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“We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.” -Frederick Keonig (Seale, 2021).

Happiness is a highly individualized, yet broad term. It can come through anything from landing the dream job to collecting baseball cards. Making progress towards a goal can bring happiness, but the true secret to happiness is contentment. This quality corresponds with optimism, satisfaction with life and gratefulness. 

From a physiological standpoint, happiness is experienced through hormones. Serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin are known as the main “feel good” hormones. They improve the sleep cycle, memory retention, mood regulation, self esteem and appetite. Participating in enjoyable activities and eating certain foods correlates strongly with the release of the “feel good” hormones. Depression has been linked with lower levels of oxytocin and serotonin, but too much of these hormones is unhealthy (“Understanding the Chemicals,” 2021).

Furthermore, happiness from hormones will not last long and thus requires regular stimulation. There is a deeper layer of happiness which requires a big-picture approach. For instance, you might be happy to hear that you got a good grade on an exam or that your favorite team won the Super Bowl. Will that matter next year? Happiness is more than temporary successes; it must be ingrained in a lifestyle (“How to be Happy,” 2020).

The concept of superficial happiness is easily identified through advertisements. Many commercials rely on the contrast between discontentment and happiness to make sales. Advertisements have a greater influence on consumers by encouraging emotions rather than rational thinking. This tactic conveys empathy and relatability to with consumer to develop a connection with viewers (“Thinking vs. Feeling,” 2020). Snickers®, the candy bar owned by Mars Inc., is one of many companies that use this marketing method.

“Off your game? Maybe you just need a Snickers.” (Snickers NFL, 2021) 

The phrase, which is directed towards athletes, suggests that a candy bar can improve performance. While the tone is slightly satirical, the underlying message implies dissatisfaction without the product.

A Gallup Survey revealed that 90 percent of Americans reported being satisfied with their personal lives. The largest determinants of life satisfaction were political party, income and marital status (McCarthy, 2021, para. 7-10). The determinants reveal how happiness lies in one’s perception of reality compared to their expectations or desires. Sometimes reality is far from ideal. So, we should aim for contentment rather than happiness (“How to be Happy,” 2020).

According to the Mayo Clinic, happiness is the sum of life choices regarding optimism, sense of purpose, thankfulness and relationships (“How to be Happy,” para. 7). Fortunately, these attributes can be learned (Ford, 2016; “How to be Happy,” para. 2). Thankfulness fosters optimism and contentment. It is particularly useful in the pursuit of happiness because it causes people to think about the benefits, whether large or small, that they may take for granted (“How to be Happy,” para 12-13).

Additionally, humor style determines happiness. One study, conducted by Western Carolina University’s Thomas Ford, investigated the relationship between humor styles, personality and happiness. Humor was classified as positive and negative humor. Positive humor includes the ability to make light-hearted jokes from self-made mistakes, or jokes that everyone will collectively view as funny (Ford, 2016, pg. 323, 330). Negative humor includes insults directed towards others and putting oneself down (Ford, 2016, pg. 330; Riggio, 2015, para. 3, 5).

“People high in extraversion, locus of control, self-esteem and optimism are happier because they engage in positive humor in daily life.” (Ford, 2016, pg. 320)

Personality type plays a role in happiness, as well as having an internal locus of control and good self-esteem (Ford, 2016, pg. 320). Optimism and self-esteem can add a sense of purpose to life and build relationships through similarities (“How to be Happy,” para. 18). Moreover, these traits aid in having contentment and satisfaction with life.

Many factors contribute to happiness, but the key to obtaining it is contentment and satisfaction with life. Physiological processes alone are not sufficient for explaining why someone is happy with their life. Contentment is a better goal than happiness because it brings satisfaction. Though many personality types have traits that are more prone to contentment, it can be learned through gratitude and optimism. With Thanksgiving just around the corner, take time to count your blessings and appreciate what you already have.

“It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness.” -Charles Spurgeon (Seale, 2021)

Ford, Thomas E., et al. “Personality, Humor Styles and Happiness: Happy People Have Positive Humor Styles.” Europe’s Journal of Psychology, vol. 12, no. 3, 19 Aug. 2016, pp. 320–337., https://doi.org/10.5964/ejop.v12i3.1160

“How to Be Happy: Tips for Cultivating Contentment.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 14 Oct. 2020, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/how-to-be-happy/art-20045714

McCarthy, Justin. “New High of 90% of Americans Satisfied with Personal Life.” Gallup.com, Gallup, 13 Aug. 2021, https://news.gallup.com/poll/284285/new-high-americans-satisfied-personal-life.aspx

Riggio, Ronald E. “The 4 Styles of Humor.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 15 Apr. 2015, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/cutting-edge-leadership/201504/the-4-styles-humor

Seale, Quincy. “175 Feel-Good Happiness Quotes.” KeepInspiring.me, Keep Inspiring Me, 25 Oct. 2021, https://www.keepinspiring.me/quotes-about-happiness/

“Snickers NFL.” SNICKERS®, Mars, 2021, https://www.snickers.com/nfl

“Thinking vs. Feeling: The Psychology of Advertising.” USC MAPP Online, The University of Southern California, 2 Apr. 2020, https://appliedpsychologydegree.usc.edu/blog/thinking-vs-feeling-the-psychology-of-advertising/

“Understanding the Chemicals Controlling Your Mood.” CBHS Health, CBHS Health, 15 Aug. 2021, https://www.cbhs.com.au/mind-and-body/blog/understanding-the-chemicals-controlling-your-mood

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