Science of Happiness: 5 Theories For Feeling Cheerful

Science of Happiness: 5 Theories For Feeling Cheerful
Carly Jacobs

Happiness is an elusive beast. Kind of like weight loss. What works for one person, won’t necessarily work for someone else and vice versa. Happiness looks different to different people too. Being a stay at home parent to ten kids might be one person’s idea of bliss while another would be far happier living by themselves in a forest shack off the grid.

I love to look at the scientific research behind all this stuff because otherwise, where the hell do you begin? Here are some theories of the science of happiness and my thoughts about these theories. Whether they’re actaully true, or giant piles of BS…

science of happiness

1. The Golden Triangle of Happiness Theory 

In a nutshell, this theory supports the concept that financial security, a feeling of purpose and good interpersonal relationships makes people the happiest. If you have that triangle sorted, chances are, you’re a probably a jolly old chap.

Is this true for the average person?

Yeah. I reckon it does. Personally, I’ve felt safest/most content/less like a loser when I don’t have to worry about money, when I feel like I’m contributing decent stuff into the world and when I’m hanging out with rad people. Even if one of these categories falls over in my life I feel a little unbalanced so it makes sense that having these three things can contribute to an overall sense of awesomeness. Hot tip: If you’re feeling out of sorts, just check in and see if any of these things in your life need work. Not a bad little checklist to reconnect with every few months.

2. The Desire Theory

This theory stipulates that the satisfaction of a desire can make you happy. It can be anything from a chocolate bar to having a book published but this theory argues that a desire being met will cause an increase in happiness.

Is this true for the average person?

Maybe, but I’m not stoked on the instant gratification of this theory and also how materialistic it might become. It also places the onus of happiness on outside sources – your ability to afford to buy certain things, other people granting you promotions or book deals or expecting grand gestures from a partner who might not be on the same page as you. So yeah, I think this theory is solid but the results are short-lived and often random, which makes this a very unreliable way to source happiness. Maybe treat things like this as an added life bonus rather than a focus.

3. The Proximity Triangle Theory 

This theory states if you were to draw a triangle with three points – where you live, where you work and where you shop – the smaller that triangle is, the happier you are.

Is this true for the average person?

For me, 100%. I work from home so my work to home line of my triangle are always very short but I used to live a 2 min walk away from Woolies and it was the best home/work/shop scenario I’ve ever had. I now live a 10 min drive away from Woolies, which normally wouldn’t be a problem but there’s some serious roadworks happening in my suburb and everyone drives like complete banana-heads so now shopping makes me a bit grumpy when it never used to. I’m not sure that distance is the actual problem here, I think it’s ease of movement. My drive to the shops is only 10 minutes but it’s a pretty awful 10 mins. I’d much rather a lovely 20-minute drive than a shitty 10 minute one. Like if your commute to work was 30 minutes but you had to take 2 buses, a train and a tram that would suck. I think most people would prefer a 40-minute journey where you just had to take one mode of transportation. So this theory is sound, but close proximity AND ease of movement is the key here.

science of happiness

4. The Einstein Theory 

“A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness,“

Is this true for the average person?

I think this theory is a bit rich coming from Einstein but I reckon this comes down to the individual. Some people thrive in a calmer, simpler life and some people flourish when they’re constantly striving. Love your work Einstein, but not sure this one’s a keeper.

5. Time vs Money Theory

People with more time are happier than people with more money.

Is this true for the average person?

Again, it depends and this theory is steeped in privilege. People who live below the property line would have much more time than money but it’s unlikely that living with uncertainty would bring much happiness, no matter how much spare time you have. This one is more about balance, I think. It’s saying we need to work until we have what we need and then back off a little and enjoy our lives. Not a terrible theory. I like it.

This week on Straight & Curly, Kelly and I are talking about theories of happiness and whether or not they’re a thing or if they’re totally bogus. Spoiler alert: The answer is both!

You can listen here or wherever you like to listen to podcasts.

What do you think about the science of happiness? Do any of these theories totally gel with you?

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  1. Missy D 2 years ago

    Interesting! I think I like all the triangle theories (okay two). I definitely believe in the money – relationships – purpose = balance and therefore relative happiness. Also agree on the proximity theory, I used to live inner city and was seriously a 10 minute walk from work, city, shops. Commuting wasn’t a thing. Now it is and it really does impact on my morning routine – it means less sleep, more rush in the morning, and studies show people associate commuting with work, so it’s like another 30 mins in both directions added to work.

    I feel the time v money does definitely depend on where you are in life. In my twenties, I’d sacrifice my time for money. But now in my mid-late thirties, I’m more comfortable and secure in my career, time is definitely worth more to me than earning overtime.

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 2 years ago

      Definitely, I think most of them depend on life stages. Not commuting is the biggest gift I get from being self employed. It’s worth all the other bullshit that goes along with it hands down.

  2. Mykki 2 years ago

    I feel the Time vs Money Theory is heavily contingent upon the quality of that time. And let’s be real – someone with a fair amount of wealth is going to have more opportunities to enjoy time leisurely than someone who is homeless or jobless and has lots of (stressful) time on their hands.

    I’mma call that Happiness Model utter bunk. But that’s just me.

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 2 years ago

      I don’t necessarily agree with that – most people I know who earn a lot of money (like multiple 6 figures) have far less leisure time because their jobs are so demanding/stressful, that’s why they’re paid as much as they are. Definitely agree that homeless/jobless people’s ‘free’ time although plentiful isn’t enjoyable though.

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