In pursuit of happiness

IN THE EYES OF THE BEHOLDER Meaning provides more happiness than money

IN THE EYES OF THE BEHOLDER Meaning provides more happiness than money  

A BBC programme now tries to figure out how “happy” we are

Want to measure your happiness? “The Happiness Formula”, a series on BBC World, looks at the newest research from around the world to find out what makes us happy. The series and the companion website consist of features which include on-line video clips, happiness tests, and an article about the science of happiness. The series, which started on June 2, airs at 9 p.m. on Saturdays. Series producer Mike Rudin talks to MetroPlus.

Why have you chosen the theme ‘Happiness’?

I had always thought that happiness is far too vague a concept to spend too much time thinking about. The more I read and the more I talked to people, I realised there is a great deal we can learn. There aren’t any short-cuts to happiness, but some key ideas do seem to make a difference. Some social scientists think they can now measure happiness and they claim happy people are more sociable, successful and healthier. It is a very controversial claim. In the past, we just speculated on what made people happy. But now scientists have begun to collect data from around the world and compare their results systematically. We have one on our website at > where you can go and test how happy you are.

How is the series formulated?

The programme first gives you an overview, looks at how positive psychologists say we can rewire our brains and actually become happier by controlling how we think about life. It looks at money, health, sociability and community, and designing happiness.

Could you explain the “re-wiring of the brain”

A new school of psychologists, who call themselves “positive psychologists” claim it is possible to “rewire” your brain to control how happy you are, by how you think about things. Professor Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania says it is possible to lift our set level of happiness if we work at it.

How exactly is happiness measured?

Pyschologists measure happiness by simply asking people how happy they are. Of course it is a little more complicated than that; there’s often a series of questions which have been used on thousands of people before and cross-checked to determine accuracy. Scientists argue that what a person says about their own happiness tends to tally with what friends or even strangers say about them.

Comment on Bhutan’s move to ban MTV and advertisements.Bhutan puts happiness at the heart of its government, and it puts the principle of Gross National Happiness alongside the pure economic index of Gross Domestic Product. Their former PM Jigme Thinley told us they are “pursuing happiness in a serious way”.It has led the country to make some unusual choices. The country has banned a number of channels including MTV and international wrestling, which the government felt did little to promote happiness.

What are the highlights of the series?

One of the highlights for me was visiting Sister Helena on her 102nd birthday. Sister Helena lives in Milwaukee at the Sisters of Notre Dame. Like all the other sisters, when she joined the order, she wrote a diary. Scientists have analysed all the diaries to identify positive and negative emotions. They concluded that despite living very much the same lives, the happiest nuns lived nine years longer than the least happy nuns.

What are the factors that govern a person’s happiness?

The trouble with happiness is that it is notoriously elusive. There are no easy short cuts, but psychologists such as Professor Diener, suggest there are some basic rules which can guide us — we need meaning in life; we need to find things to do that we value and we enjoy. We are told we need good friends and family.We need to control how we look at the world; learn from the bad, but don’t dwell on them.

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