Some thoughts on the pursuit of happiness

Corey Keyes, PhD

What does it truly mean to be in good mental health? How are good mental health and mental illness connected? That is, does being in good mental health simply mean the absence of mental illness, or is there more to it than that? And how do people achieve a healthy state of both body and mind?

These are some of the complex questions Emory researchers brought to the fore in a discussion over lunch last month.

Speaker Corey Keyes, an Emory sociologist, made clear the absence of illness does not necessarily mean the presence of health. He noted that the ancient Greeks batted around the subject of mental health, specifically, happiness. Some championed emotions and pleasures as a path to happiness, others tranquility, freedom and reflection. But only recently, during the last 10 or 15 years, he says, has there been a fresh focus on what good mental health, or happiness, means. Keyes has studied the role of mental well being in predictive health and disease prevention and is affiliated with the Emory/Georgia Tech Predictive Health Institute.

“For me, the presence of good mental health and bringing together those two traditions of happiness is to flourish,” says Keyes. “And to flourish means to feel good about life and to function well. But we have to start looking at people who feel good but aren’t functioning well, and that’s half of the adult American population.”

Researchers aren’t yet sure exactly what makes for a happy, flourishing soul, or why some people feel good but don’t function well, but they’re working on it.

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