By Diana Allam, LMSW

A review of a feature documentary entitled “Happy”  (Belic, R., 2011) begins the author and director’s journey towards finding happiness.  In this documentary individuals around the world are interviewed on their views of happiness.  The interviewees vary in geographic locations and economic backgrounds, from the slums of India to modern Denmark, from Okinawa villagers to Namibia tribes.

Data reviewed revealed that 50% of one’s happiness stems from genetics linked to family biology.  Only 10% of happiness comes from what people can attain such as income status, where one lives, and age, otherwise known as extrinsic values and goals.  These goals focus on society’s accumulation of material wealth and possessions, things outside of oneself in the search for happiness. That leaves an astonishing 40% derived from activities individuals can undertake to intentionally create happiness.

It is also postulated that society is told to be competent, have a lot of money. The result is that people are no happier than they were 50 years ago. Once basic needs are met, the accumulation of money does not buy happiness.  The mainstream society dictates an accumulation of wealth as the basis of happiness, the rest of society struggles to attain it. Once attained society adapts to that level of wealth, and begins to strive for more.  This constant striving becomes the enemy of happiness.

Was Benjamin Franklin right? He stated, according to the documentary, “The Constitution only guarantees the pursuit of happiness. You have to catch it yourself.”  Is happiness found in what society dictates?

What about the 40% found in intentional activities? A closer look lies in the research of the human brain. Dopamine is a chemical released in the brain that produces pleasure.  Activities that release endorphins in the brain are physical activities, competing or training in a sport, or simply exercise.  This type of activity can take one out of the past or future in terms of thinking to the present moment, otherwise known as “flow” or being “in the zone” (Csikszentmihalyi, M.,1990). As Csikszentmihalyi states, it blocks out all other things and creates a synergy of different aspects of consciousness.

Other key elements include simply making a switch in one’s thinking from what one does not have to what one does have.  Practicing gratitude can create a general trajectory towards compassion and connection to others and the spiritual self.  One simple gratitude activity involves simply listing or writing down five things one is grateful for or five blessings one has each day or each week.   Compassion meditation is another activity shown to stimulate brain growth and structure in the prefrontal cortex of the brain.

By positively and compassionately engaging with family and friends, connecting with nature,  developing acts of kindness towards others in general, and creating a spirit of altruism and spiritual connectivity, one can meet their own psychological needs, and therefore create happiness.  





Belic, R. (Director) (2011). Happy [Feature Documentary]. United States.

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper and Row.

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