- What is happiness exactly, anyway?
- 1. Happiness is not about being wealthy
- 2. Happiness is not feeling joyful 24 hours a day
- 3. Happiness is not a destination, it's a journey
- So, what exactly is a good definition of happiness?
- Written by Calvin Holbrook
- How to Live a Happy Life
- Born Happy?
- Happiness Is Up to Us
- Why Happiness Matters
- Ingredients for a Happy Life
- Positive Emotions
- Strengths and Interests
- Good Relationships
- Finding Meaning and Purpose in Life
- Get Happier
- What Is Happiness, Anyway?
- What does it mean to be happy?
- Where does happiness come from?
- How do you define happiness?
- What is happiness made of?
- What are your happiness values?
- How to create happiness
- Even more ways to create happiness:
- Turn your happiness definition into a map
- What is Happiness? Learn About a Better Definition of Happiness You Can Use to Become Happier
- What is Happiness? A Definition of Happiness
- What Are Your Essential Needs to be Happy?
- WE PROMISE stands for:
- Going Deeper – How to Build a Happy Life
What is happiness exactly, anyway?
What is happiness? It’s the eternal question that’s been on the lips of philosophers, theologians and regular people you and I for centuries. Much more recently, this question has received a great deal more attention from the scientific community. But does all the recent research into well-being bring us any closer to a well-rounded definition of happiness?
Well, before getting into what science has discovered about what happiness truly is, perhaps it’s first easier to rule out what happiness definitely isn’t.
1. Happiness is not about being wealthy
Data from the first half of the 20th century – a period of world wars and depression – indicated that happiness levels increased as household incomes rose. Researchers used to believe that more money made people happier. However, this is not the case nowadays.
And while living in poverty surely makes happiness harder to achieve, recent research suggests that after a certain point, money does not buy us any more happiness.
In a well-cited 2010 study by Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton from Princeton University, a magic number was put on the relation between happiness and income: $75,000 (€65,000).
The researchers found that money increases happiness up until this amount annually, but exceeding that amount, there is no rise in happiness.
What is happiness? Experiences with loved-ones is one of its main elements
One key exception to money not leading to happiness is when you choose to spend your cash on experiences, specifically with friends and family. In their book Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending, authors Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton showed that spending our hard-earned cash on experiences or investing it in others does makes us happy.
“By giving to another person, you’re… creating a connection and a conversation with that person, and those things are really good for happiness,» says Norton, an associate professor of marketing at Harvard Business School.
2. Happiness is not feeling joyful 24 hours a day
When trying to answer the question 'What is happiness?', science also suggests that happiness does not come from feeling happy all of the time. Indeed, almost all happy people will experience periods of sadness in their lives. In fact, what researchers have found is that humans have a baseline level or 'set-point' of happiness.
This psychological term describes our general level of happiness, and all humans have different set-points: those with higher ones will be happier most of the time compared with those that have a less joyful outlook (and lower set-point).
“What is happiness? Science suggests that happiness does not come from feeling happy all the time. Almost all happy people will experience periods of sadness in their lives.”
It follows then that unhappy life events shift happiness levels below their set-point while positive or exciting events boost your happiness levels above your set-point. However, sooner or later, when the life event finishes, happiness levels returns to their natural base level (that's why we often feel the 'holiday blues' when coming down from the high of a recent trip).
RELATED: 6 ways travel boosts your mental health and happiness
3. Happiness is not a destination, it's a journey
Many people still view happiness as a destination to arrive at after they’ve achieved certain tick-lists: the well-paid job, the partner, the mortgage, the kids, the latest hi-tech gadget or pair of sneakers.
Happiness is flow: find what you love to do and do more of it!
But often we forget that we're living in the present, and this is key: to experience happiness as journey and not a destination. wise, it takes effort to gain and maintain happiness. Indeed, many techniques for becoming happier – such as writing a gratitude journal or exercising – only work if they are regular habits and not one-off events.
On the contrary, one-off life events such as getting married or getting a promotion will bring some short-term happiness but this will quickly wear off (remember that set-point?).
So, what exactly is a good definition of happiness?
