Einstein is credited with the saying “ We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them “. Facing the great social, environmental and existential challenges of the 21st century without questioning the profound questions of how and why we got here would offer superficial answers that would hardly allow us to understand the humanity that sustains them. What values and what beliefs do we hold that allow the social and environmental injustices that surround us?
Malaga’s charter for the new economy and social innovation adopted during the first NESI Forum in 2017 includes the need for everyone to flourish as one of the ambitions of the new economy. Today we are trapped in the tangle of duty, urgency, over-commitment and haste that keeps us away from the possibility of connecting with ourselves and cultivating a happy life. “HAPPY” with capital letters, not the “this weekend I’m going on a trip to have fun with my friends” kind of happy. And so we continue to run, even if we have no idea where we’re going and what we want to find when we get there.
According to the latest World Happiness Report, published by the United Nations in 2018, the average happiness of the planet is 5.3 on a scale of 10. While the global Gross Domestic Product grows, our happiness does not reflect the same pattern. Many studies show that happiness and income have a positive correlation to some extent: yet once we have covered our basic needs, our happiness does not depend on our purchasing power. However, since we are not taught how to live and no one tells us what will make us happy, many people guide their lives with the economic compass and only understand that this was not the right direction when it is too late.
We all want to be happy, even if we don’t know how
Although each person has his own interpretation of what happiness is and how we can cultivate it, two main concepts are derived from science. On the one hand there is the hedonistic view of happiness based on an individualistic concept that comes from maximizing pleasure, reaching objectives and minimizing bad moments and, on the other hand, the eudemonic conception, based on reaching the perfection represented by achieving the true potential of each person, and that is more oriented to the relational level. Science has also shown that our happiness does not depend on chance, but on our intentional activity. Therefore, we can learn to be happy.
Being happy is not indifference
Think for a moment, what happens to you when you are at a time in your life when you are serene and harmonious, with a sense of purpose and experiencing positive emotions frequently? Are you the same? Do you have the same world view and face your everyday life in the same way as when you don’t experience those feelings?
The happier we are, the more satisfying our life experience is. At the same time, we transfer our well-being to the people around us. What’s more, happier people lead healthier lifestyles that allow them to reduce stress and anxiety, enjoy better physical and emotional health as well as greater longevity; they can develop more sustainable behaviors more easily; they enjoy better social relationships and it is easier for them to receive help and build confidence. Happier people also resolve complex relationships and situations better; they are more charitable and cooperative; they are more energetic and perform better in their communities (at work, in the neighborhood, etc.); they can boost creativity and innovation; and they can be more resilient as they think more flexibly and with greater ingenuity.
Working on our individual and collective happiness is not a luxury, but a necessity, and from an econometric point of view probably one of the most effective investments with the best cost-benefit ratio. From a eudemonic perspective, to work towards achieving true happiness is to transform ourselves and thereby generate the opportunity to create a positive impact on our community by shining from our core. It is to open the possibility of evolutionarily-advanced conflict resolution where for one party to win it is not necessary for another to lose.
How do we cultivate our happiness?
This is the question that the great cultures and philosophers of old have been asking for millennia. There are many ingredients necessary for the recipe: acceptance, kindness, being in the moment, self-knowledge, compassion and empathy, cultivating generosity, gratitude, optimism, and beneficial relationships, setting goals, experimenting and discovering purpose and meaning. Happiness is not a destination, but a path to travel to manifest our talents and enjoy a life worth living. If we decide to take this path, sooner or later we will understand that we are part of a “we” and the only alternative we have is to make decisions aimed at nurturing our common good.