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Tuesday Group: Timothy Loney: the social roots of joy and happiness

Updated: Aug 2, 2023

Timothy Loney came to educate us today on the social roots of joy and happiness, and how our relationship with those around us directly affect our personalities. Timothy has been a Sociology professor at Minnesota North - Vermilion Campus for 5 years. Sociologists seek to define a situation, and analyze the cause and consequence of certain relational behaviors between individuals. He is a wonderful educator, and our community is so grateful for his time and knowledge.

When we talk about joy, we are talking about an inward feeling: a spark. We may experience joy in helping others, in being thankful, grateful, or in having spiritual experiences. It is consistent, selfless, spiritual, meaningful, and a choice you have to make in your everyday life. When we talk about happiness, we think about an outward expression of our feelings. You may feel happiness in material gains, receiving awards, or in having earthly experiences. It is temporary, surface-level, and easier to achieve than true joy.

Family is very important in influencing peoples’ happiness. We learned that genetics cause up to half of our happiness, as studies show that up to 30% of variance in happiness between individuals can be attributed to genetics. The quality of family bonds mattered more to overall happiness than family income. Studies also found that peoples’ personality traits, inherited from parents, can directly influence happiness.

Individuals’ happiness is also influenced directly by relationships with people around them. Within romantic relationships, the ability to be vulnerable and intimate is one of the strongest predictors of health and happiness. Commitment-phobic individuals are among the most unhappy and discontent. Here again we see the power of belonging and connection in people’s lives!

On the macro level, people are drawn to the pursuit of happiness - for a lot of people, this is material happiness. Some individuals have the tendency to consider material possessions and physical comfort more valuable than spiritual and individual values. The idea of symbolic self-completion pushes many to collect material possessions, and the idea of a symbol of achievement from accomplishing a goal is meaningful for some individuals' self-identities. When we think of the pursuit of happiness, some of us also think of the iconic “American Dream”.

Timothy informed us of the strain theory, which explains that society puts pressure on individuals to achieve socially acceptable goals even though they lack the means to do so. These goals are often aligned with the idea of the American Dream, such as going to college, getting a high paying job, getting a nice house on a lot of land, etc. The strain theory does exactly what it says: it puts strain on people in society who cannot achieve these goals for a variety of reasons.

On a micro level, we were introduced to the social network theory which explains the role of social relationships in influencing peoples’ behaviors and attitudes. An analysis of longevity of happiness points to close relationships in your social network being one of, if not the highest predictor of sustained happiness. On an individual level, close relationships (whether romantic, familial, or platonic) influence our happiness the most and are worth pursuing for sustained happiness over material possessions. Close relationships take time and work to continue having; as material possessions may take work, they do not provide the emotional and social support the way relationships do.

In Ely, we get the unique opportunity to interact with the natural world unlike any other. Right on the edge of a beautiful wilderness area has its perks! Studies found that there are differences in personality, well-being, attitude, and behavior between those who have a connection with the natural world and those who do not. Nature connected people tend to be more conscientious, extroverted, agreeable, and open compared to their counterparts.

Tuesday Group is a unique opportunity to learn something you never knew before. We have the opportunity in Ely to connect with the community in ways that bring us both joy and happiness; Tuesday Group is a wonderful place to experience both. Community connectedness, educational discussions, and good food bring out the feeling of joy AND provide happiness. Next Tuesday, stop by the Grand Ely Lodge at 12PM to experience this community connectedness yourself.

Timothy Loney Speaking at Tuesday Group

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