TED Conversations

Tony Dunne

Independent Business Owner, ACN Pacific,

This conversation is closed.

Why do people who have many advantages in life struggle with ongoing happiness whilst others with far less to be happy about are happier?

Its common for people with many advantages, physical, mental, environmental, family etc to be unhappy and depressed.

On the other hand people with the exact opposite are often far more happy in themselves, with their lives and about the future.

I personally know a blind person, one of my very best friends who lost his sight at age 16. Now at age 24 he is the happiest guy you would ever meet, very optimistic and positive and he believes his blindness is a gift that has helped him develop other parts of himself that he may never have even been aware of.

Clearly our view of the world has a profound impact on our outlook in life but thats the confusing part. If you have a great upbringing and many of the trappings of "a great life", then how do the people with those advantages of birth and environment continue to fall short in their overall happiness yet the people with severe obstacles are often the happiest.

We can assume that the things we all focus on and value the most are what gives us our sense of self. Is the answer as simple as the quality of our values and beliefs are the driving force behind our happiness?

Would people benefit from living as say a blind person for a 3 month term so as to develop other more enduring drivers to happiness?


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Aug 14 2012: In a recent study at Columbia on "Subjective Wellbeing" - the new name for Happiness - Jeffrey Sachs verified that Happiness is not that clear cut anymore as you have outlined above. You can't say that 600 million Indians who earn less than a dollar a day, have no toilets or clean water, rarely have electricity, no real healthcare are actually happy when you see them smile.They have developed a survival mechanism that is accepting of their lot - but that can't be defined as happiness. It is also a myth that people who are economically well off are unhappy - they may struggle with purpose or meaning or dissatisfaction or depression in life - but they are not by any subjective standards, unhappy. People from lower economic strata tend to appear happier as survival mechanisms for coping with their situation make them so but they suffer equally if not in greater numbers from chronic diseases, stress, envy, jealousy, self-abuse and more. Genuinely happy people tend to have a few traits in common - whether they are well off or not - they tend to be genuinely compassionate and kind, they always seek the good of others, they are positive people, they have practices that help them stay detached (meditation, prayer, nature, family time), they see beauty and magic around them, they realize that life has ups and down and they remain balanced, they laugh and smile a lot and they tend to exude a loving joyful kindness. This is true of millionaires and paupers. So if you read or listen to Matthieu Ricard or Sachs then you will realize that happiness is subjective and not an issue necessarily of class or wealth or lack thereof. It can actually be cultivated or trained for by anyone.
    • Aug 18 2012: Now the next question is, what is healthy? Is it also subjective wellbeing?

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.