What Is Happiness Science?

Happiness science is the scientific study of happiness with the goal of finding strategies to increase our happiness levels.

But, don’t we all know someone who can hide their sorrow behind a huge smile?

So, while happiness isn’t only defined by smiles, laughter, and bright faces, it is also felt differently by different people. Then how can happiness science discover universal methods to increase happiness?

Let’s find out.

What’s The Science of Happiness?

Positive psychology is commonly known as the science of happiness. It is a relatively newer branch of psychology that studies well-being, happiness, strengths, resilience, positivity, and optimism. Because its experts study optimal human functioning, positive psychology is also known as the science of flourishing.

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Science of happiness studies the habits, attitudes, and behaviors that increase happiness and fulfillment in life.

It also encourages us to embrace lifestyle practices that boost our optimism, hope, resilience, and other factors that contribute to happiness.

How can happiness science increase happiness for all?

Happiness science is empirically grounded and draws on subjects like psychology, sociology, economics, neuroscience, and medicine. It does not dismiss the presence of human suffering or psychological illness.

For decades, psychology focused mostly on the negative aspects of human existence, researching what was “wrong” with us and trying to relieve us from our suffering.

And it has worked out quite well because we can now successfully treat illnesses like depression, post-traumatic stress, and addictions.

But traditional psychology missed looking into what made some of us happier than the rest.

Happiness is more than just the absence of sadness, and it is also more than just overcoming our sorrows.

Then came the paradigm shift, in 1998, when Martic Seligman became the President of the American Psychological Association.

Scientists turned their attention to what makes people prosper and thrive.

They began focusing on the behaviors that make us more likable at work, happier in our relationships, and feel more fulfilled when we go to bed.

Happiness can be measured. Learn how to measure the 14 components of happiness for free.

Happiness Science

Since then, psychologists have come up with many interesting ideas about what happiness means, and how we may increase our happiness levels.

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Some findings have been fascinating.

Studies have found that when we are more altruistic and compassionate, we feel happier (Myers 2000; Diener & Seligman 2002).

  • Altruism can be defined as the wish and resolve to attain the well-being of others.
  • Compassion is the form that altruistic love takes when it is confronted with suffering.

“Every person I have known who has been truly happy, has learned how to serve others.”

Albert Schweitzer

Another study showed that kind gestures toward others helped relieve our stress (Seligman 2002).

The take-home message is that when we are stressed and we help others, we can also end up helping ourselves,” study author Emily Ansell, assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine, told CBS News.

Experts from the field also tell us that:

  • A big chunk of our well-being is well within our control, and
  • Happiness and being happy are skills that all of us can learn.

Happiness, as we currently understand it, is something we can create ourselves. We don’t need to wait for happy things to happen to us or for other people to make us happy.

Like any other ability, we can learn and hone our happiness skills, just like we can make a fine table out of random wooden bits.

Happiness-boosting activities, like physical exercise and gratitude journaling, can boost and maintain our happiness levels.

What types of experiences pay the biggest happiness dividends?

Studies in the field of science of happiness reveal strong social connections (friends, family, children, parents, relatives, colleagues) play the biggest role in making and keeping us happier. In fact, our friends give us the most happiness of all our social relationships.

How much of your happiness is within your conscious control?

According to studies carried out by Sonja Lyubomirsky, Kennon Sheldon, and others, we control roughly about 40% of our happiness.

To find out more about it, read this post: The Happiness Formula.

The science of happiness says we cannot find lasting happiness, that is happiness that lasts forever. Our happiness levels change from day to day, and even hour to hour, in our everyday life.

Why chasing goals does not make you happy?

You may find an answer to that if you take note of these:

  • When you say you’ll be happy in life once you marry, then you might mean to say that you can’t be satisfied as long as you’re single.
  • When you announce your life will fill up with happiness once you meet your financial goal, then you might mean to say that you can’t be happy until you’re money-rich.
  • When you tell others you’ll make yourself happy once you move into a big house, then you might mean to say that you can’t be happy while living in your small home.

Do you know, in a study, around 50% of the people said traveling gives them more positive feelings than what they had had on their most momentous day — their wedding day? In the same study, 50% also said they think holidays are more vital to their happiness than landing a dream job.

So, while they were saying holidays make them happier than their wedding day or their dream job, they were essentially also saying that they can’t be merry unless they go on a holiday.

What’s wrong there? It’s this: “I’ll be happy once I reach that goal. Until then, it’s okay for me to stay unhappy.

When you always think along those lines, it makes your current life unhappy.

When you pursue a critically positive change in your life — success, money, love, spouse, kids, accolades, position — you often fall back into thinking that once it happens, it will start an unending spell of happiness.

With that line of thinking, what you wrongly tell yourself is this: Success will replace my unhappiness with happiness.

Can your success delete your sadness?

No—that’s the answer, and you already know it. Whatever it is you’re doing for your future happiness, it has become the cause of your present unhappiness. If you’re not happy, to begin with, success won’t make you any happier.

You’ve tied your reasons to be happy in life to your successes, but goals and success are things outside yourself. You can’t fully control them. Therefore, your plans to control your happiness also fall flat.

So, why do you want to postpone your happiness until success enters your life? Why do you choose to be unhappy now?

How is positive psychology related to the science of happiness?

The field of positive psychology is dedicated to understanding what makes people happy and how we can increase our own levels of happiness by changing our thoughts and behaviors.

