A little more than two centuries ago, life expectancy in Europe was thirty years—the same as in Sierra Leone today: just long enough to learn to survive, with luck, and achieve the evolutionary purpose of reproducing. There was no future, and so no possibility of setting an undreamed-of goal, such as being happy. This was a question that was relegated to the next life and depended on the gods.
The scientific revolution has led to the most important change in the entire history of human evolution: the prolongation of life expectancy in the developed countries, resulting in over forty years that are redundant—in evolutionary terms. The latest laboratory experiments point to a possible life span of up to four hundred years. Thus, scientific advances have dealt individuals the time to enjoy a period of extended life in which we can covet the goal, perhaps unique among animals, of happiness. People have dived into these unknown waters with practically no help. With the sole exception of the preamble to the United States Declaration of Independence (based on Jefferson’s reading of John Locke), in which the citizen’s right to seek happiness is established, there is no organized inkling of such a birthright in the history of political or scientific thought. Perhaps, despite the flashes of pleasure that pass our way and the long-term contentment that sometimes seems within our reach, we have no right to expect such an outcome. Animals in the wild, after all, are too busy surviving to feel happy, much less be aware of it or make it a goal. And yet this same embeddedness in day-to-day survival prevents them from unhappiness. Being happy would thus appear not only to be a human concern, but a human concern of relatively recent vintage. And now, for the first time, the scientific community is attempting to light the way.
A bestseller in Spain, this book has been translated and expanded for an American audience. Americans are, after all, culturally unique in having a founding document that ensures, along with life and liberty, the pursuit of happiness as a universal right. Thanks to the good grace of my friend Lynn Margulis, who put me in touch with Chelsea Green, a publisher unbeholden to corporate interests, I am happy—so to speak—to bring you the results of my personal voyage to find the heart of happiness. It is an elusive heart, to be sure, but a warm-blooded, beating one that is well worth the search. The voyage ahead of you is necessarily scientific. I am not only a great believer in science, but as the interested and at times fascinated host of the most popular science show on Spanish television, I have had the distinct pleasure of interviewing, over the course of decades, a great many of the world’s top scientists. How does happiness relate to love, sex, money, drugs, work, children, and music? The answers are less obvious than one might think.
Happiness, of course, is an emotion, although it may not be such a continuous one as many would hope. Although what I have to say will, I think, benefit most, if not all, readers in their quest for contentment, what I have to say is particular and specific in that it presents a picture of the modern science of happiness seen through one man’s eyes and filtered through one man’s brain—namely, of course, mine. Ironically, however, the particular vantage point is ultimately more, not less, scientific than a generalized treatise presented in the passive voice of a scientific paper. For there are no impartial or completely objective vantage points when it comes to a topic of such archetypal subjective importance as happiness. Come with me then on a voyage both personal and public, a journey recognized over two hundred years ago by your founding fathers as an individual privilege so sacred that—after life and liberty—the state should guarantee its protection: happiness, and its perplexing pursuit.
The journey to happiness has just begun, and its end is uncertain. Paradoxically, precisely now, leading scientists are sounding a warning cry: lethal threats loom so large that the actual odds of achieving happiness are only 50 percent.
Even if we could achieve it, the global threats caused by the stockpiling and proliferation of nuclear weapons, the depletion of energy sources, the increasing climatic threat of global warming, chemical and biological substances in the hands of terrorists, the misuse of genetic manipulation, nanotechnology, and robotics are roadblocks on the journey toward happiness. Unlike the hurdles of the past, which were of natural origin, those of today are often as not induced by the human mind itself, which could now, alternately directed, travel the road to happiness. This book springs from my fascination with the impact of science on everyday life. Its aim is very simple: to make accessible to you the most recent scientific discoveries concerning the search for happiness. For the most part, these impacts have been proved empirically in humans and other animals. But not enough time has elapsed for them to be identified by the bulk of the population, or consciously harnessed in the behaviors of the twenty-first century. I admit here and there to taking a leap of faith, and even introducing some of my own speculations. However, my overarching aim throughout has been to tie together the dangling threads of research: to weave of them, if you will, a not-so-magic carpet on which each of us can ride to fulfill that most worthy goal and arrive at that most satisfying destination. The culmination of this effort, presented in the final chapter, presents, in a mathematical formula, an actual working recipe for happiness as newly understood by science.