People prefer happiness over unhappiness.
Hedonic happiness is an emotion, experienced as pleasure and enjoyment, which may be fleeting. Functional MRI studies have mapped the neural correlates hedonic and eudaimonic happiness. Generosity (giving), reward (receiving, including retirement), social reward and emotional closeness in adolescents, positive relationships, certain kinds of music, recall of autobiographical happy events, antidepressant medications, have been found to be positively related to happiness on fMRI imaging. A default mode network has been identified as a useful guide for measuring and confirming happiness. However, brain mapping of emotions appears to be extremely complex, and a detailed map of brain activity in relation to particular emotions remains elusive. This has led some researchers to favor a “conceptual act theory” of emotion.
Still, arterial spin labeling is another MRI technique that has been developed, and used to study moods in adolescents, Responses to facial expressions and vocal expressions have been extensively studied; curiously, physical exercise appears to interfere with emotional face processing. Early life stress and trauma, schizophrenia and depression are highly influential. Combat PTSD can be treated with specific focus on the amygdala.
Several regions of the brain appear to be involved in processing happiness. Individual studies have identified the rostral anterior cingulate cortex, precuneus, anterior cingulate gyrus, precuneus and posterior cingulate cortex and cerebellum, mediodorsal and anterior thalamus, ventral posterior cingulate and amygdala, amygdala and cerebellum, as significant processing areas for happiness and unhappiness in the brain. A particular neural network appears to control emotional response to affective touch. Neural relationships for happiness processing have been found between the prefrontal cortex and amygdala.
Regardless of what scientific inquiry may reveal, happiness is an experience. People were happy or unhappy, long before fMRI imaging was available. No explanation is required for why happiness is a basic preference, or desire. However, our growing body of scientific knowledge and theory (for example, the Pemberton Happiness Index) should facilitate the development of parenting, educational and therapeutic approaches to happiness.
- Pablo Picasso, The Happy Family (1917)
- Gustav Klimt, The Beethoven Frieze: The Longing for Happiness - left wall (1902)
- Gustav Klimt, The Beethoven Frieze: The Longing for Happiness Finds Repose in Poetry - right wall (1902)
- Judith Leyster, Self-Portrait (c. 1635)
- Nicolas Poussin, Dance to the Music of Time (1634)
- Tintoretto, Allegory of Happiness (1564)
Film and Stage
On the shadow side:
- Playtime, this comedy about a “family that inherits a lot of money, tries to put on fancy airs, loses its soul, and only finds itself again when the fortune is taken away” suggests that happiness is not found in modern toys
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
“Oom-pah is a term that's become slang a large body of traditional German, Austrian, Swiss and Eastern European music. We most frequently see it performed at celebrations of Octoberfest, a traditional Bavarian festival held around Halloween. This is not a single style of music, but a wide variety of styles including Polkas, Mazurkas, Schottishes, Waltzes and Landler.” “Oompah music is a term that encompasses several forms of horn-centric music played in Eastern European countries. Oompah is played by brass bands and gets its name from the thump-thump-thumping of the tuba, one of the most important pieces for any self-respecting Oompah band.” Tragically, this music became associated with Adolf Hitler, who rose to power in Munich, and frequently spoke in the iconic Hofbräuhaus, where oom-pah music still provides joyous entertainment for locals and for tourists from around the world. Curiously, not much oom-pah music is available on YouTube, except for a couple of groups:
- Bavarian Oompah Band, with its playlist;
- Bavarian Brass, with its playlist, especially the album “20 Favourites from Munich Oktoberfest Germany”.
