The art and science of joy

By Dr Marc Cohen

Want to be happy? Then change your attitude towards your circumstances rather than changing the circumstances

January 15, 2015: Joy and happiness are difficult subjects to study scientifically. Like pain, joy is subjective and can be defined only by what people say. There is no blood test or imaging technique to detect happiness or joy. While we can identify the funny bone, a physical substrate for happiness is still elusive and scientific attempts to define it have met with limited success.

Is happiness a psychiatric condition?

One attempt to classify happiness scientifically was discussed in the Journal of Medical Ethics. A paper titled ?A Proposal to Classify Happiness as a Psychiatric Disorder? suggests that happiness fits all requirements to be a psychiatric condition and that it should be listed as a ?Major Affective Disorder (MAD)?Pleasant Type?! In this tongue-in-cheek article, the authors argue for classifying happiness as a psychiatric condition because happiness is statistically abnormal, consists of a discrete cluster of symptoms, and is associated with particular affective, cognitive and behavioral components.

The paper identifies happiness as being either reactive, manifesting as an acute episode followed by a rapid remission of symptoms or endogenous. It argues that this state is more chronic and less likely to be associated with spontaneous recovery.

The cognitive components of happiness include general satisfaction with specific areas of life such as relationships and work, as well as the happy person?s belief in his or her own competence and self-efficacy.

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