The research done by Gallup Research Company about happiness shows that 87 percent of the world workforce population is unhappy and has difficulty focusing on their career. This rate has soared drastically from 40 percent in the 1970s. At this point, it would be appropriate to ask the following: “Why is the rate of workforce unhappiness exponentially increasing, despite advances in technology, science and overall living standards?”

In 1998, Krugman (p24) claimed that “economics is not about the wealth, it is about the pursuit of happiness”. Even though the attendees of another major study (Diener and Oishi 2000) indicated that happiness is more important than success, knowledge and material gain; how much of this kind of awareness has been influencing individuals’ life choices? Nevertheless, the majority of the population cannot think of the concept of “happiness” separately from material gain. Do humans sacrifice happiness for the sake of professional and financial success?

Confused Perception of Happiness

For many years, philosophers, theologians, psychologists and even economists have tried to define the difficult to describe concept of happiness. Is happiness an emotion or a mood? Could confusion about how happiness is perceived by people be the main reason for the previously mentioned escalation in the amount of unhappy individuals? Positive psychology defines happiness as “the tendency to experience positive emotions such as joy, curiosity, pride, self-esteem and rarely to experience negative emotions such as sadness, anxiety, and anger” (Lyubomirsky et al., 2005). It has also been argued that happiness is about life satisfaction, gratitude and moments of pleasure; that is, in general, happiness is about experiencing positive emotions.

Seeking Social Approval

Western society places a heavy emphasis on one’s education, occupation and professional title. These commitments and choices require the dedication of a large amount of time and energy, but also drive the selection of both our long term and short term goals. This type of professional culture results in a greater number of people experiencing dissatisfaction with a single degree or their initial career path. Therefore, an increasing number of professionals pursue a higher education in multiple additional fields which creates a pattern of belief that your overall happiness is largely based on the number of titles and degrees you possess, or, your professional pedigree. Despite this common notion, it’s frequently observed that highly trained, well-compensated individuals in important leadership roles often struggle to maintain the level of happiness expected of their social status. According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of “The Way to Happiness”, our living circumstances, education, marital status and assets only influence 10% of our level of happiness. Our genetic code is responsible for about 50%, and the remaining 40% is determined by our habits, values, choices and conscious decisions.

Consistent Internal Inquiry and Training for Happiness

Academic studies have focused on the dilemma of “where does happiness start?”. Researchers such as Diener, Suh, Lucas and Smith (1999) have studied the correlation between desired life circumstances and the level of happiness achieved, along with the consequences of acquiring these characteristics. The studies found that achieving desirable life circumstances, as determined by society, may make people happier overall. As time has progressed, current positive psychology has demonstrated a differing trend from the previous hypothesis. Lyubomirsky and her team (2005), would suggest that happy people are more likely to achieve the favorable life circumstances they desire. These studies demonstrate, with scientific evidence, that people who prioritize happiness end up achieving satisfactory relationships, marriages, incomes, superior job performance, longevity and community participation.

According to Raj Raghunathan, who is known as Dr. Happiness, “the stupidest happiness mistake is, knowing what will make us happy and yet not choosing to do it”. At this point, it would be prudent to ask “where does happiness originate in our lives?”. Does pursuit of financial and professional success distract us from exploring our personal, meaningful objectives? Perhaps happiness comes from more than collectibles, social reputation and financial success? The answer to the question of “Am I happy?” can only truly be discovered when based on self-inquiry, not a summary of the views of a social or professional circle influenced by stereotyping beliefs. A change in approach is inevitable, with a shift in focus to prioritizing to reveal our personal core values of happiness over societal pressures and expectations. If achieving a positive mindset can lead us to greater professional and personal success in life, then we should be actively pursuing choices which would make us truly happy. This process is lifelong, and depends on continual review of our internal dynamics and current motivations. As Thich Nhat Hanh says “Little by little, you must train yourself for life, for happiness.”