What is Happiness?
Happiness can be as elusive as a butterfly to some people, and to others it can be a constant companion. The answer to the question “What is happiness?” can also be very different, but we all share something in common: knowing that happiness gives us a sense of peace. To some, happiness is love and family, to others it is success in their career, to others a mere walk on the beach.
August is National Happiness Happens Month, a time when we should all stop and ask ourselves important questions such as “what is happiness?”, “what makes me happy?, and “how does happiness happen?”
How Do We Define “Happiness”?
The author of Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman, believes that happiness is a combination of pleasure (feeling good), engagement (having a life full of activities that we enjoy), and meaning (feeling that we are here for a reason or purpose).
The Dalai Lama says that having compassion for others is the key to long lasting happiness – “the kind that sticks.” By looking at the world with a broader view and feeling empathy for others, we learn not to dwell so much on our own problems and can perhaps see how lucky we actually are.
Daisaku Ikeda, Buddhist teacher, answered “What is happiness?” by proposing that happiness is achieved only when we have conquered our own weaknesses, regardless of our position in society.
Although these are all different viewpoints, none of them is contrary to the other.
So Then, What is Happiness to You?
Happiness is an intensely personal state of mind. What might make one person happy might make another miserable. We are all very different in our likes and dislikes, as well as our goals in life. Some of us view our lives as a spiritual quest, and others want to sample as many earthly delights as possible.
So, by its very nature, defining “happiness” is puzzling. One thing that scientists agree upon, however, is that each individual is fairly accurate about judging their own happiness.
Flash back to a few hundred years ago – culture was more likely to be a “nose to the grindstone” society. Smiling or showing happiness could be signs that a person was not dedicated enough to religion or work ethic. Society required a more serious demeanor and less lighthearted joy.
The “Happiness Revolution”
When the founders of the US put the line in the Declaration of Independence that all men have the right to the pursuit of happiness, that statement was revolutionary! Looking back, it is odd how that would be something that needed to be stated so vehemently.
Part of the “happiness revolution” also came about because of the opportunity to become upwardly mobile. The US didn’t have systemic class divisions, so a person could experience more things and achieve more in the openness of the society.
What is “Happiness” Around the World?
Even today, cultures have different happiness standards. Peter N. Stearns of The Harvard Business Review points out the saying in Russia that “a person who smiles is either a fool or an American.” He describes the challenge that McDonald’s faced when opening outlets in Russia; it was difficult to get cashiers to greet customers in a friendly way, something we all expect in the US. A “happy meal” would certainly have been an idiosyncrasy.
Forbes ranks the happiest countries, with many Scandinavian countries topping the list. Australia and New Zealand also come in the top ten. The US ranks in the top twenty. Surprisingly, one of the top factors in determining the happiness of Scandinavian countries is their ability to trust their fellow man and their country’s institutions. They feel a sense of community unfamiliar to most of the rest of the world. They even trust their government to truly have the citizens’ best interests at heart.
(Photo by Marcy Keller)
Wherever you go and whatever you do, you still have the possibility of a happy life, just by changing your outlook. Being grateful for what you have, however large or small, seems to be a common trait advised for appreciating life more thoroughly.
Many spiritual gurus recommend keeping a journal to record all the things you are grateful for in your life, to remind yourself of how happy you really are. Many therapeutic approaches suggest counting smiles and taking photos of things you see in day-to-day life that make you smile. Remember the smiling, happy moments.
Ultimately, what is happiness? It boils down to one thing: knowing a true and individual meaning for yourself.
What is happiness to you? What makes you happy? Leave us a comment or tell us on Twitter.