The Pursuit of Happiness


Every Monday, I receive an English newsletter with links to the most important articles on Italian affairs and culture that appeared over the week in the Corriere della Sera, one of the oldest newspapers in Italy. Some time ago, between titles such as “Italian Red Tape” and “Berlusconi’s Two-year Ban Upheld”—nothing new under the sun—my eyes latched on “Italy’s Happiest Cities.”

Happy. The word alone evokes colorful images of laughing people, full of joy, at peace with themselves, loving one another, and walking into a sunny ever-after future. The Happy song by Pharrel Williams is currently topping the charts all over the world with its infectiously enjoyable melody and cheerful words. Who doesn’t want to be happy? I do! I bet you do! The people in this beautiful country called Italy do! Yet, when we ask people how they’re doing, many answer with a bleak, “Si tira avanti.” “I’m dragging myself forward.” Not the typical idea of a happy statement. Italians are unhappy with Italian politics, justice, taxes, and many are not only worried about their future and their kids, but daily struggling to make ends meet.

The title “Italy’s Happiest Cities” carried a positive note, a promise of hope. I followed the link to the article, but soon discovered it wasn’t about real happiness. Instead, it described the ihappy index.

A group of researchers, Voices from the Blogs, analyzed over forty millions of Italian messages twittered in 2013. According to the Voices, the city with the highest ihappy index in 2013 was Genoa, in the north-west of Italy, closely followed by Cagliari on the isle of Sardinia. “Un-ihappy” cities were Milan, Turin, and Naples.

To me, more interesting than these figures are the explanations. What does Italians make happy? Curious, I continued reading. The number one factor influencing ihappiness was… the weather! Italians are rather sad during the winter months, with exception of the Christmas holidays, when they twitter sheer happiness. The index jumps at the arrival of spring. The day of the week is also responsible for important variations and—surprise!—Monday tweets are the saddest of the week. In addition, the geographical position is an important factor; the more south and the closer to the sea, the brighter the tweets. Some events can also explain for variations in ihappiness, such as a new prime minister, a natural disaster, or a soccer match.

Obviously, one can question the representativeness of the Twitter medium and, therefore, the validity of the conclusions. For example, how honest are people in their tweets? Some research has indicated that people tend to be more honest when they text then when they talk. However, have you ever heard about “lies of omission”? Another relevant question is whether people using Twitter in Italy are representative for the whole nation. One website tells us that Twitter penetration in Italy is among the lowest in the world (5%).

Anyway, the Voices from the Blogs don’t pretend that their conclusions represent the entire Italian nation. They clearly state that they consider Tweet contents, nothing more, nothing less. It’s the Corriera della Sera article that suggested more than the research could offer.

Still, I’m a little disappointed about the ihappy factors, which are either trivial (weather, weekdays, soccer) or obvious (politics, disasters). I’m not saying I’m disappointed in the Italian people—actually, I’m pretty sure that Twitter happiness research in any other western country would have similar results, suggesting that our happiness depends on external factors.

But, then again, are we really talking about happiness here? Or just about a temporary glee that fades away over the weekend or pours down the drain with the next rain shower?

Now back to the article, which started with two beautiful sentences (although they misled me in thinking that the topic was real happiness):

“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. The words immortalised in the United States Declaration of Independence remind us that the desire to be happy is a fundamental part of everyone’s life.

I (European) didn’t know that the pursuit of happiness was one of the pillars on which the US are founded. In fact, further research taught me that the US Declaration even states that pursuing happiness is one of the unalienable Rights (with a capital R) of every person, which their Creator provided to them. More than beautiful: wonderful. It is clear that now we are talking about more than a superficial “up” in our mood. If it is a God-given right, it must be profound and lasting.

Well, from personal experience, I can confirm.

I have lived many years as an atheist. I was convinced that I had the right to be happy. However, separated from my Creator, I was pursuing happiness from a very egocentric point of view—that is, often at the cost of other people. Furthermore, in my desperate quest for happiness, I sought in all the wrong places and I never found it! Oh yeah, I had my cheerful moments, but most of them were false highs. They did fade away and got poured down the drain. They never lasted. The pit grew deeper and the emptiness bigger, and nothing—no human love, no work, no knowledge, no holiday—could fulfill my longing.

Until I gave my life back to my Creator, and His Spirit joined with mine, filling up the void. Then I discovered what it means to be truly happy: living in the presence of the loving God, in the center of his will for my life. He gave me identity, value, and direction. He fills my life with joyful purpose. I am complete now.

You make know to me the path of life:

In your presence there is fullness of joy;

At your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

                                                           –Psalm 16:11 (ESV)

Interesting links to info about:

  • Honesty on Social Media

  • The use of Twitter in Italy

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