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Happiness: Health, Marriage, and Success Essay

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Updated: May 29th, 2021

Introduction

The notions that express people’s values or are in some other way related to them are often difficult to define. This may be due to the fact that, even though the values of individuals are significantly influenced by the society they live in and the ideology they associate themselves with (consciously or unconsciously), each person may have slightly (or sometimes significantly) different views than other people, and thus would define or describe these concepts in a different way. In addition, people might be mistaken (or misguided) with regard to what they want or value most. For instance, someone might believe that purchasing a new phone will make them happy; perhaps it will, but happiness from a phone will probably not last for a long period of time.

Therefore, each person might have their own understanding (explicit or implicit) of concepts such as happiness. For me, the non-obviousness of the definition of this term became apparent rather a long time ago, when I became acquainted with a family who was rather poor and often had to economize money but was, nonetheless, very happy living together. Happiness is often understood as general well-being and welfare (Easterlin, 2003, p. 11176; “Philosophical Dictionary,” 2011), which was also my opinion; it seemed to me to include financial welfare. This is why the fact that the family was happy made me somewhat surprised and caused me to reconsider the meaning of this term. In this paper, I will examine the issue of happiness by scrutinizing it through the lenses of health, marriage, and success – the three components that previously appeared to me to be necessary for an individual to be happy.

Health

Health is rather often understood as one of the crucial elements of happiness. Delle Fave et al. (2016), has conducted a study in a sample from across a number of nations, found out that health was one of the most often mentioned by lay respondents components of happiness (p. 6). It is apparent that this category can be viewed as a rather universal one, for every person who, for example, is experiencing pain, or is forced to depend on other people to do even the simplest everyday activities due to their health condition, will not be glad because of these facts. Evidence also warrants this statement; for instance, it was found out that “the life satisfaction of those with disabilities is, on average, significantly less than [of] those who report no disabilities” (Easterlin, 2003, p. 11177).

Simultaneously, the importance of health may be somewhat overestimated in common perceptions. An example related to this is provided by Easterlin (2003), who cites a study that examined the levels of happiness of victims of serious accidents. It is observed that such victims “did not appear nearly as unhappy as might have been expected” (as cited in Easterlin, 2003, p. 11177), which means that the individuals involved in predicting the level of unhappiness due to an accident had overestimated this level. On the other hand, once compared to the control sample, the accident victims were “significantly less happy” (as cited in Easterlin, 2003, p. 11177), which still corroborates the statement that health plays a crucial role in happiness.

In addition, it is possible to find examples of persons who were rather happy despite significant health problems or impairments. In fact, Oswald and Powdthavee (2008) illustrate that people who acquire disability tend to adapt to it and suffer less with time; their level of happiness may be (partially) restored despite the impairment.

Therefore, it is possible to see that I was mistaken when I believed that health was necessary for happiness. However, a weaker version of this statement appears to be true: health is important for happiness (but not necessary). So, it is a rather essential component that significantly influences the level of happiness of an individual; simultaneously, poor health or impairments do not preclude happiness. People can adapt to diseases and disabilities, and there might exist other factors which allow a person to be happy.

Marriage and Family

Other components that I believed to be essential for happiness were marriage and family. Indeed, the family is mentioned in many studies as an element that is paramount for a person to be happy; see, for instance, Oishi, Graham, Kesebir, and Galinha (2013), or Delle Fave et al. (2016). On the other hand, it is now apparent to me that the term “marriage” might not always be the best choice when speaking about relationships between people and the role that these relationships play in happiness.

A study carried out by North, Holahan, Moos, and Cronkite (2008) investigates the role that family plays in determining people’s happiness. Such key sides of the family life as the social support and the income were scrutinized. The scholars were able to find out that the income did not play a very significant role in determining the level of happiness of the family members (but, of course, a positive influence of higher-income was present; the impact of it decreased as the income levels raised). On the other hand, it was discovered that “family support showed a substantial, positive association with concurrent happiness” (North et al., 2008, p. 480). Therefore, it is possible to argue that the support that the members of a family provide for each other might be one of the key influences of the family that affects the level of happiness of individuals, although it appears to be worth investigating what other factors also have a significant impact on this level.

At the same time, marriage (as a relationship between two people that was formally acknowledged and sealed by the state and/or church) is a more controversial factor when it comes to determining its influence on happiness. In fact, a study by Bessey (2015) has shown that an interesting relationship between these two phenomena exists: the level of impact, in this case, is identity-based, that is, how much marriage affects happiness depends on what views the involved individuals have and how they perceive themselves and the world. It was found out that for people with more traditional views, i.e. for those who believe that marriage is a desideratum for a person, marriage has a significantly stronger impact on the level of their happiness than for people who do not consider it to be paramount.