Now we know what it isn’t, how can we define happiness? In her well-respected book The How of Happiness, positive psychology researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky defines happiness as: “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.”
So, day-to-day pleasure and meaning in life (through job satisfaction, for example) are considered two key factors in defining what happiness is. This resonates with the ancient Greeks who believed happiness consisted of two parts: Hedonia or pleasure, and Eudaimonia or meaning.
More recently, positive psychologists – such as Martin Seligman in his 2002 book Authentic Happiness – have added the component of ‘engagement’ or ‘flow’ to the happiness definition. Combining these trio of happiness components – pleasure, meaning and engagement – psychologists have come up with a scientific term for defining happiness: subjective-well being (SWB).
What is the definition of happiness? © /Greater Good Science Center
So, your SWB, or happiness, is a combination of how good you feel on a daily basis, how satisfied you are with your life (does your life have meaning?), and how engaged you are with both activities that you love and your network of friends and family.
Luckily, aside from our genetics – which determine or set-point of happiness – we can keep working on the happiness variables by enhancing engagement, meaning and purpose in our lives. Indeed, with consistent practice, we can create life-long habits which will ultimately lead to a more satisfying, fulfilling and joyful life. Now that’s our definition of happiness! ●
Written by Calvin Holbrook
Calvin edits the happiness magazine, as well being an artist and lover of swimming, yoga, dancing, and all things vintage! Find out more.
How to Live a Happy Life
We all want to be happy. But we sometimes think of happiness as a thing that happens to us — something we have no control over. It's easy to link the idea of happiness with the situation we're in. We might tell ourselves, «If only things were different, then I'd be happy.»
But that's not really how happiness works. Research shows that just a small portion of happiness (only about 10%) depends on a person's situation. So where does most of our happiness come from?
Part of happiness depends on personality. Some people have a naturally happy nature. We all know people who are cheerful and optimistic most of the time. Their upbeat personalities make it easier for them to be happy.
So what does that mean for people who are born with a personality that's on the grumpy side? They might see the faults in people and situations instead of the good. Their mood might be glum more often than it's cheerful. But if they'd to be happier (and who wouldn't?), it is possible to get there.
Happiness Is Up to Us
Researchers have found that more than half of happiness depends on things that are actually under our control. That's really good news because it means everyone can be happier.
A big part of how happy we are depends on our mindset, the habits we practice, and the way we live each day. By learning the key ingredients of happiness, we can use them to become happier.
Why Happiness Matters
Happiness is more than a good feeling or a yellow smiley face. It's the feeling of truly enjoying your life, and the desire to make the very best of it. Happiness is the «secret sauce» that can help us be and do our best.
Here's what researchers found when they studied happy people:
- Happy people are more successful.
- Happy people are better at reaching goals.
- Happy people are healthier.
- Happy people live longer.
- Happy people have better relationships.
- Happy people learn better.
Ingredients for a Happy Life
Happiness is so important in our lives that it has it's own field of research called positive psychology. Experts in this field have found that there are key things that make people happier:
Joy. Gratitude. Love. Amazement. Delight. Playfulness. Humor. Inspiration. Compassion. Hope. Creativity. Interest. Excitement. Enjoyment. Calm. We all to have these positive feelings.
Besides feeling good, positive emotions do good things for our brains and bodies. They lower stress hormones, help ease anxiety and depression, and improve our immune system.
Feeling some positive emotions every day has a big effect on our happiness and well-being. That's why it's so important to do things that give us positive feelings. Even simple actions playing with a child or a pet or going for a walk outdoors can inspire these feelings.
Knowing how to manage our negative emotions is also key to happiness. Difficult emotions are a fact of life. But the way we handle them makes all the difference.
Strengths and Interests
The things we're good at, and to do, are our strengths. We all have strengths, even if we haven't discovered them yet.
- the things we're interested in — for example, music, art, science, building things, cooking, reading
- any skills we have — painting, playing an instrument, or playing a sport
- our good qualities — such as kindness, humor, or leadership
Happiness increases when we discover a strength and practice it. The more we practice a strength, the better we get until we really master it.
When we get really good at doing something we enjoy, we can get lost in it. That's called flow. Experiencing flow helps boost happiness. Finding daily ways to use our strengths is a key ingredient for a happy life.
