Happiness

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The Happiness research stream will explore, from a number of perspectives, what happiness means to human beings and how it might be achieved. Aristotle believed that we are capable of reaching total happiness (but this has to be judged over a complete lifetime), whereas Aquinas took the view that true happiness is something that we can only experience in the afterlife. In the modern world, some people seek short-cuts to happiness through drugs, alcohol, gambling and further addictive behaviours. Others adopt more spiritual methods such as meditation. Many look for happiness in entertainment, travel, sport, the arts, and education. And while some strive for material success, others are content with satisfying work, hobbies, crafts and family life as their personal route to happiness. Different cultures and historical eras have their own ideas about happiness. The arts and literature portray some of these. Present-day neo-liberal states generally take no view on what happiness is, but let people pursue their own agendas and individual definitions of happiness. Into this vacuum, businesses insert their promises of happiness, and some people seek solace in excessive consumption. However, not everyone is happy. There may be economic, social, health or political reasons for this. And even if all of the means are apparently available, there can be various other barriers to happiness, so a range of therapeutic interventions is available that attempt to remove these impediments and cultivate a happier state of mind.

Interdisciplinary
Because happiness (and the lack of it) is of such central importance to the human condition, it is of interest to a wide range of disciplines. In its emotional aspects, psychological and artistic analyses can help us to understand the various, contested, manifestations. Philosophical, theological and economic theories investigate happiness construed as flourishing, beatification/bliss, or utility. Sociological explanations regard happiness as a socially constructed goal, while anthropology, history and cultural studies show the range of ways in which it can be understood in different civilizations and subcultures. Neuroscience and clinical psychology provide further insights. In terms of removing barriers to happiness, theories of education and development, counselling, and psychotherapeutic practice have much to say. Charities and development agencies seek to raise the happiness levels of their clients. Businesses want to understand how to satisfy their customers’ desire for happiness. The fields of medicine, mental health, and social welfare strive with different methods to make people happier. Spiritual practices can enhance feelings of wellbeing. Similarly, creative and performing artists and craftspeople do not pursue their practices directly for the sake of happiness, but it sometimes arises as a by-product of their work. By encouraging conversations between these, and other, disciplines, the nature of happiness can be grasped more clearly. No single subject, approach, practice or epistemological paradigm has an exclusive claim on The Truth about happiness, nor has a single culture exhaustively defined The Good Life, so interdisciplinarity is vital for understanding these better. More importantly, such interdisciplinary dialogue and enhanced understanding can have an impact on the happiness levels of communities and individuals.

The Issues
While it is anticipated that the discussions developing over the life of the research stream will help to shape its direction and progress, the key issues that we intend to explore include:

§  what is happiness?
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theories of happiness: philosophical, theological, anthropological, sociological, psychological, economic, physiological
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definitions of ‘The Good Life’
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promoting happiness
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happiness and objective flourishing
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happiness and subjective wellbeing
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happiness, hedonism and thrill-seeking
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happiness and addiction
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happiness and peak experiences; ‘flow’; euphoria; epiphanies
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happiness and exercise
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happiness and creativity
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happiness and work
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happiness and health
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happiness and craft skills
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happiness and relationships
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happiness and sex
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the self-help industry
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happiness and self-efficacy
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wealth, achievement and happiness
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happiness and contentment
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happiness in communities
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happiness and spirituality
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happiness and aging
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happiness in retirees, downsizers, slackademics
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happiness in popular culture
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happiness in traditional media – tv, film, theatre, print
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happiness in social media and the Internet
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literature, the arts and happiness
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sport, entertainment, travel and happiness
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personal and political contributions
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happiness and education
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happy customers
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law, public policy and happiness
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historical and cultural forces that shape attitudes toward happiness
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barriers to happiness
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unhappiness: sources, uses of unhappiness, strategies for mitigating/coping with unhappiness, etc.
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therapeutic interventions to increase happiness

Who Should Get Involved?
This research stream is designed to create a space for engagement between individuals who are professionally and personally interested in aspects of happiness. We want to provide access opportunities to this conversation for the widest range of people with something to say.

These might include: psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, medical professionals, addiction workers, pharmacologists, neuroscientists, philosophers, theologians, educationalists, parents, teachers, clergy, NGOs, social/welfare services, charities, politicians, political scientists, civil servants, cultural theorists, entertainers, performers, artists, sportspersons, hospitality industry professionals, PR and advertising professionals, retailers, economists, journalists, market researchers, business people, restaurateurs and anyone else who has a contribution to make in understanding happiness.

In attempting to shift the discussion of happiness into practical/applied contexts, rather than concentrating exclusively on the implications of how happiness is discussed and conceptualized in intellectual terms, this project seeks to create genuine, meaningful, inter-disciplinary dialogue.

The Outcomes
This inter-disciplinary research stream seeks to not only explore issues surrounding happiness and the way individuals and societies define and experience it, but also identify concrete strategies and best practice models whose implementation across professional sectors can contribute to the happiness of practitioners and those they serve. In examining happiness, we engage with an important but elusive human phenomenon that invites people from all disciplines, professions and vocations to come together in dialogue. Underlying these efforts is the sense that in mapping happiness we are in fact asking some of the deepest questions about the human condition. By growing in our global knowledge, and achieving a better understanding of happiness through our interdisciplinary discussions, we can then contribute to improving the condition of humanity in some small way. Once we know more thoroughly what happiness is, we can find ways of increasing it in ourselves and spreading it to others in our communities.