“There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy.”
Robert Louis Stevenson
The sort of glee that we appreciate in babies is only one sort of being happy – there are a wide range of related feelings and experiences, including cheerfulness, contentment, exuberance, pleasure, optimism, prosperity, vivacity, passion, well-being.
The Study of Adult Development at Harvard University identified four personal qualities that help people be among the “Happy-Well” -
1. a future orientation and the ability to anticipate and plan positively (hope and optimism)
2. the capacity for both gratitude and forgiveness
3. the ability to see the world through the eyes of another (the capacity to love and be loved)
4. the desire to do things with and for people (kindness, social intelligence).
More about this study, and being happy and well into maturity and late life is detailed in George Vaillant, MD’s book, Aging Well .
Psychologist and creativity coach Eric Maisel, PhD says one of the basic elements for life satisfaction, especially for creative people, is making meaning. He says even obsessions can be positive and lead to happiness. See list of his articles .
Psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison talks about passion, and also the sort of elation that can become extreme in bipolar disorder:
“I want people to appreciate how life-saving exuberance is to us as a species,” says Jamison. “I have always been fascinated by mania. There is an exhilaration in the early stages of mania that people who have experienced it would sell their firstborn to feel again. Mania is a sickness; it’s easy to romanticize unless you’ve been there.
“What is really healthy and great is exuberance. A passion for life, an exuberant temperament, allows people to do things they wouldn’t be able to do if they didn’t have it,” Jamison said.
Psychologist Marc F. Kern, PhD notes, “If it weren’t for the existence of positive feelings accompanying a goal, most people would not pursue activities involving delayed gratification, such as getting an advanced educational degree or getting married.
“Motivation in life is simply a matter of moving TOWARD a feeling or AWAY from a feeling. All behavior is basically the result of ‘payoffs’ (a feeling or state that usually makes you feel better than you did) which result from a certain action or behavior.” [From his book Take Control Now .]
Psychologist Elaine Aron writes about attending a 1996 scientific conference on temperament “as a budding researcher in that field” and recalls a speaker “describing a large minority of infants who have “negative temperaments” at birth and grow up to be shy, anxous, depressed, neurotic, and so forth… I knew intuitively that the speaker had it wrong. Many of these infants were just highly sensitive.”
She adds, “Seventeen years later we know those researchers dividing the world into negative and positive infants who became troubled or happy adults actually were wrong. As just one example, a recent study of infants with ‘negative, difficult’ temperaments and who received ‘positive, responsive maternal care’ during the first six months of life scored higher on academic and social skills at age six than those who were not ‘negative’ as infants.”