Emiliana Simon-Thomas, PhD, is the science director of the Greater Good Science Center at the University happiness research paper California, Berkeley. From a scientist’s point of view, what is happiness?
Researchers think of happiness as having satisfaction and meaning in your life. It’s the propensity to feel positive emotions, the capacity to recover from negative emotions quickly, and holding a sense of purpose. Happiness is not having a lot of privilege or money. It’s a broader thing: Our ability to connect with others, to have meaningful relationships, to have a community. But we actually have good data on that over the past 100 years.
From the 1920s to the 1950s—an era of depression and world war—as household income rose there was an increase in people’s self-reported happiness. But then the line just tapered off. Studies show that money increases happiness when it takes people from a place where there are real threats—poverty—to a place that is reliably safe. Humans like to make things automatic. We quickly adapt and make all the everyday things in our lives automatic. The first time you drive a car, you’re very aware of your foot on the brake, of turning the wheel. But after a while, driving becomes automatic.