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Vocabulary

Why Are You Happy?

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?

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 scientists who have demonstrated that 50 per cent of happiness is a result of the genes we inherit from our parents rather than the jeans we purchase at the mall.

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.

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.

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?


KeyWords
instinct
the way people or animals naturally react or behave, without having to think or learn about it:
All his instincts told him to stay near the car and wait for help.

obscure
not known to many people:
an obscure island in the Pacific

frantic
done or arranged in a hurry and a state of excitement or confusion:
Rescuers were engaged in a frantic all-night effort to reach the survivors before their supply of air ran out.

pace
the speed at which someone or something moves, or with which something happens or changes:
Could you slow down a bit - I can't keep pace with (= walk or run as fast as) you.

thrill
a feeling of extreme excitement, usually caused by something pleasant:
the thrill of winning a competition
It gave me a real thrill to see her again after so many years.

philosophy
the use of reason in understanding such things as the nature of reality and existence, the use and limits of knowledge and the principles that govern and influence moral judgment:
René Descartes is regarded as the founder of modern philosophy.

philosopher
someone who studies or writes about the meaning of life:
Plato was a Greek philosopher.

Socrates
Greek philosopher whose way of life, character, and thought exerted a profound influence on ancient and modern philosophy.

Plato
(427–347BC) an ancient Greek ↑philosopher, who had a very great influence on European philosophy. He explained his ideas in the form of written conversations. His teacher was Socrates, and after Socrates’ death he established a school called the Academy, where Aristotle was one of his students. His most famous work is The Republic, about the perfect state and form of government.

Aristotle
Greek philosopher and scientist whose thought determined the course of Western intellectual history for two millenia.

deed
an intentional act, especially a very bad or very good one:
She's always helping people and doing other good deeds.

steak 
a thick, flat piece of meat or fish, especially meat from a cow:
salmon/turkey steaks
Shall we have steak for dinner?

consumerism
when too much attention is given to buying and owning things:
He disliked Christmas and its extreme consumerism.

discipline 
the ability to control yourself or other people, even in difficult situations:
Maintaining classroom discipline (= control of the students) is the first task of every teacher.

longing
a feeling of wanting something or someone very much:
He gazed at her, his eyes full of longing.
a longing look
a longing for his homeland

perspective
a particular way of considering something:
He writes from a Marxist perspective.

inherit
to be born with the same physical or mental characteristics as one of your parents or grandparents:
Rosie inherited her red hair from her mother.

monk
a member of a group of religious men who do not marry and usually live together in a monastery

devote
to give your time or effort completely to something you believe in or to a person, or to use a particular amount of time or energy doing something:
He devoted his life to serving his family, friends, and neighbors.
Over half his speech was devoted to the issue of saving Social Security.

mystery
something strange or unknown which has not yet been explained or understood:
How the massive stones were brought here from hundreds of miles away is/remains a mystery.

cheerful
happy and positive:
He's usually fairly cheerful.
You're in a cheerful mood this morning.

astonishing
very surprising:
Her first novel enjoyed an astonishing success.
[ + to infinitive ] It's astonishing to think that only a few years ago he was a completely unknown actor.

retail
the activity of selling goods to the public, usually in shops:
The job is open to applicants with over two years' experience in retail.

therapy
a treatment that helps someone feel better, grow stronger, etc., especially after an illness:
occupational therapy
speech therapy
group therapy
Joining a club can be a therapy for loneliness.

retail therapy
the act of buying special things for yourself in order to feel better when you are unhappy:
I needed a lot of retail therapy to help me get over my ex-boyfriend.

assert
to say that something is certainly true:
[+ that] He asserts that she stole money from him.

assert yourself
to behave in a way which expresses your confidence, importance or power and earns you respect from others:
I really must assert myself more in meetings.

manner
the way in which something is done:
She stared at me in an accusing manner.

review
when you consider something again in order to make changes to it, give an opinion of it or study it:
an annual review of company performance

esteem
respect for or a good opinion of someone:
There has been a drop in public esteem for teachers.
Because of their achievements they were held in high esteem.

self-esteem
self-and confidence in your own ability and value:
The compliments she received after the presentation boosted her self-esteem.

graft
to join or add something new:
The management tried unsuccessfully to graft new working methods onto the existing ways of doing things.

Confucian
Confucius
Ancient Chinese teacher, philosopher, and political theorist.
Born into a poor family, he managed stables and worked as a bookkeeper while educating himself. 

intervene
to intentionally become involved in a difficult situation in order to improve it or prevent it from getting worse:
The Central Bank intervened in the currency markets today to try to stabilize the exchange rate.
Half the people questioned said they were opposed to military intervention in the civil war.

boost
to improve or increase something:
The theatre managed to boost its audiences by cutting ticket prices.

 

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