Science behind the smile

AMHERST – Why is the United States never in the top 10 in worldwide surveys of happiness?

Can money buy happiness? And what is happiness?

Maria Sanders, who teaches philosophy at Plymouth State University, has been tackling those weighty questions for years. The “Quest for Happiness,” the name of her recent talk at the Amherst Town Library, has been at the core of philosophical studies for 2,500 years.

That was especially the case among the ancient Greeks. Socrates taught that it was a byproduct of wisdom. Aristotle thought it had to do with moderation. Sanders showed a “moderation cup” like the kind the Greeks invented that is designed to overflow if filled too much.

But only recently have scientists turned their attention to what makes human beings happy, and the results of these studies are now being used in good ways, Sanders said, as well as ways we should watch out for.

Coca-Cola, for example, is well aware of the research studies. The company has been sending its trucks to places such as Cuba and the Philippines with a simple marketing ploy: On each truck is a big red button to push, and out comes a bottle of Coke, or a surfboard, or an electronic device. The aim is to link happiness with Coke.

But happiness isn’t pleasure, and Coke “has clearly confused the two,” Sanders said. “Pleasure is not sustainable. It’s like a drug. You need more and more. … These are not wellness-based products.”

Science behind the smile

AMHERST – Why is the United States never in the top 10 in worldwide surveys of happiness?

Can money buy happiness? And what is happiness?

Maria Sanders, who teaches philosophy at Plymouth State University, has been tackling those weighty questions for years. The “Quest for Happiness,” the name of her recent talk at the Amherst Town Library, has been at the core of philosophical studies for 2,500 years.

That was especially the case among the ancient Greeks. Socrates taught that it was a byproduct of wisdom. Aristotle thought it had to do with moderation. Sanders showed a “moderation cup” like the kind the Greeks invented that is designed to overflow if filled too much.

But only recently have scientists turned their attention to what makes human beings happy, and the results of these studies are now being used in good ways, Sanders said, as well as ways we should watch out for.

Coca-Cola, for example, is well aware of the research studies. The company has been sending its trucks to places such as Cuba and the Philippines with a simple marketing ploy: On each truck is a big red button to push, and out comes a bottle of Coke, or a surfboard, or an electronic device. The aim is to link happiness with Coke.

But happiness isn’t pleasure, and Coke “has clearly confused the two,” Sanders said. “Pleasure is not sustainable. It’s like a drug. You need more and more. … These are not wellness-based products.”