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PC Patrick Alejandro

The scientific pursuit of happiness

How do you live a life that’s good for you? A lecture last Thursday in the Albin O. Kuhn Library Gallery began with this centuries-old question of Socrates. As a part of the social sciences forum, Erik Angner, associate professor of philosophy, economics and public policy at George Mason University, delivered this mind-opening lecture he calls “The Science of Happiness.”

“The topic of the science of happiness has exploded at universities around the world through research in philosophy, economics and social psychology,” said Steven Yalowitz, associate professor and chair of the philosophy department here at UMBC. Both the philosophy and economics departments came together to organize this event.

Dr. Angner is unusual in holding doctoral degrees in both the history and philosophy of science and also economics, which makes his research especially well informed and interesting,” said Yalowitz. He was not wrong in pointing out the interest of this topic, as even the standing room was quite full.

After posing the aforementioned question to the audience, Angner introduced his lecture by saying, “throughout most of the last century, a number of people have started looking at happiness in an effort to come up with alternative ways to measure and model the welfare of individuals and social groups, including countries.”

His next introspective question for the audience was, “how could you possibly measure something as nebulous and abstract as happiness?” A major way in which this has been attempted is simply asking a person how happy they are on a scale.

The remainder of his lecture centered on what may or may not bring about people’s happiness. He discussed the ideas that health, wealth and goal-setting are related to one’s happiness and how they’ve been measured.

“There’s this idea that you can make yourself happier by being healthier,” said Angner. In one of the studies he conducted, a man suffering from nine different medical conditions ranked as highly as possible on the happiness scale.

The study on the relationship between income and happiness indicated that there’s a point where more money stops producing more happiness. Angner displayed a graph outlining this relationship in the United States between 1957 and 2002, which showed no significant increase in happiness despite an increase in income.

Angner also conducted a study that evaluated the quantity of goals one sets for themselves and it’s effect on their happiness. After surveying roughly 750 individuals, it was found that those who set a large number of goals for themselves have a tendency to not be as happy as one would expect.

One of the many attendees, Marissa Colella, a junior media and communications major and sociology minor, thoroughly enjoyed Angner’s take on happiness. “It was so interesting. I’ve actually read quite a few things on happiness and how it varies based on location.”

As it stands now, every individual would appear to have his or her own formula for happiness, and as Angner said, “what makes you happy is not at all obvious.” What makes you truly happy is a question that Angner believes should be a focus in everyone’s life.