raised the money necessary to open the first childcare program in a house on North Street, serving five children with disabilities. The point here is not to disparage Russians. Review of Metaphysics 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. 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. 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. 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’. 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). Pawelski, J. "