Imagine if there were a happiness pill – would you take it?

‘What the angst-ridden, consumption-fatigued and world-weary 21st century soul is after is an instantaneous existential pill.’

So says AFR BOSS in its list of ’50 Big ideas to navigate tomorrow’ (June 2007). Under Big Idea #36: ‘Happy’, we’re told that although ‘happiness hunters are everywhere’, their quest is hopeless because ‘logic dictates that the hunt for a recipe to deliver an elusive state of mind is doomed to failure’.

I suspect it may be less logic’s dictation than BOSS’s stenographic skills in question here. But let’s look at the happiness pill question – is this really what people want? Clive Hamilton, Executive Director of The Australia Institute, has gone and found out.

‘…For a survey that the Australia Institute commissioned…we asked…a random sample of Australian adults this question: If there were a happiness pill that was freely available, had no side effects, and that made you feel good, would you on occasion take it? And astonishingly 80% said no. Isn’t that extraordinary. They understand that life is about death, they understand that life is about the dark parts of it, that we grow from that. I think it was Jung Woo said, that emotions are the royal road to the soul. And you won’t find that in Westfield Bondi Junction. It’s the richness of life that’s worthwhile.’

[Source of quote: http://www.abc.net.au/compass/s2009754.htm]

My 2 cents

If you look at they way psychologists define happiness, there are two elements: having positive feelings more than negative ones, and judging life to be good compared to expectations. Neither requires an absence of problems or dulling of existential pain, and I think this is recognized in the fact that 4 out of 5 Australians are prepared to take a more complex path to happiness.

Even if you’re an ‘angst-ridden, consumption-fatigued and world-weary 21st century soul’, the research shows that you can be happier by changing your mindset – for instance by choosing and focusing on things that make you feel good more than bad, and revising your judgements and expectations so you see your life as pretty good.

It may not be as expedient as a pill, but it certainly isn’t doomed to failure.

Image by Bharat [O*] raM under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.