Is Happiness Overrated?

A few excerpts ...

The pleasure that comes with, say, a good meal, an entertaining movie or an important win for one’s sports team—a feeling called “hedonic well-being”—tends to be short-term and fleeting. Raising children, volunteering or going to medical school may be less pleasurable day to day. But these pursuits give a sense of fulfillment, of being the best one can be, particularly in the long run.


“Sometimes things that really matter most are not conducive to short-term happiness,” says Carol Ryff, a professor and director of the Institute on Aging at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.


“Eudaimonia” is a Greek word associated with Aristotle and often mistranslated as “happiness”—which has contributed to misunderstandings about what happiness is. Some experts say Aristotle meant “well-being” when he wrote that humans can attain eudaimonia by fulfilling their potential. Today, the goal of understanding happiness and well-being, beyond philosophical interest, is part of a broad inquiry into aging and why some people avoid early death and disease. Psychologists investigating eudaimonic versus hedonic types of happiness over the past five to 10 years have looked at each type’s unique effects on physical and psychological health.

For instance, symptoms of depression, paranoia and psychopathology have increased among generations of American college students from 1938 to 2007, according to a statistical review published in 2010 in Clinical Psychology Review. Researchers at San Diego State University who conducted the analysis pointed to increasing cultural emphasis in the U.S. on materialism and status, which emphasize hedonic happiness, and decreasing attention to community and meaning in life, as possible explanations.


Participants with low education level and greater eudaimonic well-being had lower levels of interleukin-6, an inflammatory marker of disease associated with cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s disease, than those with lower eudaimonic well-being, even after taking hedonic well-being into account. The work was published in the journal Health Psychology.

David Bennett, director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, and his colleagues showed that eudaimonic well-being conferred benefits related to Alzheimer’s. Over a seven-year period, those reporting a lesser sense of purpose in life were more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease compared with those reporting greater purpose in life, according to an analysis published in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry. The study involved 950 individuals with a mean age of about 80 at the start of the study.

In a separate analysis of the same group of subjects, researchers have found those with greater purpose in life were less likely to be impaired in carrying out living and mobility functions, like housekeeping, managing money and walking up or down stairs. And over a five-year period they were significantly less likely to die—by some 57%— than those with low purpose in life.

The link persisted even after researchers took into account variables that could be related to well-being and happiness, such as depressive symptoms, neuroticism, medical conditions and income.

It could be that people with high eudaimonic well-being are good at reappraising situations and using the brain more actively to see the positives, Dr. van Reekum says. They may think, “This event is difficult but I can do it,” she says. Rather than running away from a difficult situation, they see it as challenging.

The two types of well-being aren’t necessarily at odds, and there is overlap. Striving to live a meaningful life or to do good work should bring about feelings of happiness, of course. But people who primarily seek extrinsic rewards, such as money or status, often aren’t as happy, says Richard Ryan, professor of psychology, psychiatry and education at the University of Rochester.

Simply engaging in activities that are likely to promote eudaimonic well-being, such as helping others, doesn’t seem to yield a psychological benefit if people feel pressured to do them, according to a study Dr. Ryan and a colleague published last year in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. “When people say, ‘In the long-run, this will get me some reward,’ that person doesn’t get as much benefit,” he says.
I think that the idea of happiness is misunderstood. I consider it better to desire sustainable peace and joy, than fleeting moments of happiness. Of course, happiness could be used in an interchangeable way with joy, but when I think of joy, I think of a perpetual state of contentedness. Either way, I don't seek happiness in terms of external validation, etc. It's something that must come from within, imo.
Happiness isn't pleasure. Pleasure is a very small part of what makes people happy. Happiness also contains good community relations - yes, the approval and respect of other people is important! Happiness includes physical safety and security - knowing where your next meal is coming from, knowing that your children are okay, knowing that you won't lose your house if one of the family gets ill. It's doing work in which you feel competent and of which you are not ashamed. It's having time for solitude, recreation and self-improvement. And it's having healthy relationships with family and friends. Being loved helps, too.
happiness is sitting in my car, smoking a cig, listening to the radio and watching the foot traffic at the 7-Eleven.
Is happiness overrated?

The early Buddhists would have said yes.

One of their big points seems to have been that the way to elimination of 'dukkha' (dissatisfaction) wasn't to pile pleasure ('sukha') on top of it. Pleasure is typically imperfect ('is this all there is?'), and even if we are totally swept away by bliss, it inevitably goes away. What's more, pleasure feeds desire for greater and greater amounts of pleasure. ($100 might excite a homeless person, but a rich person has his/her desires set a lot higher.)

Psychologists talk about adaptation. This is the idea that our normal resting happiness is set by genetics, physiology and early life experiences. A positive event in our lives might temporarily push our subjective happiness upwards and a negative experience pushes it downwards. But it soon returns to its resting level as we become used to whatever the changes are. So if our search is for a consistently elevated mood, we might find ourselves on an endless search since our mood will quickly return to normal when we become acclimated to whatever the newest pleasure is.

Seems to suggest that you would expect increased mental and physical health issues to manifest in a society that places more emphasis on "feeling" good than "acting" good.

Many would say that the route to a right mental state is right behavior. By behaving right, the associated virtues become habits and are internalized. We change our own internal process.
Maybe a better title would be "Is happiness misunderstood?".

yes i think so
however, we are biological creatures bound to a process of drive that manifests darwinian absolutes to genetic inheritance.

now that humans have managed to remove the bulk of compulsory violence and disease from the bottom rung of the culture ladder, intellectual process starts t develop further.
hence issues around identity and addictions, inter personal human relationships etc.

Seems to suggest that you would expect increased mental and physical health issues to manifest in a society that places more emphasis on "feeling" good than "acting" good.

only if the fuel is not tainted
however ...
how many people have access to 100% pure food and water & air and environmental contact ? 0 ?

and that is not counting for genetic issues around hardier but shorter life span darwinian absolutes
... genetic dispositions that may survive of poorer quality of food and water for a shorter time but not survive much past that.

the western working class adult life span has almost double in 60 years
thats quite an achievement