The starting place for the pursuit of happiness is a shared understanding it's definition. Let's talk through our guiding definition of happiness at Masamichi Souzou.
A lot of discussion around happiness comes down to the definition of happiness. And there has been a lot of work done in this space to understand what different individuals, groups, and cultures mean by happiness. We've create our own working definition of happiness that helps to guide our work and efforts. We think...
… an emergent feeling that indicates when our needs in terms of survival have been met.
… a balanced flow of pleasure and purpose over time.
… is a feeling of peace, calm, contentment.
… is an outcome of our daily behaviors, genetics, and context.
The first idea is that happiness is actually an evolved sensation, that helps to let us know when we are doing things right in terms of survival. Making friends makes us feel happy, eating can make us feel happy, sex can make us feel happy... all of these things in evolutionary terms mean we have a better chance at survival and so our minds incentivises us to do more of these things by making us feel joy, pleasure, and happiness.
The next idea is that there are different types of happiness, and generally two important types to note, pleasure and purpose. Pleasure is that feeling that comes from delicious food or sex or exercise or a fun time with friends. It is a fleeting enjoyment in the moment. Purpose is another kind of happiness, that comes to us as we feel our work or lives or relationships are meaningful. For example, when you measure the happiness of new parents by looking at pleasure the metric plummets, but if you include purpose in the equation we see that over all happiness is actually greater. It can be difficult to have kids, and some types of pleasure can be hard to come by, but parents can feel a deep purpose and meaning in caring for their children that makes up for the pleasure dip.
The next idea is that happiness most often comes from a stoic feeling of peace and calm and contentment. Many times when we think of happiness or see it depicted in commercials or TV or movies it is shown as a sort of all out ecstasy. And while those moment can come to us, overall happiness is generally experienced as contentment, and the absence of pain or need. Very often the Scandinavian countries are measured as some of the happiest in the world, and this kind of simple contentment with life is what is driving this.
And finally we consider how this feeling comes to us, and the factors behind it. The feeling of happiness can be impacted by our thoughts and behaviours, things we can directly control. It can be impacted by our genetics. And it can also be impacted by our context, where we live, who we associate with, etc, etc. Very often when we look at someones happiness it is sort of left to the individual to fend for their own happiness, and we fail to consider the impact of the context that they live in. We work very hard to understand and design for all aspects of someones life driving their happiness, including context.
Happiness is a very complex sensation, with many parts and mechanisms, and its definition is an important starting point for talking about happiness and considering how we might optimizse for it in the world.