The Secrets of Happiness

 

After psychologist Steven Reiss survived a life-threatening illness, he took a new look at the meaning of life.  Now, based on a survey of more than 6,000 people, Reiss offers new insights about what it really takes to be happy.  (The following quotes are from Reiss' article with the above title in Psychology Today, Jan/Feb 2001, pp. 50-6.)

 

Happiness Defined

 

"Harvard social psychologist William McDougall wrote that people can be happy while in pain and unhappy while experiencing pleasure.  To understand this, two kinds of happiness must be distinguished: feel-good and value-based.   Feel-good happiness is sensation-based pleasure.  When we joke around or have sex, we experience feel-good happiness.  Since feel-good happiness is ruled by the law of diminishing returns, the kicks get harder to come by.  This type of happiness rarely lasts longer than a few hours at a time.

 

"Value-based happiness is a sense that our lives have meaning and fulfill some larger purpose.  It represents a spiritual source of satisfaction, stemming from our deeper purpose and values.  We experience value-based happiness when we satisfy any of the 16 basic desires---the more desires we satisfy, the more value-based happiness we experience.  Since this form of happiness is not ruled by the law of diminishing returns, there is no limit to how meaningful our lives can be.

 

"Malcolm X's life is a good example of both feel-good and value-based happiness.  When racial discrimination denied him the opportunity to pursue his childhood ambition of becoming a lawyer, he turned to a life of partying, drugs and sex.   Yet this pleasure seeking produced little happiness---by the age of 21, he was addicted to cocaine and sent to jail for burglary.  He had experienced a lot of pleasure, yet he was unhappy because his life was inconsistent with his own nature and deeper values.  He had known feel-good happiness but not value-based happiness.

 

"After reaching rock bottom, he embraced the teachings of the Nation of Islam and committed himself to his most fundamental values.  He led his followers toward greater social justice, married, had a family of his own and found happiness.  Although he experienced less pleasure and more anxiety as a leader, he was much happier because he lived his life in accordance with his values.

 

"The 16 basic desires make us individuals.  Although everybody embraces these desires, individuals prioritize them differently…you  do not have to satisfy all 16 desires, only the five or six most important to you.

 

"After you identify your most important desires, you need to find effective ways to satisfy them.  There is a catch, however.  Shortly after you satisfy a desire, it reasserts itself, motivating you to satisfy the desire all over again.

 

"Most people turn to relationships, careers, family, leisure and spirituality to satisfy their most important desires.

 

"Since we have the potential to satisfy our basic desires through relationships, we can find greater happiness by finding new relationships or by improving the ones we already have.  After looking at the 16 basic desires and estimating the five or six most important to you, do the same for your partner, or have your partner take the quiz.  Compare the two lists---the strengths of your relationship are indicated by similar desires, and the weaknesses are indicated by disparate desires" (pp. 50,52,55).

 

"If you have a high desire for acceptance, for example, you need work that exposes you to little evaluation and potential criticism.  If you have a high desire for order, you need work that involves minimal ambiguity and exposes you to few changes.  If you are a curious person, you need a job that makes you think.

 

"Value-based happiness is the great equalizer in life.  You can find value-based happiness if you are rich or poor, smart or mentally challenged, athletic or clumsy, popular or socially awkward.  Wealthy people are not necessarily happy, and poor people are not necessarily unhappy.  Values, not pleasure, are what bring true happiness, and everybody has the potential to live in accordance with their values" (p. 56).

 

 

(For more information read: WHO AM I: THE 16 BASIC DESIRES THAT MOTIVATE OUR HAPPINESS AND DEFINE OUR PERSONALITIES, by Steven Reiss, Ph.D, published by Tarcher/Putnam: 2000.)

 

 

 

 

Rate yourself as follows: describes me strongly (+), somewhat (0), or very little (-)

 

 

DESIRE                                            STATEMENT                      SELF-RATING

 

CURIOSITY………………..I have a thirst for knowledge……………………..(  )

 

ACCEPTANCE…………….I have a hard time coping with criticism……….(  )

 

ORDER………………………It upsets me when things are out of place………(  )

 

PHYSICAL ACTIVITY….Physical fitness is very important to me…………(  )

 

HONOR……………………..I am a highly principled and loyal person………(  )

 

POWER……………………..I often seek leadership roles……………………….(  )

 

INDEPENDENCE………..Self-reliance is essential to my happiness………..(  )

 

SOCIAL CONTACT………I am known as a fun-loving person……………….(  )

 

FAMILY…………………….My children come first………………………………(  )

 

STATUS…………………….I am impressed by people who

                                                        own expensive things…………………(  )

 

IDEALISM………………….Compared with most people, I am very

                                              Concerned with social causes…………………(  )

 

VENGEANCE………………It is very important to me to get even with

                                                 Those who insult or offend me…………….(  )

 

ROMANCE………………….Compared with my peers, I spend much

                                                  More time pursuing or having sex………..(  )

 

EATING……………………...I love to eat and often fantasize about food………(  )

 

SAVING………………………I hate throwing things away…………………………(  )

 

TRANQUILITY……………..It scares me when my heart beats rapidly…………(  )