The Higgs Boson of Happiness

So after an attempt at a catchy title, where am I going with this ?

Lovers of good science (and good writing) will be pleased to know I’ve decided against attempting to suggest any tenuous similarity between ‘the Higgs Boson providing mass to particles’ and ‘happiness providing substance to life’.

I’m going instead to suggest the tenuous similarity between scientists searching to understand the Higgs and Happiness – doing experiments, gathering evidence, and now thinking they’ve pretty much found the answer to both.

Of course all good metaphors break down at some point, this one rather sooner than most – but it was fun while it lasted.

While the search for the Higgs Boson is a success for both inspired theoretical physics and skilled engineering, the research to understand the basis of happiness may have the potential to be far more understandable and useful to far more people, at least in the short term.

Our happiness is important. Happy people are healthier, have better immune systems, are more productive, are less aggressive, have better mental health, are more socially engaged and ultimately live longer.


While science has only recently begun considering happiness – philosophers, politicians and (not least) self-help gurus, have been pondering the question for a lot longer – everyone has a view:

Happiness is a way of travel, not a destination - Roy Goodman

Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony – Gandhi

Happiness is health and a short memory - Audrey Hepburn

Happiness comes not from wealth and splendor, but tranquility and occupation – Thomas Jefferson

There is no happiness in any place except what you bring yourself – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Happiness isn’t real unless shared – Christopher McCandles


When it comes to how to be happy there is also no shortage of good advice available. Numerous books, websites and study programmes will suggest any number of the following are likely to increase your happiness:

Focus on the Present Moment

Be Grateful for What You Already Have

Foster a Sense of Optimism

Working Towards and Achieving Our Goals

Do What You Like – or at Least Like What You Do

Get More Physical Exercise

Force Yourself to Smile and Laugh More

Just ‘Choose to be Happy’


All the above suggestions are probably good advice, and most of the time would stand a good chance of making you happier. But the thing about happiness, is that it’s ultimately subjective. We’re all complex mixtures of our genes, upbringing, experience and circumstances, and there’s simply no single definition of happiness, or secret to attaining it that will satisfy everyone, all of the time.

After all if it was that easy we would have ‘nailed it’ as a species long ago.

But the latest scientific research indicates there is something we can do.

And it fortunately accords with our personal experience and common sense – which all seem to agree that there’s one thing above all others that makes us happy:

Spending time with, and doing things for, people we like.

There’s no question that the greatest levels of happiness are associated with spending time with people we like – note that this may well be our family, but not always . . . it turns our some of us actually find this more stressful than being by ourselves !

The Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman says: “it’s only a slight exaggeration to say that happiness is the experience of spending time in the company of people we love and who love us”.

It’s a finding that hardly seems like rocket science, after all if we think back to when we ourselves were happiest, we were probably with someone else.

But it is something we perhaps don’t act upon enough.

Many of us spend more and more time virtually with our screens and technology than in the company of our real friends. Also numerous surveys show as we become more time pressured as we get older we loose touch with our friends. A lot of people aspire to moving to remote, isolated large houses should they become wealthy – detaching themselves from friends and associates in the process !

Discovering the ‘fundamental happiness particle’ might not be as impressive as discovering the Higgs Boson . . . but for most of us, if it results in a few more evenings spent together with friends, then it might ultimately be more meaningful.


Photo by Gnomet, via Flickr

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  1. Lorna Prescott says:

    Hi Steve
    I like the tenuous metaphor!
    I’d be interested to know how your experiences of living more ethically have impacted on your happiness (or wellbeing, the two being obviously related), and if so, how.

    • Lorna – I think you might win the prize for my most frequent commentor :o)

      Good question . . . actually I’m working on a ‘my own personal journey’ type post – watch this space.

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