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What’s the importance of happiness? How can happiness change the world for the better?

Tal Ben-Shahar believes happiness is a worthy cause that everyone should prioritize. Not only does it measure the quality of life, but it can also reshape society.

Find out how effective happiness is in your personal life and the world.

Why Happiness Is a Worthwhile Pursuit

Ben-Shahar acknowledges that for many, pursuing their own happiness makes them uncomfortable. They consider it selfish or frivolous. However, Ben-Shahar disagrees, arguing that there’s no endeavor more worthwhile or profound than the pursuit of happiness. He describes happiness as the “ultimate currency.” In discussing the importance of happiness, he says that, unlike other currencies, happiness is an end in itself—the foundational purpose of life and the yardstick against which all other success should be measured. It enhances the quality of life and improves overall well-being. 

(Shortform note: Bhutan has found a way to apply the idea of happiness as the ultimate currency on a national scale. In 1972, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck introduced the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH). GNH overrides traditional indexes of economic growth, such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP), instead focusing on the spiritual, physical, social, and environmental well-being of its citizens and the natural environment. GNH provides a method for quantifying happiness, creating a practical benchmark for measuring national success and a model for other nations seeking to broaden their understanding of success beyond mere economic indicators.)

Furthermore, Ben-Shahar explains, happiness isn’t a choice between pursuing self-interest and the interests of others: It isn’t a zero-sum game. He emphasizes that pursuing personal happiness often results in enhanced empathy, generosity, and ability to positively impact others. Consequently, personal well-being and collective well-being are not only compatible pursuits but are often interdependent, creating a virtuous cycle that benefits everybody.

(Shortform note: Not only are happier people more empathetic and generous, but neuroscience research also shows that helping others increases our own happiness. Multiple studies in neuroscience have shown that helping others activates the reward center in our brains, leading to the release of endorphins and oxytocin. These chemicals not only make us happier but also have positive effects on our overall health. Interestingly, the benefits you get from acting generously aren’t dependent on witnessing the impact of your actions. For example, one study found that feeding strangers’ parking meters led to a reported increase in subjective well-being, even though participants didn’t interact with the people they were helping.)

How Happiness Will Change the World

Ben-Shahar argues that in addition to changing your life, the pursuit of happiness also has the power to reshape society. He argues that a collective focus on increasing personal happiness can significantly contribute to a healthier, more harmonious, and happier world. According to Ben-Shahar, the world needs a paradigm shift that reframes happiness as the highest good, as opposed to material wealth or other external measures of success and well-being. 

An Economic Model for a Happiness-Driven World

Economist Kate Raworth argues that this kind of revolution requires not just a mental shift but an entirely new economic structure. She outlines a theoretical economic system called “doughnut economics” in which the economy’s purpose is to promote human prosperity and happiness.

This means 1) an economy that produces enough to provide everyone with the material resources to pursue their highest dreams, but also 2) an economy that doesn’t deplete the vital natural resources upon which life on the planet depends. She likens the economy to a ring-shaped doughnut. The inner circle represents the zone of deprivation—an economy that doesn’t produce enough of the necessary goods and services to meet the population’s essential needs. The outer circle represents the limits of economic growth, beyond which the economy begins to outstrip the planet’s natural resources. The goal is to stay within these bounds.

Ben-Shahar argues that when we focus on pursuing happiness rooted in our personal growth and values, we stop feeling jealous of other people’s joy and success. This shift in priorities could also decrease conflict by reducing the emphasis on competition for material resources. With happiness as the highest good, rather than material wealth, Ben-Shahar says societal structures would become more equitable and sustainable. 

(Shortform note: According to a study, the pursuit of happiness can also lead to a more sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyle, which in turn benefits the environment. The research found that individuals who prioritize their well-being and overall life satisfaction tend to adopt greener behaviors. This is because happier individuals are more likely to engage in pro-environmental activities, such as conserving resources, reducing waste, and practicing sustainable consumption.)

The Importance of Happiness: Changing Lives and the World

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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