The people in our lives matter. Good relationships are one of the best ways to enjoy happiness, health, and well-being.
Developing certain emotional skills can help us form and keep good relationships. When we are there for the people in our lives — and when they're there for us — we are more resilient, resourceful, and successful.
Here are some of the skills that help us build good relationships:
Finding Meaning and Purpose in Life
Our lives can be busy with day-to-day activities and responsibilities. Many of us multi-task, so we might race ahead, thinking about the next place we need to be. But slowing down to pay attention to what we're doing and why builds happiness.
Pay attention to the effects of your actions. Notice the ways (big or small) that you make a difference. Live life the values that are important to you. Take time to think of what really matters to you ( helping others or protecting the planet).
In what way do you want to make the world a better place? Notice any small daily actions that point you in that direction. They help give your life a sense of meaning and increase happiness.
When our lives are rich with positive emotions, great relationships, strengths to practice, and a sense of purpose, we are ready to accomplish things.
Setting and achieving goals gives us something to put our energy into. It lets us see how we make a difference.
Put effort into things that matter to you. Do your best at whatever you try, without a need to be perfect. If things don't work out at first, keep an optimistic mindset and try again. Believe in yourself and your dreams.
Set realistic goals and small action steps to turn dreams into realities. To make a success even sweeter, celebrate it with people you care about.
OK, so you can learn how to be happier by managing your mindset, calming your mind, becoming more confident, using your strengths, building your self-esteem, doing things you enjoy, and creating good relationships. That's a lot of things to think about! You can't tackle them all at once. But you can start small and pick one thing to work on.
The best way to reach any goal is to begin with small, specific actions. After doing these for a while, they become habits — things that fit into your day without you thinking about them too much. That's when you move on to build a new daily habit. Achieving small, specific goals can add up to big happiness!
What Is Happiness, Anyway?
Happiness is defined differently depending on who you ask. Some people define happiness as a positive emotional experience. Others define happiness as having two parts called hedonia (pleasure) and eudaimonia (thriving). Outside of the scientific world, most of us define happiness as a mixture of positive emotional experiences and a deeper sense of meaning and purpose in life.
What does it mean to be happy?
If we've defined happiness as both positive emotions and meaning in our lives, happiness is a state where we might experience personal positive emotions contentment, ease, or joy.
But we also experience prosocial positive emotions that give us a greater sense of meaning—emotions connectedness, gratitude, and compassion.
Here's a little exercise to help you explore what happiness feels .
Where does happiness come from?
Although we often think happiness comes from the things that happen to us, science suggests that happiness largely comes from our brains. That's why changing the way we think can increase our happiness even if we make no changes to our lives.
For example, when we focus on positive words (by memorizing them) it activates regions of your brain associated with these words.
So if I think of the word «adventure,» it will ly activate my memories of adventure and the positive emotions associated with adventure.
This not only feels good in the moment, but it can also make it easier to generate these emotions and thoughts in the future. That's because when any region of the brain is activated, it gets stronger. So memorizing or focusing on positive words can make positive concepts, memories, and feelings easier to access in your brain.
Not sure which words are positive? Scientists have measured thousands of words to determine how positive they are. You can Google to create your own positive list of words or use our positive word flashcard book. If you're struggling to shift your thoughts to be more positive, this can be a great way to start activating those «positive» bits in your brain.
How do you define happiness?
Although scientists have their ideas about what happiness is, there are also differences between people in how they define happiness.
I've been inviting people to explore and share definitions of happiness on my website for the last few years. And it turns out that regular folks us define happiness a bit differently than the scientists.
Happiness is a bit more about the actions we take in our daily lives. Here are some of the most common examples of what people said their happiness is:
- Family, friends, and relationships
- Sun, nature, and being outdoors
- Doing things you enjoy
- Thought processes gratitude and self-compassion
- Financial security and safety
- Purposeful work
- Accomplishing, creating, or achieving something
What is happiness made of?
Another way to define happiness is by breaking it down into its parts.
For example, how many people believe their happiness comes from gratitude, and how many people believe their happiness comes from empathy? In another activity, I invite people to explore what strategies contribute to happiness from a selection of choices. Here are the percentages of people who believed each skill contributes to their happiness:
What are your happiness values?