Positive Psychology

Positive psychology is the study of positive human characteristics such as strength, resilience, well-being, and optimal functioning. The goal of positive psychology is to make people happier by understanding and building positive emotions, life satisfaction, and meaning.

Positive psychology is the science of happiness. More specifically, positive psychology is about focusing on … love, happiness, strength, and virtues.

— Tal Ben-Shahar

Positive psychology is the scientific study of optimal functioning and well-being, also known as the science of flourishing, happiness, strengths, resilience, positivity, and optimism.

The field was established around 1998 as a reaction to the prevailing direction that psychology had taken with its focus on studying the negative aspects of our minds, behavior, and lives.

A positive psychologist works in the health model with the goal of moving beyond neutral and into the plus scale of well-being.

They believe happiness is achievable and sustainable. In essence, positive psychologists study and research every human aspect that makes life most worth living.

Learn some interesting facts about Positive Psychology (PERMA to PP 2.0) here.

At any point, however, this branch of psychology does not involve ignoring the problems that people face.

Positive psychology does not ask people to flaunt fake smiles while imploring them to be just happy.

It does not deny the existence of hardships.

What positive psychology teaches us is that when we face difficulties, we do not need to be unprepared.


1. Is psychology a positive science?

Traditionally, psychology has been the focus of the study of the dysfunctions and impaired conditions of the human mind. It mainly concerns itself with what is wrong with the mind and its processes, such as behavior and thoughts.

To balance the field of psychology, Martin Seligman and his colleagues started the positive psychology movement in 1998.

The newer branch of psychology, called positive psychology, centers around
feelings of authentic happiness as flow, and other positive emotions, that help people thrive. Positive psychology is about the good life, positive experiences, positive individual traits, and positive institutions that help people flourish.

So, psychology in the traditional sense has not been a positive science. On the other hand, the new science of positive psychology is, for the most part, a positive science.
Positive psychology is not ‘positivity’ — it is authentic science, based on experiments and research. And, this new science does not intend to replace traditional psychology but rests soundly within the field of psychology.

2. How helpful is positive psychology?

Positive psychology is helpful and effective. Some of its key findings are:

1. Happy people make good things happen. And happiness is a reason for good things in life and a precursor to success and good outcomes.
2. Happiness, good relationships, and strengths of character shield against the harmful effects of failures and setbacks.
3. For a satisfying life, a life of meaning (eudaimonia) outdoes a life of pleasure
4. Good days are marked by a feeling of autonomy, competency, and connection to others.
5. The principles of a good life can be learned and taught.

Positive psychology is concerned with three issues: positive emotions, positive traits, and positive institutions.

It can train us, via positive psychological interventions, to be more resilient, courageous, and optimistic, so that we can meet adversity with courage and contemplation.

3. What is Hedonia?

Hedonia is a short-term pleasure with in-the-moment peaks of positive emotion and gratification. This form of happiness comes with a built-in limitation: hedonic adaptation, where we get used to the source of our happiness and consequently need to up the dose or add variety to get the same hit. Hedonism focuses on ‘me’.

4. What is Eudaimonia?

Eudemonia or eudaimonia is “The Good Life.” It’s the more sustainable form of happiness. This is the deeper, enduring happiness that comes from living a meaningful life while realizing one’s potential. These are ways to sustain our inner happiness. Eudaimonism focuses on ‘we’. Find out if you are happy enough here.

what is happiness science

How can we define happiness?

  • Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim, and end of human existence. — Aristotle
  • In the human brain, the neurotransmitter dopamine is reported to activate the brain’s pleasure centers. — Neurobiologists
  • A prolonged or lasting emotional or affective state that feels good or pleasing. — Wikipedia
  • The left prefrontal cortex area of the brain is more activated when we are happy and is also associated with a greater ability to recover from negative emotions as well as an enhanced ability to suppress negative emotions. We can train ourselves to increase activation in this area of our brains. — Richard Davidson
  • Happiness is a noun, so we think it’s something we can own. But happiness is a place to visit, not a place to live. It’s like the child’s idea that if you drive far and fast enough you can get to the horizon—no, the horizon’s not a place you get to. — Daniel Gilbert
  • Happiness is both Eudaimonia (how satisfied we are with our lives) and Hedonia (how good we feel on a day-to-day basis). — Psychologists.

Why Are We So Negative?

We are naturally inclined towards the negative side of human existence.

Over millions of years, the human brain has evolved into a structure that is inclined towards taking in the bad more than focusing on the good. So, evolution-wise, we have gradually become a species more focused on the negative.

Our brains are constantly changing by slowly reshaping our neural structures. It is something called neuroplasticity.

Therefore, what started as a behavior change towards the negative, neuroplasticity made it into a permanent change in the organic structure of the brain.

However, the good news is that it works both ways.

As positive psychology shows, there are mental exercises we can regularly practice that can reshape our brains to have a more positive outlook.

Positive psychology interventions (PPI) promote new neural pathways for happiness. We now have a method to overcome our negative biases and gain higher levels of happiness.

“You have the ability to control how you feel—and with consistent practice, you can form life-long habits for a more satisfying and fulfilling life.” — Acacia Parks, Ph.D.

Final Words

It can be seen that happiness science is a new branch of social sciences that investigates the sources of human happiness as well as how to increase it.

Happiness science has influenced many disciplines, such as education, business, and money-making.

In closing, let us remind you that happiness is a skill, and any skill can be learned.

So, prioritize your happiness and the happiness of those around you, today. Remember, you can always bring more meaning to your life by learning to be happier.

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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy — medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes on mental wellbeing, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).

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