Staying Happy: The Science of the Silver Lining

If you struggle with mental illness, unresolved trauma, or a substance abuse disorder, you may find yourself asking the following question: “Why can’t I just be happy?” You also may find that you hear the phrase “Just cheer up!” from friends or family when you are struggling with your mental health. Happiness, cheering up, looking on the bright side, or searching for the silver lining can all feel like fool’s errands when we are in the throes of a mental health crisis.

Some academics and scientists have dug deep into the factors that contribute to our potential level of happiness. What they have found centers heavily on our environment, our genes, and how we spend our free time.

The “Formula for Happiness”

Dr. Jonathan Haidt is a psychologist and professor at New York University. He studies human interaction, happiness, ethics, and how human beings struggle with both internal and external complications. In his book “The Happiness Hypothesis” he covers many of these topics. One of the central themes of this work is the “formula for happiness.”

Jonathan Haidt argues that happiness (H) is contingent upon our biological set point (S) plus individual circumstances (C) plus our voluntary mental and physical activities (V.) So the formula would look something like this: H = S + C + V

Our biological set point is can be seen as the sum of a myriad of genetic factors that contribute to our potential level of happiness. Our individual circumstances are those conditions that we live in, like our environment, our jobs, and the company we keep. Lastly, our voluntary mental and physical activities are those hobbies and activities that we participate in that make us happy or bring us peace — things like meditation, sports, art, and music.

How the Formula Works

According to Dr. Haidt, humans exist on what is referred to as a “hedonic treadmill.” We are constantly striving to make ourselves happy through our work, hobbies, and things we own. What Dr. Haidt argues is that our level of happiness once we achieve thing X or buy thing Y is reduced because we have achieved in that task or attained that thing. So we get back on the “treadmill” again in order to work towards another form of happiness.

The formula that Haidt created argues that our level of happiness isn’t just contingent upon biological, material, or activity-based factors. All of these factors work together to determine our happiness level. Our happiness level may have a limit, but we can reach that threshold by enriching our lives in various ways. We can work towards increasing the quality of living and our material conditions. We can spend our free time doing activities that bring us joy. We can increase our biological happiness set point through things like cognitive behavioral therapy and medication.

Haidt argues that a higher level of any one of these things is not enough to bring us happiness. For example, a child born into wealth may have more opportunities than a child born into poverty, but if the wealthy child is neglected by his parents, his set point (S) is diminished. Inversely, the child born into a loving home that struggles to make ends meet may have a higher level of emotional intelligence, but the trauma that comes with living in poverty will alter their circumstances (C) and, potentially, their set point (S).

Applying Haidt’s Happiness Hypothesis to Our Lives

If we assume that Dr. Haidt’s assessment is at least partially correct, how do we apply this knowledge? When we struggle with our mental and emotional health, it can sometimes be difficult to compartmentalize the things that make us either happy or miserable. We may lose interest in the things that bring us happiness (the V in Haidt’s formula). We may struggle with our jobs due to our mental health and thus our circumstances are made worse in the process.

If we try to compartmentalize each variable in the equation, we can tackle the aspects of our lives that make us both happy and miserable. We can accept that, due to the circumstances of our births and childhoods, we may have a set level of happiness that we are able to reach. However, we can reach that threshold and push past it by working to enrich our lives in different ways. This can be difficult, however, if we plan ahead and give ourselves a blueprint for success, it can be made easier. Sometimes when we are suffering, a way out of a rut can seem impossible. Happiness suddenly becomes a million miles away. Working to compartmentalize our individual “happiness variables” can allow us to enjoy the time that we spend in happiness, and to better cope during the times that we aren’t happy.

As we spend our lives on the hedonic treadmill, the silver lining can be easier to find if we know what to look for.

Happiness can, at many times in our lives, seem fleeting. We may lose interest in our hobbies and our friends. Our work may suffer and our homes may become cluttered. However, if we work to compartmentalize the individual variables that contribute to both our happiness and misery, we may find that the silver lining is easier to see. At Achieve Concierge, we strive to help our members find meaning and happiness in their lives. If you struggle with mental and emotional disorders, substance abuse disorders, or just need someone to talk to, our team of trained professionals is here to help. Our members have access to a wide array of services that range from therapy, medication regimens, and Transcranial Magnetic Therapy. If you find that you feel constantly exhausted, unhappy, and feel as though there is no way out, we at Achieve Concierge want to help you find one. Don’t wait or hesitate, contact us today at +1 (619) 393-5871.

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