Why are you happy?

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Are you happy? It is a simple question, one that you can instinctively answer with an easy “yes” or “no.” However, for some obscure reason, the question “What is happiness?” is more difficult to answer. So too is the question that follows: How do we achieve it?

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Well, defining happiness is not quite as simple as it might seem. Go into any mall these days and you’ll find many people shopping at a frantic pace, believing that happiness is the thrill of buying a new pair of shoes or the latest high-tech device.
Indeed, the idea of happiness has been a topic of much thought and discussion within the fields of philosophy, religion, and science for the past 2,500 years. A follower of Confucius, the famous Chinese philosopher, would say that happiness is the joy obtained from learning about humanity through social relationships and good deeds. Those good deeds, however, do not include going to the grocery store because your mother has told you to, or treating yourself to a steak at a restaurant after a hard day’s work . In fact, a Buddhist would say that happiness is the reverse of consumerism, because happiness consists of self-discipline and a life without longing. Another perspective comes from scientist s who have demonstrated that 50 percent of happiness is a result of the genes we inherit from our parents rather than the jeans we purchase at the mall.
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So who is right, the shopper, the philosopher, the monk, or the scientist? Perhaps the answer lies in the field of psychology or, more specifically, positive psychology. In 1998, Martin Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, gave a speech at the American Psychological Association in which he said that rather than devoting attention to unhappiness, psychology needed to change direction and focus instead on people for whom everything was going well. He said psychologists had a reasonably good
understanding of depression, but they knew
almost nothing about the mysteries of a happy
life. He argued that if psychologists could isolate what those were, then people might be able to learn how to make themselves more satisfied with and cheerful about their lives. This was the beginning of positive psychology.
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Since then, research on happiness has come
up with some astonishing facts. If we go back
to the mall, shopping can indeed be a source
of happiness, but it is significantly less so once your basic needs have been met. The best kind of “retail therapy” is to shop for someone else. This is consistent with the Chinese teachings of 2,500 years ago that assert that happiness lies in acting within social networks, rather than for our individual benefit only. Again, current research agrees. In 2002, a University of Illinois study found that students with the highest levels of happiness and the fewest signs of depression were those with strong friendship and family networks. Religion facilitates happiness in a similar manner. Once again, a review of a large number of research studies on the links between religion and happiness has concluded that there is a positive correlation between religious
commitment and higher levels of perceived well-being and self-esteem.
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Grafting modern research onto Confucian philosophy, we can go back to our original
question and say that happiness is a very
personal combination of genetics, actions, and beliefs. In the future, it may become a standard practice for therapists to suggest interventions that boost happiness levels­ including thanking people, writing letters to old friends, and hanging out with family. Who knew that learning to feel good could feel so good?

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Now you may go back to the main website of the Academic Vocabulary Course and continue your lesson. Make sure you have read this text well because the rest of the lesson is based on this text.
You will have several types of activities in the continuation of your lesson.
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