Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is one of the most memorable phrases from the US Declaration of Independence. Few would argue with the sentiment. But, perhaps, the pursuit of happiness is not as necessary as we might imagine. In fact, to some extent, it appears as though happiness actually pursues us.A recent research study published in the prestigious journal “Science” suggests that, our moods - highs and lows - follow fairly predictable patterns. Looking at data from Twitter, the study examined the tweets of 2.4 million users across 84 nations. This ocean of personal musings was trawled for both keywords and emoticons - like :)) or :(( - broadly indicative of people's moods.The findings were remarkable for their cross-cultural consistency. Across all 84 nations, there was a crest of positivity after breakfast, which declined throughout the day, hitting a daily low late in the afternoon, and then a second peak of positivity occurs in the early evening.Tweets were also relatively more positive on weekends, but even then, the highs and lows followed the same weekday pattern, which rules out a simple "people-dislike-work" interpretation. The analysis also focused on Twitter data from the UAE, where the same patterns emerged, but with weekend spikes occurring a day earlier, in line with the country’s weekend schedule.So there's no need to pursue happiness. For most of us, it tends to arrive as regularly as clockwork - late in the morning, and early each evening.Jalal Al-Din Rumi, the 13th century poet, suggests that the human mind is like a guesthouse: "Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all."This poem is often used as an integral part of a very successful psychotherapy for depression known as “Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy”. The poem is used to illustrate the transience of our mental states, helping clients cultivate more accepting and detached attitudes towards the regular visitors we call moods.A take-home message: happiness visits us all occasionally, but will never take up long-term residence.This cyclical patterning of mood is something neuroscientists have attributed to the brain's circadian system, commonly referred to as the body clock. Several theories of depression point to disturbances in this clock as playing an important role in the depression's onset. Similar rhythm disrupting experiences, such as long-haul flights, can radically alter people's emotional states, even triggering manic depressive episodes in vulnerable individuals.But, perhaps, it is the pursuit, rather than the actual arrival or attainment of happiness that is important. There is a difference between the anticipation of pleasure and its actual consummation. Another 13th century Persian poet, Saadi of Shiraz, suggests: "There is a difference between him whose friend is in his arms, and him whose eyes of expectation are upon the door."Undoubtedly, the anticipation of pleasure is one of the greatest motivators known to man. There are, however, individuals with depressive and psychotic illnesses who demonstrate what is known as "anticipatory anhedonia". This is a state where the individual has a diminished ability to anticipate deriving pleasure from anything. Such a view of the world kills motivation, leading to chronic inactivity and social withdrawal.So, while the pursuit of happiness might be slightly misguided, it is, for the most part, a healthy, helpful delusion. Better still would be the cultivation of a more realistic view of happiness, one where it is uncoupled from achievement, wealth and status.These ideas have important implications for today's young people, those who, right now, are pursuing their dreams, working hard at their studies and trying to get their grades up. For optimum well being, however, a balance needs to be struck between anticipated rewards and realistic expectations of what the future may actually hold.We dedicate years to teaching our young people technical and professional skills for the workplace, but very little effort goes into helping develop the skills required to hold down relationships, and weather life's inevitable upsets and setbacks. We teach them how to make a living, but nothing about living. I am sure offering a bachelor of science degree in happiness would at least be popular, if not very practical.

nThe writer is an assistant professor of psychology at Zayed University. This article has been reprinted from The National.