What is the source of happiness? Is it possible to be happy all the time?

How are you? We hear this question so often, and we just as readily ask it whenever we run into someone. Of course, this is often little more than a well-established social ritual – if we are completely honest, we rarely ask this question “from the heart,” and our answer rarely comes “from the heart.” Nonetheless, the fact that this “how are you – fine, you?” ritual is so entrenched in human social consciousness that it has become almost automated, speaks of the importance of personal satisfaction as a central problem in our lives. We do not ask questions such as “How much money do you have?” or, for example, “Do you feel popular/powerful today?” which reflect values praised by today’s society, but a simple “How are you?” – are you happy/satisfied?

The most developed = the most depressed

This question is more relevant today than ever before. Today, in the time of the greatest technological and scientific progress, a time we once envisioned as a time of universal prosperity, we encounter the peak of universal fear and depression. According to the World Health Organization, depression is the most prevalent mental illness and, based on current statistics, we can confidently predict that 80% of people reading this article will experience an episode of true depression (if you already haven’t).

In fact, depression has reached its peak in countries universally considered as the most developed. For example, according to the World Health Organization, countries of Scandinavia are among the world’s most developed, yet they also have the highest suicide rates. How is it possible that, as we progress as a society, we become increasingly unhappy and unsatisfied? Perhaps we have the wrong idea of what will make us happy, so when we achieve it, we realize we’re not as happy as we thought we would be?

Happiness as merchandise

Our society thinks that achieving certain things, whether property, fame, power, honor, knowledge, or similar, leads to more happiness and wellbeing. This is supposed to follow a simple formula: the more wealth – the more happiness. This formula has yielded today’s widespread trend – consumerism. All our behavior, from hours spent in shopping centers, to taking part in competitions and entertainment shows, and even all our travelling, all the books we read, all the encyclopedic knowledge we boast about, has one goal in mind – to become at least a little bit happier and more satisfied than we are.

This consumeristic model of happiness and satisfaction actually makes sense in situations where wealth makes a significant difference. For example, if you live on the streets, from hand to mouth, and winter is coming – then suddenly getting a roof over your head and some financial security truly makes a difference and makes you a lot happier. But the problem arises when, based on this experience, we start believing that if one house owned makes such a big difference, two must make us at least twice as happy. This is the fundamental fallacy of the consumeristic formula of success – “more” doesn’t always mean “better” – as everyone who has ever successfully “tested” it knows.

Collective happiness

What is it then that makes the difference in a situation where our basic needs are fulfilled, and we have more than enough wealth to live comfortably for the rest of our lives? What is really the source of true happiness? Practically all research looking into this problem has proved without doubt that one single factor surpasses everything else, and that’s – our relationships with others. Furthermore, not only do good relationships with others make us happier, but the more we give – the more we invest in and help others, the more attention we dedicate to them, the less self-centered we are – the happier we are.

If we stop for a moment and step out of our internal monologue of incessant complaining and resentment, and really try to pay attention to our life – to all those experiences, situations, and especially to people we can be grateful for – we will notice how much our satisfaction with life will increase. Almost instantly! So, if we are committed to the happiness of people in our surroundings, we can be sure we will increase our happiness and satisfaction by at least as much.

For this reason, apart from the traditional indicators of a nation’s prosperity, which are usually based on material and human resources (such as gross national product), other indicators are increasingly factored in, including personal sense of satisfaction of a nation’s inhabitants. In fact, if a country’s collective happiness is high, this means there is an environment of trust, mutual support, and responsibility. Few would hesitate to invest in such a country, or even move to it...

Image: What makes us happy? (percentages indicate increased happiness and satisfaction)

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