Twenty three hundred years ago, Aristotle described happiness as the ultimate goal of life. In the mid-1990s, scientific journals published about 100 studies on sadness for every one study on happiness! Today though, the once vague picture of what makes people happy is becoming much clearer as psychologists have discovered some fascinating insights into the reality of happiness.
University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin Seligman, author of the book Authentic Happiness, has done a great deal to explain why some people are happy while others are not. The evidence is fascinating: The happiest people pursue personal growth; they judge themselves by their own standards, never against what others do or have.
Even physical health, assumed by many to be crucial to happiness, only has an impact if people are very ill. Seligman’s research even suggests that, relative to income, once $50,000 is reached, happiness levels off. Seligman writes: "…people who value money more than other goals are less satisfied with their income and with their lives as a whole …" Seligman maintains that external circumstances only have a minimal effect ("no more than between 8 and 15 percent of the variance…") on happiness. Studying a wide cross-section of people and delving into the major religions and philosophies of the world, Seligman has identified key qualities or characteristics possessed by people who are genuinely happy:
Wisdom and insight, courage and resilience, love and kindness, justice and integrity, self-discipline and self-control, spirituality and self-awareness, optimism and humour. Few of these qualities can be taught in a classroom or measured in an exam. Most of them come as the result of experience or the product of challenge. All of them carry the evidence of struggle, determination and, sometimes, failure.
If a UWC education is really going to make a difference it has to include the active cultivation of positive values in the lives of young people: the inner strength to face and overcome difficulties, the ability to look beyond the material world to more permanent and meaningful satisfaction in life, and, who knows, even to find that genuine happiness which is something everyone hopes for.
Dr J Long