- upper intermediate and advanced discussion.
- vocabulary about emotional states.
- discussion lesson on health and happiness for individual lessons and groups.
- essays based on the questions can be used for homework.
- for self-study: just read and think out your answers to the questions in English and try to write them down.
- post any specific questions in the comments below.
A. People today are obsessed with happiness. We’re seeing psychologist, taking anti-depressant pills, doing yoga, trying alternative medicines, buying self-help books and products like vitamins and herbs more than ever before. And all with the hope of making our lives happier and healthier. Do you think these really help or are we just trying to find something that past generations seemed to have understood better?
Which of the following statements do you agree with and why?:
- Happiness is something humans have always desired.
- You can’t be happy without good health and you can’t be healthy without happiness.
- It’s easy to say what happiness is or what makes a person happy.
- Money can’t buy you happiness, but being poor is a sure way to be miserable.
- Modern life is easier than it is stressful compared to ancient times.
- Most people are capable of happiness, some people simply are not.
- You can make yourself happy if you know what you need and try to find it.
- It’s healthiest to not drink any alcohol or take drugs.
- You can’t know what happiness is without suffering (feeling pain and discomfort).
B. What are you thoughts on these questions:
- What does it mean to be happy? To be constantly smiling or generally satisfied.
- Are some people naturally happy or sad?
- How important is a healthy lifestyle?
- How important is quality relationships?
- How important is having a respected job or position in society?
C. Before you read, check that you know the following vocabulary in context:
- scenic route / ˈsinɪk rut or raʊt / (adj.+ n.) – the path that may be slower but much nicer to look at.
- aspiring / əˈspaɪərɪŋ / (adj.) – to direct your hopes and ambitions towards a goal e.g. an aspiring actor.
- centenarian / ˌsɛntəˈnɛriən / (n.) – person who lives to be 100 years old or more.
- tout / taʊt / (v.) – to promote or advertise the qualities of something
- bear in mind (phr.) – remember to take into account. Keep in mind.
- GP (abr. n.) – General Practitioner / prækˈtɪʃ(ə)nər / – a general doctor who handles common medical problems versus a specialist.
- mortality (n.) – death
- ailment / ˈeɪlmənt / (n.) – a disease, typically a minor one.
- boost / bust / – to help or encourage someone or something to increase or improve in performance or power.
- regulate – to make normal or meet a standard
- spouse / spaʊs / – a husband or wife.
- companion / kəmˈpænjən / (n.) – a person or animal that you share experiences with over a long time like a pet dog, a good friend or spouse
- phenotype / finəˌtaɪp / – genotype is the set of genes an organism has, the phenotype is how those genese are expressed in an individual. Identical twins are two phenotypes of one genotype.
- rural / ˈrʊrəl / (adj.) – relating to the countryside outside of the city or town.
- outlook (n.) – your attitude towards life or the possible result of a situation.
- floss / flɔs or flɑs / (n. or v.) – string used to clean between teeth.
- artery / ‘ɑrdəri / (n.) – tubes that carry blood to the heart, often red compared to veins, which are often green.
- premature (adj.) – happening sooner than expected or is normal. E.g. Steve Jobs died prematurely.
D. Discuss or write about new health and lifestyle advice that you would like to give to yourself or someone you know. It can be based on this reading, new research, or other information you already know. Think of your or the person’s situation, what they specifically need to improve in their life, which are the most important and what steps they should take to make a real change.
Part II. Happiness and Human Psychology: Envy, Jealousy, and Altruism.
- envy /ˈɛnvi/ – unpleasant feeling caused by someone else having nicer things, better luck or opportunity than you.
- jealousy /ˈʤɛləsi/ – it means basically the same as envy, but jealousy applies more to human relationships, such as a jealous husband who may worry about men looking at his wife.
- altruism /ˈælˌtruˌɪzəm/ – behavior that benefits another at one’s own expense. For example, giving money to the homeless, or feeding a dog costs us money or resources but we don’t get anything directly in return. It’s an act of kindness.
B. Problem to consider:
- 1. Research shows that the pleasure you receive from gaining $1,000 is of weaker magnitude (how strong or intense something is compared to another) than displeasure of losing $1,000. For example, the magnitude of winning a $1,000 might be a +7 on a scale from -10 to +10. While losing $1,000 might be a -10. Why should losing be 3 points stronger than winning if the amount of money is the same? Shouldn’t losing be -7 just as winning is +7? What do you think?
- 2. To complicate the matter the research further demonstrated that your neighbor winning a $1,000 is the same as you losing $1,000. So for them it’s +7 and for you it’s a -10. This seems to set humans up for jealousy and envy, which generally doesn’t make us happier. Do you think humans are genetically set up for unhappy emotions like jealousy and envy from the start?
- Explanation: Think of this from a survival perspective. Our genes and bodies are made for an environment where resources like food were very scarce. So if you get a meal it’s good, but it’s only a +7. But if you don’t get a meal, you could die. So not getting the meal should be much worse, a -10, because of what’s at stake (what you can win or lose in a situation) i.e. lunch vs. starving to death.
- If you live in a social group and your neighbor gets the food ( or in modern life a new car, house, iphone etc.), it’s the same as you losing the food, it also serves to motivate individuals when members of the group start to do better. Envy and jealous seem to be nature’s way of motivating us to stay competitive (being as good as or able to beat others) with other people or risk being eliminated from the gene pool (the set of all the genes that make up humans). In order to survive and pass on our genes, we have to compete when resources are limited.
- 3. So if humans are so competitive, then why don’t we just steal and kill each other even more?
- We do steal and kill, but it’s actually quite rare compared to altruistic behavior. We get very angry when people steal and kill in order to get ahead, and it’s considered bad because it’s human nature to be good and helpful to each other, most of the time.
- These things are so bad and are in the news because we expect people to be nice and civilized automatically. It’s in our best interest to help each other and we do it all the time. Mothers with their children, the stranger who prepared your food, your coworkers at work. Most of the time things work well, and it’s clear that humans need each other. It’s those times when humans don’t cooperate that upset us so much. And with modern media, there is even more focus more on these negative things because it brings the world much closer.
- Did you know that death in war has been going down since the 1970’s. But news reporting has gone up. People are actually dying less, but we see it more, which creates the illusion of more death and destruction in the world.
What do you think? Is this a good explanation? What do you agree or disagree with?
Please leave any responses below in the comments.