The Martindale Essay Competition 2018
On 14th March, the LIV, UIV and LV were treated to a presentation from Charlotte (UIV), the winner of this year’s Martindale Essay Prize. Given the topic Is Happiness Achievable?, Charlotte used her essay to explore mindfulness, altruism and the importance of feeling a range of emotions. Her well-researched presentation to the three year groups was engaging and confident, making her a worthy winner of the prize. Congratulations also to the two runner's up, Alexandra and Diya, both UIVL.
You can read Charlotte's winning essay below.
“Is Happiness Achievable?”
For a person to find a way to happiness, they have to understand what happiness is. The Cambridge dictionary definition of happiness is ‘the feeling of being happy’. This simple phrase makes happiness seem easy to achieve, which some types of happiness are. However, most worthwhile things are not easily obtainable, so that suggests that the type of happiness that can be found quickly, is fleeting and not worth looking for. A searcher of happiness can therefore conclude that there is more than one type of happiness; some are found quickly and lost quickly, whilst one is lasting. It then leads to the question, what type of happiness is worth searching for? To some, the answer might be any they come across, but others want a more lingering feeling of general contentment that will last for longer than the action that caused it. To find this state of happiness, a certain mindset is needed. From as far back as Ancient Greece, people have been trying to find a route to a happy life. Antisthenes, an Ancient Greek philosopher, believed that virtue lead to happiness and fulfilment, rather than pleasure or money. He taught that by looking out for others instead of for yourself, a person can live a happy life. This is the base for most further research and speculation into living a happier life.
In the image I have chosen, you can see people walking through a park. You might notice that a large number of these people are staring at their phones or their companions, or even just at the path they are walking along. Instead of admiring their natural surroundings and enjoying the present, one man is even taking a photo of his friend which, as most people will be able to relate, he will probably only glance at once or twice before deleting. Dr Martin Seligman, an American psychologist mainly in the field of positive psychology and author of a number of bestselling books on the topic, writes that happiness has three parts; the Pleasant Life, the Good Life, and the Meaningful Life. Dr Martin Seligman includes thinking about the past, present and future in the Pleasant Life. According to Dr Martin, we should think constructively about the past, hopefully about the future, and mindfully about the present. Most humans generally spend a large amount of time worrying about the consequences of the past or the trials of the future. This amount of negative thoughts will not help find a route to happiness, alternatively it will leave a person further than ever away from achieving their goal. Most people find it hard to not judge themselves on previous mistakes they have made, and humans have a natural fear of the unknown (in this case the events of the future) so the easiest one of Dr Martin’s steps to leading a happier life is to be more mindful in the present. This can be practiced, try doing yoga or meditating for five minutes a day. The small proportion of people walking through the park who are looking around and taking in the sights and sounds are more likely to have a better average happiness level than the people absorbed in the visual world contained in a small metal box.
Lasting happiness, the hardest type to achieve but arguably the most worthwhile, is something that many people strive to find at different parts of their life. Some give up quickly; having not found it, some believe they have discovered it only to watch it slip away as the pressures of everyday life destroy the fleeting happiness, whilst others keep searching and are disappointed regularly as they fail. A very small number of people achieve what they seek. A large percentage of this tiny portion of people will have done this by stopping searching around them and looking inside of themselves to find it. There are very few situations we can change such as having to get a job to earn money, meeting people we do not like, or having to go to school during the week. However, we can change our reaction to them. The saying ‘Every cloud has a silver lining’ is a good example of how to do this. This proverb consoles the reader by reminding them that even if they can not find a good side of a situation, there is one. To discover lasting happiness, this is what needs to happen in a person’s mind. Rather than being all doom and gloom by only seeing the negatives of an event, try and look for the positives. This will boost someone’s wellbeing and increase their happiness as well.
The illusion that money leads to happiness is mainly false. Based on research conducted by Bruno Frey and Alois Stutzer, there is little connection between happiness levels and income once a person has passed a salary of $10,000 (this research is from 2002 so the amount is probably outdated). Until then however, the amount of money earned by a person does have some effect by how happy that person is in their day to day life. It is more important for a person to do things that bring them joy on a regular basis, such as spending time with friends or family, competing in sports events, or even just reading a book. Little money is necessary to do most of these things, so a person could assume that to be happy, a citizen only needs as much money as it takes to cover the costs of their and their family’s basic needs (food, shelter, clothing), with a small amount extra that can be used to participate in the things that make them happy. For most people, this is not an extremely large sum of money.
Returning to the image I have chosen; even if the people in the image are not enjoying their surroundings, most of them are still with friends or family. Social interactions are essential to happiness. When Dr Seligman was studying a group of especially happy people to find out why they were so happy, he discovered, along with Diener, that each person had a circle of close friends. Spending time to develop relationships with other people is an excellent way to boost a person’s average happiness, like the people strolling in the park with their friends and family are doing. Combining this social interaction with a hobby is another good and easily achievable way of becoming happier. For example, a football fan could gather a group of friends to play football in one of their gardens or in a local park. This activity has the added extra of being physical, which means that in the space of an hour a person could put themselves in a positive and happy mindset that might last them a couple of days. Repeating this action will lengthen the amount of time the person is left with a feeling of contentment. It does not take long to create a feeling of lasting happiness, it just takes a small amount of effort.
Happiness is achievable. Some types of happiness are easier than others to achieve; eating a favourite food will create a feeling of happiness that will not last for much longer than the action of eating the food, whereas playing a sport will result in a feeling of happiness and contentment that will extend past the end of the activity. It is things that create a more lasting feeling of happiness, such as sport or meeting with friends, that are worth doing to boost a person’s overall well being, rather than eating comfort foods or watching a movie by yourself. Repeating actions that make a person happy for a long period of time will increase the person’s overall satisfaction with life. This does not mean that a person will be continually happy as without sadness and disappointment happiness has little or no meaning, but it does mean the person will have a more positive outlook on life and will feel happiness more than a person who does not repeatably do activities that make them happy. So instead of searching for eternal happiness our entire lives, we should focus on things that make us and those around us happy in our day to day lives.