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Signs and science of happiness

The real challenge is to identify what makes one happy. Photo by Antonino Visalli - Unsplash

By: Prof. Dr. Mohammad Tariqur Rahman

Who does not want to be happy? However, the real challenge is to identify what makes one happy. Some are happy to make sacrifices and see others happy. Their happiness is rooted in their altruistic behavior. In contrast, others want to have pleasure and happiness for themselves – irrespective of anyone else being happy – a characteristic of hedonic behaviour.

Prof. Dr. Mohammad Tariqur Rahman

Some want to be happy in this world and others patiently wait for eternal happiness in the life hereafter. For the latter group, happiness is more than a fleeting feeling or an ephemeral passion.

Aristotle, in the 4th century (BCE), propounded happiness as an “activity of the soul that expresses virtue.” To him, happiness is the product of a life well lived, the summation of a full, flourishing existence, and sustained until the end to make “a complete life” – a life with purpose.

In its linguistic meaning, “happiness” is synonymous with the Greek word “eudaimonia” referring to a constellation of closely related terms such as lucky, blessed, and favored. In other languages too, happiness has an element of luck or fortune.

Despite this linguistic tenacity in its meaning to relate happiness and luck, most of us probably would disagree with the idea that happiness might lie in the roll of the dice. This is because our happiness depends on how we perceive success in our lives. Our success depends on how we treasure our ability to achieve success to acquire “fortune”.

In the real world, however, many forms of fortunes are inherited rather than acquired.

No matter whether we inherit or acquire fortunes, the measure of success becomes the measure of satisfaction and eventually happiness. Our ability to control fortune for success then construes the central dogma of happiness.

The purpose of one’s life determines how one will acquire or control one’s fortune for an intended success. Some may want to acquire and indulge in their fortunes for their hedonic happiness and some may use it to enjoy altruistic happiness. Yet others would not correlate acquiring fortunes with happiness.

The subjectivity of the source of happiness affirms that happiness comes from within. For psychologists, happiness is inherently subjective and is not a static state. At times one may feel happy yet at other times they would feel blue. And even unhappy people would have their moments of joy. This may reflect the possibility of how they measure the reality of that moment for their ultimate purpose in life.

That makes sense perfectly. The Science of Happiness, an online course by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley helps to explore the roots of happiness – meaningful life. Dacher Keltner and Emiliana Simon-Thomas taught the course based on a fundamental finding from positive psychology: that happiness is inextricably linked to having strong social ties and contributing to something bigger than yourself—the greater good.

Many of the participants endorsed that it is not the fortunes that are needed to be happy in life.

With or without attending the course may we then search for happiness in our mind – in our sense of satisfaction – not in wealth.


The author is the Associate Dean (Continuing Education), Faculty of Dentistry, and Associate Member, UM LEAD, Universiti Malaya. He may be reached at tarique@um.edu.my

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