What determines happiness? Each person would perhaps have their own personal definition. However, scientists have for years, attempted to determine the true source, in an effort to decipher what it is that makes people truly happy.
In 1988, Dr Howard Dickinson, was writing his doctorate thesis titled “What determines happiness” at the Columbia University’s Faculty of Philosophy. To complete his thesis, he carried out a survey.
His survey was collated through questionnaires assessing happiness and fulfillment, measured by 5 levels:
- Extremely happy
Over the next two months, 5200 valid and complete questionnaires were returned, out of which only 121 claimed that they were ‘extremely happy’. Further questioning and subsequent analysis was carried out on these 121 people. The results collected showed that 50 of them were financially successful people and credited their happiness to their career success. The other 71 were just ordinary housewives, vegetable farmers, subordinate employees, and even some homeless people living on state subsidy.
How could such ordinary, low income people, who had not achieved the sort of success in life often aspired to, be living life to the fullest, and feeling such happiness?
Source of Happiness
Further interviews with the second, lower income group, uncovered some interesting commonalities.
The interviewees were diverse in background and living condition, however, they shared a common mentality; satisfaction with meager material possessions, fulfillment from a simple and serene life and contentment with their present state.
Excited by his findings, Dr Howard Dickinson came to the conclusion that,
“There are two types of happy people in this world: The first ones are those living a peaceful life, the second ones are those successful and famous. If you are an ordinary person, through inner cultivation and curbing desire you can also achieve happiness. If you are a successful celebrity then you can, through hard work and the ability of seizing opportunities, achieve career success and greatest happiness.”
The dissertation of Howard Dickinson, was highly regarded, widely accredited and graded as “excellent”.
20 years later
After graduation, Howard Dickinson stayed on at his university to become a lecturer there. After a period of twenty years, in June 2009, he came across his past dissertation by chance. It sparked an instant curiosity in him to explore the current state of those he had interviewed for the study. He wondered whether they were still enjoying the same happiness that they were over 20 years ago.
Dr Howard resumed his survey, it took him just 3 months to gain and collate the results. Within the ‘extremely happy’ lower income group of 71, he received feedback from nearly all of the participants, bar 2 who had sadly since died.
Over the years, the remaining 69 people had experienced a variety of changes in life. Some had achieved substantial success, the majority were still living an ordinary life with expected ups and downs, and the rest were facing extreme difficulties due to illness or accident. Surprisingly though, the contentment they felt with their lives had stayed the same.
In contrast to this, the group of ‘Extremely happy’ financially successful people provided a diverse mixture of answers this time around:
- Extremely happy (9)
- Happy (0)
- Normal (23)
- Suffering (16)
- Miserable (2)
It turned out that a considerably smaller group than previously surveyed now claimed to be ‘extremely happy’, this group of now 9 were still enjoying fulfillment from their career success. The 16 person strong group of ‘Suffering’ individuals had mostly gone through a career downfall or bankruptcy. Indicating that their satisfaction from life, and subsequent happiness was changeable based on their situation.
The results left Dr Howard in deep contemplation for some time.
He later wrote an article compiling what he had concluded from his surveys titled, The Happiness Code.
“Happiness brought about by material things can not last long, it can not be sustained when the material thing disappears. Only peace and tranquility coming forth from the soul can bring about true happiness.”
In an interview at the time, Howard Dickinson claimed, “More than 20 years ago, I was too young to be able to define the true meaning of ‘happiness’. Moreover, I also transmitted this inaccurate interpretation of ‘happiness’ to many of my students. Today, I sincerely apologize to all my students.”
True happiness can only be found inside yourself. The fleeting happiness brought by external intervention, will leave as quickly as it arrived.
“Train your mind to see the good in everything” – Paul Walker.
More tips on Happiness will follow – Stay tuned!