“He held up a real brain in a jar with a blue liquid, which he called “joy juice:’ trickling into it from a small plastic pouch held above. He asked the audi- ence to pretend that their brains could be treated with a hormone (i.e., joy juice) that would make them ecstatically happy, and that they could be happy all the time.”

In a study conducted by Diener in a classroom at the University of Illinois, it turned out that just two students could imagine a life idealized by perpetual happiness. This is an example of many instances that make happiness one of the most mysterious emotions. Happiness is something that we often don’t try to explain in purely scientific ways, because there is so much dispute as to what it truly means. The events within our lives that trigger happiness differ in number, and in nature, for each one of us. Individual differences thus render happiness to become a vast topic of study.

There are several conceptions of this emotion that have emerged as time has passed. Buddha thought that happiness is derived from living a meaningful existence.  He left his home to seek happiness and found it in his own Enlightenment.  A life of liberty and an ability to live as one pleases is also largely considered as synonymous with happiness. Theorists like Maslow and Freud talked of happiness as a reaction to our needs being satisfied. They said that when we get what we need, we feel a sense of happiness and contentment through a relief of tension.

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The process/ activity based conception of happiness is another lens through which the emotion can be looked at. Csikszentmihalyi’s conception of happiness as an emotion elicited during the flow state dictates that we can feel happy as long as we are able to engage ourselves with activities that challenge us, interest us and do not leave us overwhelmed. An athlete might enjoy a slightly longer run than usual because it challenges the body, and keeps him/ her engaged! When we’re able to direct our energies into things we like to do, we often feel happy as we see the results of our efforts manifest. Biologically or genetically, happiness could be a sort of ‘base value’ that is assigned at birth through genes as well, as a study by Costa and McCrae has proven through its longitudinal analysis of happiness over time.

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We tend to treat being happy as something that we elicit from external sources. It is; only to some extent.The biological side of happiness is locked within our bodies, but we can elicit the ‘happy juice’ that Diener spoke of only through the ways in which we frame the world around us. Is it possible for us to just be, and be happy at the same time? Is it possible for us to put a phone down for a good 8 hours in a day without a glance? Do we need to be so connected to be happy? That’s the thing. We’re all so different, the same thing never floats all of our boats. The way we frame the events we experience in our minds, or our beliefs about them, rather, to a great extent, shapes how happy we are as we go through them. If you think that going to work is a bore, you’re never going to achieve flow with it unless you truly enjoy it. Curating o ur lives to find what truly excites us really defines the way we live.

The extent to which we feel happy is thus a product of our lives and the way we perceive them. At the same time, it influences the way we advance as time passes by.

 

An undergraduate in Psychology, Shantanu is an aspiring Educational Psychologist who will be pursuing his Master’s in 2018 at the Ohio State University. He is adept with psychometric and statistical research, and has honed his grasp over psychology through a 4 year undergraduate course in Liberal Education at FLAME University, Pune.