What is happiness? Is it something that can be universally defined? Is it the same for everyone? Can we find one definition (even if long) that could possibly explain the complex aspects that compose the feeling(s) of happiness?

Probably not, although many have tried. Numerous books have been written on the subject of happiness, from The Art of Happiness (Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler) and The Book of Joy (Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu) to a plentitude of articles or even books from people claiming to be “personal development” masters. Although researchers and psychologists agree (to a point) that happiness is something personal, and cannot really be defined in the same manner for everyone, there are still people looking into this subject, trying to identify patterns, procedures that everyone could follow in order to achieve this ultimate goal.

All books and articles on the subject propose different ways of achieving happiness: have different experiences, be nice to others, eat good food, have a great career, focus on family, focus on friends, focus on the job etc. Which one to choose? Choose only one? Choose more than one? Follow them all? Not an easy task to find happiness, that is clear…

Researchers have tackled with this subject as well, utilizing different methodologies (from quantitative surveys to exploratory qualitative studies) and offering quite different results and conclusions. One recent research called HappyDB caught my attention. A research collaboration between University of Tokyo, MIT and the Recruit Institute of Technology resulted in a huge database of 10,000 respondents, each of them sharing 10 of their happy moments, as they perceive them.

All respondents had to answer one simple question: What made you happy in the last 24 hours? Through this simple question, an opened source database of 100,000 happy moments was created. With everything that is happening nowadays around the world, it is a really enjoying activity to go through the database, seeing what makes different people happy.

If you want to know more on this interesting subject, you can read the official research paper here. Also very interesting is the analysis made by Nathan Yau, a statistician writing for FlowingData.

Yau explains his analysis process of the database at the beginning of his article: “Using (basic) natural language processing, I parsed out the main subject, verb, and object of each happy moment. My parser isn’t perfect. Only individual words are categorized rather than phrases, it only uses the first sentence in multi-sentence statements, and it tended to have difficulties with incomplete sentences.
Nevertheless, it seemed to do enough to extract patterns in all these moments. I started with a straightforward look at the most used subjects, verbs, and objects. Read over the separate parts, and you get a rough idea of what these happy moments are about.”

The results are interesting to say the least. The method used is simple, with flaws, but effective. What is clear for me at least is that, as mentioned at the beginning of this article, happiness is not something that can be mathematically defined, a process that everyone can follow in the same manner in order to achieve the desired result. But it is not that complicated either: from Yau’s analysis we can see that most of the happy moments were related to small details and events (e.g. "Had a good lunch at Santa Barbara"; "I went to the gym with my girlfriend and had a very nice time"; "I found a $10 bill from a coat that I haven’t worn in months" etc.).

As Audrey Hepburn once said, “The most important thing is to enjoy your life – to be happy – it’s all that matters”. And a small addition from me: enjoy the small things!

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