Write Into Life

Studying happiness for no good reason

(Republished from 2016) In which I enrol in a Massive Open Online Course on the Science of Happiness even though I am not unhappy.


OK, here’s one boot camp task that I haven’t peered into yet. It is rather weirdly worded: “Align happiness factors.”

Why did I write it that way, so prissy and non-committal? Why didn’t I write “Start being happy” or “Do 40 happiness exercises per week”?  Because I’m not unhappy. I’m generally satisfied with my life, which is (it turns out) a pretty good definition of happiness. (More about that later.)

Happiness as a topic not a goal

Very well then, we’ve established that I’m not unhappy. So if being happy isn’t a struggle for me, why include it in the boot camp? (Oh God, Smugilla is coming through loud and clear today.) I might as well set myself as a goal “carry on breathing” … although, come to think of it, to carry on breathing is … hey let’s not go there.

What’s more, I’ve always thought pursuing happiness was a daft idea. Chasing it? Running after it? Haven’t you got better things to do? What will you do if you catch it — trap it? Bottle it? Domesticate it? Anyway, isn’t happiness right under your nose?

Let’s be serious here

My reasoning was that old age may bring  new pain and sadness and confusion. How can a person continue to be “happy” when friends die, when we ourselves are terminally ill? What do we know about happiness, scientifically, that will make a difference when the chips are down? What habits of body and mind increase our chances of being happy late in life?

Think of the very old people you know. Some are funny. Some serene. Some contented. Some are grumpy. Some are desperately unhappy. And the difference in their outlook may be out of all proportion to their circumstances.

Just planning ahead here

So I figured, why not get my ducks in a row, well in advance of any bonus troubles? I’ve already read a pile of books on happiness, and they swim around my mind in a vortex, sucking me in to contradictions and inconsistencies. (Which I quite enjoy.).

Order, order! says the sergeant major. So I enrolled in a MOOC on the Science of Happiness, a Massive Open Online Course from the UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Centre. That’ll sort me out, I thought.

By gum, now I’m gonna be happy happy happy. Bring it on.

 Image from “El Angel, el molino, el caracol del faro, estampas rurales y de cuentos, estampas de un Leon y una Leona, estampas del Faro;” (1921) by Mira, Gabriel. Public domain