— Sydney J. Harris
Happiness is often thought of as an elusive concept; a destination everyone seems to be pursuing, yet very few of us actually seem to have reached it. Everyone seems to have a different idea and method of what attaining happiness looks like, and everyone swears by their own journey, which begets the questions: How can we really attain happiness? Is there any one way to do it? Why is it so important for us to be happy, anyway? What even is the universal definition of happiness? Does any such definition even exist?
The short answer is both yes and no. The longer answer is a little more nuanced than that.
What is happiness, anyway?
As with all research we start our research by looking up the definition of being happy on the internet. The Oxford Dictionary defines happiness simply as the “state of being happy”, which doesn’t quite tell us much.
Thankfully, being a world renowned dictionary, it also has the definition for being ‘happy’ itself, which is “feeling or showing pleasure or contentment”.
The second definition gives us a little more to work with. We realise that happiness has more to do with an emotion, or a state of being rather than a permanent trait. Being happy refers to the feelings of joy, contentment, excitement, and other general positive experiences of emotion, and as is the case with all emotions, the feeling of happiness comes and goes.
Essentially, a universal definition of happiness would pertain to this experience of experiencing some form of positive emotion. Yet, the nuance comes in in the form of how different this happiness may look and feel from person to person. Psychology research has identified three different types or levels of happiness experienced:
- Pleasure: Often referred to as the “simple pleasures” of life, this level represents the immediate joy one gets from short-term, positive emotions. This can result from maybe eating a great meal, meeting your friends, or watching a good show. And these pleasures and small joys are absolutely important for our day to day lives, since they lead to the release of endorphins that keep us optimistic and eager for what’s to come next. Yet, it’s also important to note that these singular pleasures and moments may not necessarily equal long-term, sustained happiness.
- Passion: This brings us to the next type of happiness, that arises from a more thoughtful and in-depth assessment of what interests and drives us. The pleasure of contributing to, and being involved with a group, a cause, or a task that one personally aligns with may deliver relatively long term contentment, and also provide a sense of achievement and growth in life.
- Purpose: The last level of happiness depends upon a larger process of meaning-making, and finding one’s purpose or ‘calling’. It pertains to the more long-term happiness and deep fulfillment that may come with feeling like you are part of something bigger than yourself, or on the path to achieving your full potential. People high in this type of happiness tend to have greater self awareness, and harmony with their values and goals, as varied as those may be.
We see that happiness is complex; a positive feeling, but it’s experience individually defined. A combination of a lot of experiences, but not limited to just those. Inclusive of worldly pleasures, but also global meaning-making, happiness is both part of our external world and events, and our internal growth and development.
Perhaps it is this global, higher level happiness that we all seem to be seeking, which is an ongoing process of awareness, change, and movement rather than one static point that we can suddenly achieve one day. And in the process of figuring out what this means for our own individual lives, we also need to acknowledge the value of the other two types of happiness that enrich our everyday lives as well.
So, why is happiness so important?
It is a healthy combination of these that can provide numerous benefits to our lives, such as better relationships with our peers, colleagues, and loved ones, more ease navigating through the ups and downs of life, a deeper sense of meaning and satisfaction, and even higher chances of being a more charitable, kinder, and supportive presence for the people in our live. A happy lifestyle can also have health benefits such as better overall immunity, better mental health and ability to cope with mental health challenges, as well as a chance of living a longer, healthier, and more content life.
It’s easy to see why people want to be happy, and that despite the regular highs and lows of life, a relatively consistently happy outlook and life experience is more beneficial for our overall well-being. Which brings us to the big question.
How do we achieve happiness?
The eternal question. Psychologists, doctors, philosophers, me, you, your family, your friends, and everyone else, we’ve all asked ourselves this question at least once in our lives. None of us have really settled on one singular vision of happiness, but a lot of people have achieved their own visions of it. The first step would be to figure out what happiness looks like for you.
Ask yourself what gives you joy in your day to day life. Are you someone who likes to eat delicious meals? Or maybe you enjoy writing your notes or do your work with some specific stationery materials? Perhaps you could just enjoy the pleasure of a job well done or getting some rest at the end of a long day? Whatever your definition of happiness is, whether it’s by yourself or with other people, it is a valid definition. Try to incorporate these simple pleasures and joeys into your everyday life, perhaps by preparing your lovely meals, using those cute pens you’ve been wanting to, calling the people you love, and allowing yourself to enjoy your life. Take care of your mental and physical health, and take out little slivers of time to feel the warmth of the sun or the joy of the everyday. These moments could provide you with the optimism and joy needed to be able to work on your long term goals and self-development processes.
For the long-term contentment, we all have to work on understanding our own journeys. We try to figure out what drives us and makes us tick, not necessarily for the rest of our lives, but just for right now and the foreseeable future. Do we wish to do good for others and help? Do we really care about a particular topic or field? Do we absolutely enjoy doing a certain type of task or creating something? Is there anything or anyone else that we really wish to do this for? Can we do this for a while?
These questions allow us to reflect on what we, as individuals, value. The answers to these questions may change over time, and that’s okay. Change is a part of growth, and changing our direction is a part of sustaining our happiness. Look for what delights you, take your time with it, and when you find it, pursue it for as long as you desire. Happiness is a journey we all take, marking our own tracks but doing so alongside so many others. The journey can take some time to figure out, and sometimes it seems to twist and turn and even go downhill, but if we keep trying, and enjoying the little moments along the way, then the people you meet, the places you go, and the experiences you gain are what will make it all worthwhile.
So, chin up, best of luck, and happy travels!
“You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting,
So, get on your way!”