Therefore, it is possible to argue that marriage is not a necessary component of happiness, as I initially thought; for some people, it may even not be significant. Indeed, it is completely possible to have a good long-term partner (or even a number of partners) without being formally married to them; furthermore, for some individuals, having only short-term partners (or even no partners at all) might also be better. On the other hand, it appears that family still plays an essential role in happiness; however, it seems that the social support that family offers might easily be provided by people who are not biological (or legal, as in case of marriage) relatives of the person in question, but are, e.g., very close friends that one lives or communicates much with.

Success

One more element that I perceived as indispensable for a person to be happy is a success. In this case, the word “success” means achieving a high position in one’s career, in society, becoming affluent, etc. In fact, it is stated that wealth is rather often viewed as a factor that leads to happiness (North et al., 2008, p.475). However, the same study found out that an increased income in a family has a positive, but the insignificant influence on happiness, as was already mentioned (North et al., 2008). Simultaneously, it was demonstrated that being well-off safeguards people from numerous problems (such as adverse income shocks), thus improving the level of happiness at least indirectly (Senik, 2014).

At the same time, the notion of success is not limited by wealth; as was stressed, it also includes obtaining better positions and having a better career, etc. In this regard, it appears clear that positive achievements do add to the level of happiness of a person. However, from the study conducted by Delle Fave et al. (2016), it is apparent that success is rarely perceived as an important factor for happiness by laymen from a number of countries. Therefore, it might be stated that, whereas success does have an influence on the level of a person’s happiness, such influence may be only marginal.

Simultaneously, it is possible to speculate that the importance of success may depend on the perceptions of a concrete person. For instance, an individual who believed since their childhood that achieving success is crucial may benefit more from becoming a wealthy businessperson than people who did not have such ambitions. (On the other hand, failing to achieve an outstanding position at work or the society also appears to be likely to harm the first-mentioned type of people much more than the second.)

Thus, it might be summarized that success may play a role in a person’s happiness, but this role is probable to be insignificant. Therefore, my initial belief in the importance of success appears to have been incorrect. Of course, it seems likely that the ubiquity of statements that deem success crucial, which can be attributed to the impact of ideology, does influence the people’s perceptions of it and may make it indeed more significant to certain individuals; however, even so, success is rarely perceived as a key element of happiness across the world (Delle Fave et al., 2016).

Conclusion

As it can be seen, happiness is a difficult concept to define, and each person might have their own understanding of it. I initially believed that the indispensable elements of happiness were health, marriage, and success; however, it turns out that I was only partially right. First, health is important for happiness, but disabled or diseased individuals can overcome the problems caused by their impairment or health problems and still be happy. Second, the family is essential, but, apparently, the family’s support can be provided by non-relatives; as for marriage, its effect is dependent upon one’s identity, and, while conservative people benefit from marriage the most, others may find it more suitable to have other forms of relationships with their partners. Third, success may be important to certain individuals (e.g., those who dreamed of achieving it for a long time), but, on the whole, it is not often viewed as a key factor for happiness. To sum up, it seems that however significant a factor is, it can be compensated (both positively and negatively) by other factors that also influence a person’s happiness.

References

Bessey, D. (2015). Love Actually? Dissecting the marriage-happiness relationship. Asian Economic Journal, 29(1), 21-39. Web.

Delle Fave, A., Brdar, I., Wissing, M. P., Araujo, U., Castro Solano, A., Freire, T.,…Soosai-Nathan, L. (2016). Lay definitions of happiness across nations: The primacy of inner harmony and relational connectedness. Frontiers in Psychology, 7(16), 1-23. Web.

Easterlin, R. A. (2003). Explaining happiness. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 100(19), 11176-11183. Web.

North, R. J., Holahan, C. J., Moos, R. H., & Cronkite, R. C. (2008). Family support, family income, and happiness: A 10-year perspective. Journal of Family Psychology, 22(3), 475-483. Web.

Oishi, S., Graham, J., Kesebir, S., & Galinha, I. C. (2013). Concepts of happiness across time and cultures. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 39(5), 559-577. Web.

Oswald, A. J., & Powdthavee, N. (2008). Does happiness adapt? A longitudinal study of disability with implications for economists and judges. Journal of Public Economics, 92(5-6), 1061-1077. Web.

Philosophical dictionary: Habermas-Hayek. (2011). Web.

Senik, C. (2014). Wealth and happiness. Oxford Review of Economic Policy, 30(1), 92-108. Web.

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