Polka music, as it is known in parts of the United States, such as Pennsylvania and the Midwest, is associated with Poland but “originated in Bohemia (in western Czechoslovakia) around 1830 as a round-dance, and became popular throughout Europe and in America in the course of the 19th century.” Its Bohemian origins match its joyful character. Fpb’s singer explains, as the players illustrate. Top polka-music artists in the United States include:
- Myron Floren, who was a true accordion virtuoso – although his playlist includes collections of non-polka tracks, “24 Polka’s Greatest Hits” best represents his art;
- Frankie Yankovic was perhaps the finest polka-band leader in the United States, as demonstrated on his playlist;
- Six Fat Dutchmen was a tuba-heavy group that hewed most closely to the Bavarian oom-pah tradition, as demonstrated on its playlist;
- Fritz’s Polka Band is another excellent representative of this music, with its playlist.
Conjunto “music is Texas 'roots' music that dates back to the end of the 19th century. Like Blues and Traditional Country, it tells the stories of the everyday lives of the working class. It is also dance music, characterized by a strong, unrelenting beat and bright accordion melodies, evidence of the fusion of German and Mexican immigrant cultures in south Texas at the beginning of the 20th century.” Top conjunto artists, with their playlists, include:
- Narciso Martinez, with a playlist of albums and a flat playlist;
- Lydia Mendoza, with her extensive playlist;
- Flaco Jiménez, with his playlist;
- Tony de la Rosa, with his playlist;
- Valerio Longoria, with a playlist of albums and a flat playlist;
- Paulino Bernal, with his playlist;
- Conjunto Villa del Mar, with its playlist;
- Conjunto Alma Jarocha, with its playlist;
- Los Chavalitos, with its playlist;
- Los Pinkys, with its playlist;
- Los Texmaniacs, with its playlist, and in concert;
- Intocable, with its extensive flat playlist.;
- Tejano Conjunto festival in San Antonio, 1992.
Irish jig appears to date back several hundred years, or perhaps 2,500 years. “Although the exact roots and origins of early Irish dancing are lost in time, there is evidence to suggest a linkage between early forms of Celtic dance and that of modern Irish dance. The Celts were sun worshippers who practiced a pagan dance within a circular formation of stones which has some commonality to the circular formation of Irish set dancing. Celts were also said to have danced clockwise in circles on happy occasions and anti-clockwise when mourning.” Top exponents, with their playlists, include:
- Téada, with its playlist;
- Goitse, with its playlist;
- The Dubliners, with its playlist;
- Planxty, with its playlist;
- Lúnasa, with its playlist;
- Altan, with its playlist;
- Dervish, with its playlist.
Then we have music from New Orleans’ Mardi Gras:
- Johhny Wiggs, with his playlists and his flat playlist;
- Mardi Gras Indians, with its flat playlist;
- Pete Fountain, with his extensive playlists;
- The Wild Tchoupitoulas, with its playlists.
- Robert Radecke, Symphony in F Major, Op. 50 (1877) (approx. 33’), “draws on the post-Beethovenian symphonic tradition and sonata form; nodding to Brahmsian themes and accompanimental patterns; a large-dimensional four-movement form; some Joachimian glimpses in the first movement's secondary theme; a Mendelssohnian elfin mood; and a varied and vivid use of instrumentation.”
- Raga Suha Kanada (Suha Kanara – Suha Kannada – Suha Kannara) is a Hindustani classical raag for early evening. Linked performances are by Manilal Nag in 1985, Manilal Nag live in Tokyo in 1985, Manilal Nag on the World Music label, and Kishori Amonkar in 2014.
- Johnny Wiggs and Raymond Burke: “Big 4” (120’); “Mardi Gras & New Orleans Classics 1952-1957” (94’)
- Martin Bruhns, “Picaflor” (2021) (30’): “. . . a fresh venture into the fertile grasslands of the Peruvian Mantaro Valley, home of the proud Wanka people and the music equivalent to Jamaica as a holy birthplace to many contemporary Andean riddims, particularly the widely celebrated genres of huayno and chicha.”
- Steven Bernstein’s Milennial Territory Orchestra, “Good Time Music (Community Music, Volume 2)” (2022) (37’), “reflects musical lessons drawn from his collaborations with Levon Helm and Larry Campbell, combined with Duke Ellington and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Indeed, all those influences filter through these half-dozen frequently raucous tracks, featuring the boisterous, soulful belting of Catherine Russell.”
