Type the word happiness into a Google search and 73.8 million references come up. An Amazon.com book search yields 418,933 results. There are happiness handbooks, histories on happiness, guides for idiots and dummies, four-, seven-, eight- and 12-step programs to happiness. Everyone from His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Her Holiness Oprah Winfrey has written about the topic, which Wikipedia defines as “a state of mind or feeling characterized by contentment, satisfaction, pleasure, or joy.” Aristotle, the Gospel writers and John Hancock didn’t make this Amazon.com search list, but they’ve all written about happiness too. “The pursuit of happiness” is literally an American right. (Ring a bell?)
And boy do we pursue it. Research shows that as human beings, we are biologically programmed to seek, expect and even demand contentment, joy, satisfaction and pleasure. But for myriad reasons — everything from our DNA to how we’re raised, where we live, how we view the world, how we handle stress and responsibility — it eludes some of us. Which leads us to relentlessly try to achieve it. The reason so many of us are seeking happiness may come right down to this: What we think will bring us happiness (fame, fortune, a new car, a bigger house, a side-by-side stainless steel fridge, well-behaved kids) actually has nothing to do with how happy we ultimately are. So what does kick up most people’s happiness quotient? The answer, say most happiness experts, sounds deceptively simple: living a life with purpose and doing good in the world and to others. To explain, we delve into the science behind happiness, from how exercise affects happiness to how what you eat — and even how you eat — affects your ability to be happy.