Remember that list I had for this summer? Well, good folk of the world, meet David Myer, the author of a great, hilarious, intelligent book on happiness. I would recommend it for anyone who seeks to acquire happiness, so basically, everyone. If you’re still not convinced, here’s a summary of the book and its connection to psychological terms:
David Myers, a social psychologist, simplifies happiness and its attainment in The Pursuit of Happiness, referring to numerous psychological elements. After operationally defining happiness, Myers identifies the average percentage of those who find themselves “very happy” to account for one-third of America’s population and only one in ten to represent those “not too happy”, taking into consideration the confounding variables of bias, by both the “tendency to be agreeable” and the mood-congruency effect.
Defining happiness as “what some people experience as joy— not an ephemeral euphoria, but a deep and abiding sense that, despite the day’s woes, all is, or will be, well” and who encompasses such well-being, Myers refutes the most famous myth that falsely accounts for happiness: wealth. By incorporating statistically significant data where “the average income of Detroit families increased 40 percent in constant dollars [but] compared to Detroit housewives, those interviewed [later] were no more satisfied with their standard of living”, Myers reveals the futility of affluence into well-being. Myers relies on longitudinal studies and cross sectional studies to prove his point, stating that although affluence may be achieved through time, happiness is not positively correlated.
Realizing that wealth had no correlation to happiness led Myers to question why it had no effect. Utilizing several case studies as examples, Myers concluded that “happiness is relative”, easily influenced by the daily events that occur throughout the day. Myers then introduces a theory on the “adaptation-level phenomenon” of happiness, and how “dejection and elation are both hard to sustain” because humans naturally rebound from both hardships and ecstatic moments for a few hours and then return to a constant normal state between the two. This led to the realization that even the “worst emotional setbacks of bad events are usually temporary” as can be explained by biological events, such as the effects of cocaine, where the “excitatory neurotransmitters produce a rush that eventually reduces the brain’s own supplies, producing a crash of depression”. And although temporarily influenced by simple events, the adaptation theory fuels both ambition and achievements. Moreover, Myers continues to explain that happiness is relative to others’ attainment, which incorporates the social aspect of psychology. Myers exposes people’s social needs to equal and eventually outmatch others by analyzing that “happiness shrivels with the gap between what we have and what we want, what we have and what we expected to have by now, what we have and what our neighbors have”. Regardless, for every emotional event that raises emotional prosperity also tends to come with an event that reduces it back to a normal state and vice versa. Recollecting case studies from people suffering from PTSD, he resolved that although trauma does severely impact people’s ability to rebound from the “opponent-process theory”, attaining happiness is possible for anyone.
Addressing other common factors known to influence happiness, Myers discovers “that less than 1 percent of the variation in well-being were related to age” through the meta-analysis of more than a hundred studies. Myers utilizes national surveys and case studies to prove that age has no impact on happiness, taking note that “intensive case studies of a few people can be suggestive; but we had best verify our conclusion with larger, more representative samples of people”. Providing insight, he emphasizes the relationship between the body and the mind, reiterating the importance of physical activity. Surprisingly, Myers found that “gender accounted for less than 1 percent of people’s differing well-being”. Yet within said 1 percent, women are more likely to become depressed, thus addressing learned helplessness that can accompany “women with less independent control over their lives”. Regardless, both genders are strongly influenced by the many social roles they develop, whether as teacher, parent, or church member. And despite stereotypes, all racial groups “report comparable levels of happiness” since stereotypes allow them to “value the things at which they excel, attribute problems to prejudice, and compare themselves to their own group”.
Myers then assesses well-known methods of “mind power” that are intended to aid with positive changes in one’s life, such as astrology, subliminal tapes, and hypnosis. Addressing astrology, Myers introduces the Barnum effect and its vague, general insight that although invalid, can still prove helpful to those who believe in it “by helping people to approach the day with new confidence”. Observing the effects of subliminal tapes led Myers to conclude that with the use of the absolute threshold, people are capable of processing information without being consciously aware of it, but subliminal messages don’t effectively persuade changes on their own; instead, the tapes rely on the placebo effect. With hypnosis, he delves into its two therapeutic uses: “it helps relieve pain” and “help[s] patients harness their own healing powers”. However, he declares that hypnosis may be effective based on the patient’s desire to obey. Although these methods may be exploited, they undoubtedly prove that a healthy mind is fundamental toward happiness.
Expressing the trait aspect of happiness, Myers presents five traits that happier people naturally possess: self-esteem, personal control, optimism, extraversion, and malleability. Referring to the correlation between low self-esteem and psychological disorders, he associates the importance of a positive self-worth and the influence of self-serving bias or group pride. Through experiments in nursing homes, personal control proved to be essential to happiness, otherwise leading to “lowered morale, more stress, and more health problems”. Using graphs to display valid data gathered through surveys, Myers was able to identify those labeled as extroverts as more happy than those who weren’t. And for those who don’t classify as extroverts, there’s still hope: the facial feedback phenomenon allows people to feign positive social behaviors until they’re slowly incorporated into their natural behavior.
Proceeding with the effect of romance on well-being, Myers compares two case studies of women with cancer, explaining the superior well-being of the woman with a more supportive, companionate family. The outcome of many college surveys led to the conclusion that those who were satisfied with their love life were also the happiest. Contrary to popular belief, those who are married are always happier than those who are not. Because correlation is not causation, one can only infer that those who are married are also those who are “more outgoing, trusting, compassionate, and focused on others”, leading to greater happiness. The triangle of love is introduced to explain the progression from passionate absorption to companionate affection and its positive impact by the presence of equity, unconditional positive regard, and mutual understanding. Moreover, sex plays a significant factor in happiness, as does its frequency. However, Myers also addresses the detrimental effects social media plays in the disinhibition of sexual activity, overall coercing young adults to believe that casual sex has no consequences. Exposing the negative correlation between cohabitation and marriage, Myers also introduces a growing issue of society: traditional families are diminishing as the “rate of U.S. births to single mothers quintuple[s]”. Beside the growing debacles with marriages, all aspects of love are a necessary component to the happiness of all individuals.
Introducing the spiritual aspect of happiness, Myers disproves the common myth that religion leads to dissatisfaction with oneself and one’s life. He uses representative samples of people to portray that those who have a faith and confidently believe in their faith are usually happier than those who don’t. Yet it is not necessarily the faith itself that creates support but the group it summons. Based on Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Myers also introduces the concept that faith aids in satisfying the yearning for “a sense of meaning, a sense of life’s significance, and a sense of life’s purpose”. Furthermore, those with a strong sense of faith prove to be less discriminatory than those who are not religious, justifying the conclusion that faith does positively impact a person’s overall well-being.
Myers makes it evidently clear that happiness is subjective to each individual, yet objectively influenced by personality traits, intimate relationships, and a strong spiritual faith. After reading The Pursuit of Happiness, I realized that happiness was based more on personal actions than on static variables such as age, gender, or race. ©
And for those skeptical many, I was not bought out by David Myers or his people. This is my personal opinion. The Pursuit of Happiness was a great read and it reminded me once again to take the time to reassess my life and the people in it.
Any other good books I should keep an eye out?