Happiness is described as a positive feeling that ranges from Joy to contentment. Everybody would like to be happy. It is believed that people who are happy are more successful, productive, have better relationships and better health. We would like to maintain these feelings when we have them. Richard Layard uses the terms ‘outside’ and ‘within’ to describe where happiness comes from. ‘Outside’ factors include influences like relationships, social identities and culture. ‘Within’ looks at influences such as biology, thoughts and feelings. So the ‘outside’ relates to social influences and ‘within’ relates to personal factors inside the individual. This essay aims to find evidence of these multiple influences in order to explain Richard Layard’s statement. First it will address ‘within’, next it will look at the ‘outside’, finishing with a conclusion.
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A key biological factor of happiness is linked to a healthy lifestyle and eating the right food. Exercising and eating right increases the body’s level of endorphins, which naturally gives us a boost. Certain foods stimulate the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin regulates mood, appetite and sleep, and is what produces the feelings of happiness and satisfaction within us. If we have low levels of serotonin we feel depressed and anxious. Judith Wurtman (1996) (cited in starting psychology 2011) found a connection between low levels of serotonin and a diet low in carbohydrates. People on high fat, high protein, low carbohydrate diets reported feelings of depression anger and tension which were unusually high. Foods that stimulate serotonin contain a chemical called tryptophan. Foods like fish, nuts, beans, eggs, oats and chocolate all contain this mood boosting chemical. So what we put in our bodies can affect our level of happiness. When Layard states happiness comes from ‘within’ he is drawing on these biological factors.
But are some of us born with a genetic predisposition to be happier than others? Richard Davidson et al. (2000) (cited in starting psychology 2011) used an EEG to measure where the brain is active when we are happy. It found that happy people show more activity in the front of the brain on the left hand-side than the right and vice versa when people are unhappy. Some people naturally use one side of their brain more than the other, using the left side more means you are likely to show higher levels of happiness regardless of your experiences. This theory was tested on babies and toddlers. Both left hand-sided babies and toddlers showed less distress when separated from their mothers and were better at new situations than babies and toddlers who were right hand-sided. This shows some level of happiness is genetically inherited again a ‘within’ factor of biological evidence to support Layard’s theory.
Davidson teamed up with Jon Kabat-Zin to see if mediation had any effect on the right and left front brain activity. They carried out an experiment on a group of high pressure workers. The group was divided into two and one group was taught how to meditate, the other was told they would start later. Eight weeks later the group who learned to meditate were significantly happier, coped better with stress and had greater immunity when given a flu vaccination than the group who had not yet started. It also showed that their level of brain activity had shifted to the left. So although the brain and how it works is fundamental in how happiness is produced you can effectively train your brain to work in a different way by altering its plasticity. (Starting Psychology 2011)
All these biological factors contribute to our level of happiness and is what Layard meant by ‘within’ influences. These are not the only influences on our happiness; relationships and environment play a large role too.
Richard Layard’s (2005) research into happiness identified a list of seven factors that promote wellbeing. The list states family and close relationships are the number one factors for happiness as they are emotionally sustaining. This tells us that the ‘outside’ influences of relationships that Layard refers to are essential. (Starting Psychology 2011). Relationships start in the womb and continue throughout life. Early relationships influence the emotional development of children and a securely attached child is confident, has high self-esteem and knows it is loved and valued, creating happiness. The findings from Mary Ainsworth (1978) (cited in Starting Psychology 2011) when she observed one year old babies in her experiment ‘the Strange situation’ confirms this claim. Children played in a room and their reactions were recorded when the parent left and a stranger entered. Securely attached children were happy to explore and play whilst the parent was present, but became distressed when left. They were easily comforted when the parent returned, however when a stranger entered the child could not be comforted and resisted the stranger. Insecurely attached children were less confident in exploring, were indifferent to the presence or absence of the parent and indecisive about whether they wanted comforting or not.
A recent UNICEF report (2007) showed how significant relationships with family and friends are in producing happiness in children. This report was about children’s wellbeing in twenty-one developed countries, and the UK found itself at the bottom of the list, behind poorer countries. The reason for this ranking seemed to be poor quality relationships with family, friends and peers. It emerged that being loved and supported by family and friends was the most important elements for a happy childhood. (Starting Psychology 2011).
In adulthood people who manage good communication are happier than others. Robert Lane (2000) also argued we gain happiness from people’s affection and acceptance of us and it is this feeling of being valued that influences our mood. When we are with people we exchange positive non-verbal communication. Our body language promotes friendly interaction which leads to laughter and happiness. Also several large studies have shown a link between expressing gratitude and high feelings of happiness according to Seligman (2005). When we thank someone we not only make the person feel good it increases our mood. All these examples show evidence of what Layard meant by ‘Outside’ influences on our happiness. (Starting Psychology 2011).
In conclusion many contributing factors make us happy. These few examples are biological and social influences confirming Richard Layard’s opinion that ‘happiness comes from outside and within’ It seems that a combination of influences are essential in contributing to our overall happiness, there are many other factors that also play a part in our happiness, but it is clear from this evidence that a person’s biological state and close personal relationships directly affect levels of happiness.