- Marius Neset, “Happy” (2022) (49’): “'There is a ‘message’ in the title of this album,' says Neset. 'It’s very simple, but also a very strong one. We had a great time recording the album. A week in the studio, day and night, everyone was loving it. And that long process of making it has essentially been whittled down…into the happiest moments we had.'”
In came a fiddler with a music-book, and went up to the lofty desk, and made an orchestra of it, and tuned like fifty stomach-aches. In came Mrs. Fezziwig, one vast substantial smile. In came the three Miss Fezziwigs, beaming and lovable. In came the six young followers whose hearts they broke. In came all the young men and women employed in the business. In came the housemaid, with her cousin, the baker. In came the cook, with her brother's particular friend, the milkman. In came the boy from over the way, who was suspected of not having board enough from his master; trying to hide himself behind the girl from next door but one, who was proved to have had her ears pulled by her mistress. In they all came, one after another; some shyly, some boldly, some gracefully, some awkwardly, some pushing, some pulling; in they all came, anyhow and everyhow. Away they all went, twenty couple at once; hands half round and back again the other way; down the middle and up again; round and round in various stages of affectionate grouping; old top couple always turning up in the wrong place; new top couple starting off again, as soon as they got there; all top couples at last, and not a bottom one to help them! When this result was brought about, old Fezziwig, clapping his hands to stop the dance, cried out, "Well done!" and the fiddler plunged his hot face into a pot of porter, especially provided for that purpose. But scorning rest, upon his reappearance, he instantly began again, though there were no dancers yet, as if the other fiddler had been carried home, exhausted, on a shutter, and he were a bran-new man resolved to beat him out of sight, or perish. There were more dances, and there were forfeits, and more dances, and there was cake, and there was negus, and there was a great piece of Cold Roast, and there was a great piece of Cold Boiled, and there were mince-pies, and plenty of beer. But the great effect of the evening came after the Roast and Boiled, when the fiddler (an artful dog, mind! The sort of man who knew his business better than you or I could have told it him!) struck up "Sir Roger de Coverley." Then old Fezziwig stood out to dance with Mrs. Fezziwig. Top couple, too; with a good stiff piece of work cut out for them; three or four and twenty pair of partners; people who were not to be trifled with; people who would dance, and had no notion of walking. But if they had been twice as many--ah, four times--old Fezziwig would have been a match for them, and so would Mrs. Fezziwig. As to her, she was worthy to be his partner in every sense of the term. If that's not high praise, tell me higher, and I'll use it. A positive light appeared to issue from Fezziwig's calves. They shone in every part of the dance like moons. You couldn't have predicted, at any given time, what would have become of them next. And when old Fezziwig and Mrs. Fezziwig had gone all through the dance; advance and retire, both hands to your partner, bow and curtsey, corkscrew, thread-the-needle, and back again to your place; Fezziwig "cut"--cut so deftly, that he appeared to wink with his legs, and came upon his feet again without a stagger. [Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (1843), Stave II: The First of the Three Spirits.]
Novels and stories, from the dark side:
- Tove Ditlevsen, The Trouble with Happiness: And Other Stories (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2022): “In Tove Ditlevsen’s World, Happy Families Don’t Stand a Chance”.
- Claire Stanford, Happy for You: A Novel (Viking, 2022): “Big Tech Wants to Commodify Your Happiness”.
If I when my wife is sleeping / and the baby and Kathleen / are sleeping / and the sun is a flame-white disc / in silken mists / above shining trees,— / if I in my north room / dance naked, grotesquely / before my mirror / waving my shirt round my head / and singing softly to myself: / “I am lonely, lonely. / I was born to be lonely, / I am best so!” / If I admire my arms, my face, / my shoulders, flanks, buttocks / against the yellow drawn shades,—
Who shall say I am not / the happy genius of my household?
[William Carlos Williams, “Danse Russe”]