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2 min read

Why Happiness?

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Humans have long been fascinated with the pursuit of happiness, a quest that transcends cultures, generations, and societal norms. Read on to learn why happiness is a guiding north star to so many, and learn how to uncover your own personal secrets to living a happier, more fulfilled life. 

Humans are obsessed with happiness.

My friend, Harvard University Professor Arthur C. Brooks, just published a new book on happiness with Oprah Winfrey, Build the Life You Want: The Art and Science of Getting Happier. Harvard + Oprah tells you this is a hot topic. The book is great so if you're reading this, you should consider buying it.

But, what's the biological reason we humans obsess about happiness?

As far as we can tell, animals do not care about happiness. Evolutionarily, it only matters that our genes are passed on to the next generation. To do this, all sexually-reproducing animals, including humans, must survive to reproductive age and then find a mate to reproduce with.

So - how do we ensure survival to reproductive age? As children, we need adults to care for us - luckily, nature has made raising children mostly joyful (and occasionally unpleasant). The evolutionary reason most parents seem weird to their teenage children is that parents are so emotionally-invested in their children's outcomes they appear overwrought when their kids get older. That is the manifestation of the evolutionary demand that offspring survive.

Next, how do we convince someone to reproduce with us? Most people do not want to spend time around those who are cranky, aggressive, or neurotic, reducing these people's reproductive opportunities. This is where happiness comes in. If you meet someone who you are attracted to and they are optimistic, enthusiastic about life and, in short, happy, they are pleasant to be around and are likely to be so over the longer term. Most people are serially monogamous, so we look for mates who not only have good genes (which is what "good looking" translates to biologically), but also have the temperament to sustain a relationship and care for children if one has them.

Happy people have more friends, get sick less often, generally have better careers, and have higher quality relationships of all types. Children who are raised with joy easily develop the joy-expressing parts of the brain and are likely to be joyful themselves. When they become adults, these happy children are more likely to find mates, sustaining their genetic lineage.

About 50% of adult satisfaction with life, the long-term expression of happiness, has been traced to genetics. This means the other half is due to choices we make. So, what can we do if we want to take control of our own happiness? Brooks and Winfrey provide a roadmap of things people can do to be happier. Many of these boil down to building high-quality social connections. Happy people sustain high quality relationships by investing in others, and their friends and family nearly always reciprocate this investment, creating strong bonds. Sure, people can cause us pain, but they are also the primary source of our joy.

A question remains - which people and which activities are the most joy producing? Perhaps unsurprisingly, this varies by individual; however, technology developed over the last two decades by the folks at Immersion answers this question. Our free emotional fitness app, Tuesday, passively and objectively quantifies the quality of the experiences we have throughout the day - uncovering our own personal drivers of happiness. Tuesday measures our social-emotional lives and links to users' calendars so they can easily see when peak Immersion experiences occur. Choosing to have more peak Immersion experiences not only increases happiness, but also builds one's capacity to experience greater joy in life overall.

George Vaillant, the longest serving director of the 75 year Harvard study of happiness known as the Grant Study, summarized his work thusly, "Happiness is love, full stop." To get love, you need to give love. Tuesday measures what gives us the love we need. That is the source of happiness. It will even make your genes happy. Give it a try today! 

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