What are the Requirements for Happiness, and are We Meeting Them?
What are the Requirements for Happiness, and are We Meeting Them?
As a global society there is surely no better cause than seeking sustained happiness for as many of the world’s people as possible. To help with this cause this work aims to outline the things we need in order to be happy, and explains how, for many of us, these needs are not being fully met. It appears human beings (homo sapiens) have at least three requirements for a generally happy existence: basic health, positive social relationships and a meaningful purpose. Without all three of these needs met it is unlikely, perhaps even impossible, for someone to be able to live happily throughout their life.
1. Basic health
This is possibly the most important of the three requirements as it includes the physical things that the human body requires to stay alive, such as water, food, vitamins, shelter and anything else that may be required in the being’s given environment to have a basic standard of living. A man who is starving to death is very unlikely to be happy. Items such as food and water are not needed in excess, just at a quantity that allows us to comfortably survive.
2. Positive social relationships
The importance of this requirement on human happiness almost certainly has an evolutional cause. Whereas a snail likely does not care what another snail thinks of it (except if it is a potential mate), humans are obsessed with our social relationships. This obsession sprang from the beneficial traits of collaboration, group living and strong parent-offspring bonds that were selected for as our ancient ancestors evolved into homo sapiens and the great apes. Through evolution we are genetically hard-wired to value our relationships with others, and consequently they play a big role toward our happiness.
The social requirements we all have may be grouped into certain types: familial, friendship, romantic and community-based. Ideally, positive relationships between an individual and their family, an individual and their friends, an individual and their lover, and an individual and wider society would exist in order to cover all four types and give an individual maximum potential for happiness.
3. Meaningful purpose
Put simply, we need something to do. Each human will live through an average of 589,000 hours in their lifetime, giving us a lot of time. Without something that motivates us, the brain will lack stimulation. Therefore, a purpose to our day-to-day lives is required if we are to prevent feelings of boredom and unimportance.
The kind of purpose we require to be happy can vary greatly throughout our life (although it doesn’t have to) and from person to person, depending on their expectations in life and the situations they find themselves in. For example, Neolithic humans may have found adequate purpose in the various tasks required to support the lives of themselves and their family. In the developed world we have higher aspirations, and whilst parents will still find some purpose in supporting their children, for many this is not enough (due to the now comparative ease of child-raising and the awareness of many other possibilities in society).
It should be noted that although having a purpose is better than having no purpose at all, real happiness will only be achieved if this purpose is meaningful to a given person. For example, if you were made to repeatedly dig holes in the ground just so someone else can come along and fill them in, you could be said to have a purpose, but one that is not meaningful. Now imagine you were made to dig these holes so that you could reach the water table and access water that you needed to drink, cook and wash with. All of a sudden your purpose becomes meaningful. In the second scenario you are more likely to be able to live a happy life than you are in the first, even if you had water anyway in the first scenario.
That’s it! These three core factors are really all that are required for us to maintain a predominantly happy life. Notice nothing has been mentioned specifically about technology or material goods being required for happiness because although they may help, they certainly are not requirements. All three of these conditions can be met without them.
It is apparent that in the world today happiness is far from being optimised. In fact, the current state of happiness is appalling when you consider the vast advancements in psychology/sociology, coupled with technological capabilities that have occurred in the past two hundred years. So where are we going wrong?
1. Basic Health
For those of you in developed countries reading this, yourself and most of the people around you can probably say you are able to survive easily in your environment. Regrettably, this is far from the case in the developing world. The World Health Organisation reported that one in three people suffer from water scarcity  (most of these living in the developing world), whilst UNICEF claims that 45% of children live in poverty . These large scale problems are structural – although we have the resources and technology to solve these problems, the stranglehold rich nations have on the developing world for access to resources and cheap labour prevents poverty alleviation and reduces the happiness of a very large portion of humanity. For every $1 a developing country receives in aid, over $25 is spent on debt repayment [3,4].
2. Positive Social Relationships
For all too many of us, work commitments and financial stresses get in the way of a positive family life. Of particular concern is how the amount of time children spend with their parents appears to have fallen in recent decades as it has become more difficult to be financially secure. Commonly, both parents are required to work, leaving children neglected. This has negative impacts on both the short-term happiness of the parents and children as well as the long-term relationship between the two. Furthermore, it could be argued that couples with little free time are more likely to divorce, further damaging the family infrastructure and the happiness associated with it.
Ensuring other people view you in a way in which you want to be viewed seems to be an extremely important factor toward your happiness. The way in which we wish to be viewed by people is a complicated thing. The importance we place on each factor that builds up someone’s image of us varies greatly with culture, media and all other aspects of our social environment.
This apparent need to be accepted by others is vastly increased by our social arena and has been manipulated by corporations and government through various media, most notably advertising. Advertising has used our insecurities to help to create the consumerist culture seen today. Because we care so much about what others think of us, advertising has been able to convince us that we need to buy a certain brand of clothing or must drive a certain car to be happier. This has led to us placing more importance on being viewed as attractive and financially successful than we otherwise would, creating an egotistical and vanity-driven society. It has led to us valuing material goods that give us happiness for a short time, but at the same time has increased our insecurities, making us worry greatly about how we are judged, to such a point that long-term happiness is jeopardised.
3. Meaningful Purpose
Our purpose is what we do, and for the most part, what we do is work. A job itself will only help improve happiness if it is meaningful to the person undertaking it and it is the best purpose available to that person. We must ask ourselves whether or not our jobs provide us with meaningful purpose. For some, the answer is yes; the actual task that the labourer is doing is meaningful to them, beyond the fact that it is creating an income. Unfortunately for many, the task they are undertaking may have meaning to the corporation they work for, but for themselves it is not meaningful. For many, their dependence on money requires them to spend a large proportion of their time working a job that is unfulfilling, hindering their ability to be happy.
In summary, it is the needs of basic health, positive social relationships and meaningful purpose that must be met in order for a person to be happy. Our society is failing to meet these needs on all three levels through high levels of poverty, the requirement of many to work long hours damaging family life, the requirement of many to work unfulfilling jobs, and through value distortions which increase our insecurities. Until all of these problems are addressed, widespread, long-term happiness will continue to evade us.