The psychology of happiness

When I was doing some research on my dissertation topic, I came across the following information from a book called The Psychology of Happiness by Samuel S. Franklin. I wanted to share it with people who are in pursuit of happiness:

Happiness is the fulfillment of human potential. It isn’t about just feeling good, being wealthy or being holy.

Bodily pleasures like food and sex can certainly be enjoyable but most of us wouldn’t settle for a life filled with just good feelings. According to philosopher John Stuart Mill, bodily pleasures are appropriate for animals, but humans also seek more noble satisfactions.

Money is good! Aristotle thought of it as a “real good” just like food, sleep, and friends. But most of us know, deep down, that wealth doesn’t really bring happiness. Money can solve some problems, but how can it relieve the pain of a lost loved one, a failed marriage, or an incurable illness?

In David Myers’ book The Pursuit of Happiness, the research shows that those of us in the developed world are slightly happier than those in poorer nations, and that the very wealthy of the United States experience slightly more happiness than the rest of us. However, these differences are really quite small. After the essentials of food, clothing, shelter, and so on, money doesn’t add much to the store. Having too little money can contribute to unhappiness, but if we have enough to cover the necessities of life (BMWs and sailboats are not necessities), it makes relatively little difference. As Myer notes, “well-off is not the same as well-being.” The pursuit of money can actually diminish well-being by misdirecting us from the things that really matter, such as family, friends, and community.

Rather, happiness is fulfilling our inherent possibilities. To live well, we humans must be what we are meant to be. Birds are meant to fly, and to live well they must exercise that potential. Lions are meant to hunt, and if restrained in a zoo they cannot live well.

Our potentials are like the recipe for a complicated dish: a teaspoon of outgoingness, a teaspoon of scientist, half a cup of wife or husband, and a pinch of artist. Now add about a thousand more ingredients in various measures and you have a unique human being. Each of us is special, unmatched, and truly one of a kind.

Street shoot near Times Square in NYC

If the world is kind to us, our possibilities will blend to form a sound, strong, healthy personality and we will flourish. The artist within us will mature and our potentials for friendship, honesty, and courage will flower as well. If we are able to become ourselves, we will be happy and the world in turn will be a better place. If our musical talents can find no means of expression or our athletic powers go unrecognized and neglected, then we will remain frustrated and unfulfilled. None of us will ever know complete fulfillment, but the closer we get the better our life will be.

Our potentials can be thought of as needs. Artists need to paint, athletes need to be active, and responsible parents need to nurture. Our uniqueness can be nurtured by the environment in which we develop or it can be discouraged and thwarted but not without damage to the person. Possibilities are needs and needs demand expression. When we are permitted to be ourselves and to satisfy our needs and actualize our potentials, then we live well. Happiness comes from…no, happiness is actualizing, becoming ourselves, fulfilling our possibilities.

All of us have gifts that we tend to neglect while we devote our lives to other, “more important” tasks. Yes, we must stay attuned to reality, but those who have the discipline to exercise their talents live better. Psychologist Abraham Maslow warns that choosing to ignore your potentials can have dangerous consequences.

As artists and filmmakers, we always feel we are not fulfilling our potential to the fullest. Something has to give to make our dreams come true. It can be financial insecurity for some of us and it can even be a cold shoulder for others. How many of us have the faith and courage to take that leap? If Abraham Maslow is right, we should not ignore our potentials and be stuck in situations that the society wants us to. We need to break free and find our own happiness. Salute to all artists and filmmakers who are following their dream and happiness.

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