Sitting at the computer preparing to write the first of many blogs on "happiness" is a daunting task. Despite the fact that happiness has always been something that people are interested in, the amount of public information on the subject has exploded in the past decade.
A quick (and entirely unscientific) search on barnesandnoble.com, the online bookseller, produces over 31,000 results for books on "happiness" – of which nearly 8,000 are categorized as "self-help" books – and of those approximately 6,000 were published in or after 2000. There are also thousands of articles, documentaries, blogs and movies dedicated to the topic of happiness. Clearly, there is a strong public interest in happiness and the benefits that come from being happy.
In a typical chicken-or-egg scenario, it is unclear whether public interest in happiness spawned academic research the subject - or vice versa. Regardless, in the same period of time, Happiness Studies emerged as a serious subject of academic inquiry.
For example, in 2000, a group of scholars launched the Journal of Happiness Studies, a peer-reviewed journal devoted to the scientific understanding of "subjective well-being" (a fancy way of saying "happiness"). Within its pages, scholars from philosophy, sociology, economics, psychology and many other disciplines share the results of their research. Many of these studies get translated into popular sources of information that populate our bookshelves, newsstands, coffee tables, tablets and smartphones.
To try to process all of this could quickly produce information overload (a condition which almost certainly diminishes happiness). So our goal is twofold.
First, we will focus on happiness research particularly as it relates to our community and to local efforts to make Tucson and Southern Arizona a happier place to live – because research shows that happiness is a great indicator of other positives including health and prosperity. Research from the social and behavioral sciences – fields such as sociology, economics, political science, communication, psychology, geography and anthropology – are ideal for the knowledge we seek, because these disciplines study people and our connections with each other, the world around us, and our past. These connections define our everyday experiences, including our happiness and well-being. The information on happiness produced by social and behavioral sciences gives us precisely what we need to conduct explorations within the context of our own community.
Second, given our tremendous local talent, we will give special attention to information on happiness and "subjective well-being" coming out of the UA.
To those ends, we want to share with you two "happenings" in Tucson this fall. The first is the Happiness Downtown Lecture Series, presented by the UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences every Wednesday at 6:30pm at the Fox Tucson Theatre from October 16-November 13. This year, the series will feature five UA professors whose research provides insights into happiness. For more information, visit the Downtown Lectures Series homepage or call (520) 621-1112. In conjunction with the lecture series, Pima County Public Library will host weekly Happiness Community Conversations on five consecutive Saturday afternoons, beginning October 14. The conversations will follow up on the lectures and encourage "next steps" for Tucson's residents in order to create a happier and more prosperous Tucson. For more information visit the Pima County Public Library’s Community online calendar or call Anita Fonte at (520) 331-5582.
We look forward to interacting with you through this blog. In the coming weeks, we will specifically explore the relationship between income and happiness and what the research says about it. In the meantime, please let us know what books or other sources of information you have read about happiness – and how you found them to be useful, particularly as they relate to our community.