Another way to think of your definition of happiness is to explore your happiness values because not all aspects of happiness are equally important to all of us.
My ecological mini-study on happiness values resulted in some of the most interesting findings yet. I invite people to share their happiness values, or basically the positive emotions they most value.
After analyzing the qualitative data, we found that there were three types of happiness seekers (but some people were more than one of these types).
- The Energy Seeker: Energy seekers value emotions passion, excitement, enthusiasm, confidence, and feeling triumphant, exhilarated, or inspired.
- The Connection Seeker: Connection seekers value love, connection, appreciation, or being secure.
- The Goal Seeker: Goal seekers value being productive, appreciated, satisfied, and sometimes secure, confident, or proud.
It is possible that knowing which emotions you most value, you can get clearer on your definition of happiness and reach it more easily.
How to create happiness
Now that we know what happiness is, how do we create it? Well, there are lots of different happiness skills we can build.
Which of these happiness-boosting skills to build depends on you, and what happiness-boosting skills you struggle with most (take this quiz to learn more about your happiness strengths and weaknesses).
When we focus on building the skills we struggle with most, we can more usually more effectively boost our happiness.
Once you know what skills to build, use happiness-boosting activities that build these skills. For example, you could practice positive reappraisal, learn how to capitalize on your strengths, or manifest experiences in your life that give you more meaning.
Even more ways to create happiness:
- Learning how to think positively
- Cultivating resilience
- Practicing gratitude
- Improving social relationships
- Practicing mindfulness
- Improving your positive emotional attention
- Savoring the moment
- Imagining your best self
Check out my list of 101 ways to get happier here.
Turn your happiness definition into a map
Whenever we want to accomplish anything, we benefit from creating a plan or map to get there. The same is true for happiness. So once you know what happiness is and how you define happiness you can start growing your happiness.
But as you go, be careful not to be too hard on yourself. We all struggle from time to time and we are happier if we can self-compassionate towards ourselves. We really can increase our happiness one baby step at a time if we believe in ourselves.
If you want to learn more about what happiness is, check out this video on the longest study of happiness:
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What is Happiness? Learn About a Better Definition of Happiness You Can Use to Become Happier
How often have you said, “I just want to be happy”?
How often have you said to someone else, “I just want you to be happy”?
Have you ever stopped to consider exactly what happiness means? What, exactly, is this happiness you are wishing for?
It matters because it’s hard for your wishes for happiness to come true if you aren’t clear about exactly what happiness is.
What is Happiness? A Definition of Happiness
Possibly the best place to start defining happiness is by defining what it is not.
Many people believe that happiness is having fun at a party, the excitement of new experiences, the thrill and passion of sex, or the delights of a fine meal. These are all wonderful experiences to be cherished and cultivated but they are not happiness.
These experiences are the definition of pleasure. They are experiences to have and let pass. A meal to savor, then digest. A party to enjoy then let wind down. The passion to enjoy and the warm afterglow to linger in.
Pleasure is fleeting and must be if it is to continue to please us because if we have these joyful experiences all the time, our brains adapt and turn pleasure into routine. Once that happens, it takes even more to make us feel good again. Chasing pleasure is not happiness.
So, if happiness is not the same thing as pleasure, then what is happiness?
Happiness is…a warm puppy. Just kidding, warm puppies are pretty nice but I’m putting the puppy squarely in with pleasure. After all, would it still be fun to hold a warm puppy for a month? I don’t think so. So, what is happiness?
Happiness is when your life fulfills your needs.
In other words, happiness comes when you feel satisfied and fulfilled. Happiness is a feeling of contentment, that life is just as it should be. Perfect happiness, enlightenment, comes when you have all of your needs satisfied.
While the perfect happiness of enlightenment may be hard to achieve, and even harder to maintain, happiness is not an either /or case. There are nearly limitless degrees of happiness between the bliss of enlightenment and the despair of depression. Most of us fall somewhere between, closer to the middle than the edges.
What Are Your Essential Needs to be Happy?
Since happiness is when your life fulfills your needs, the next logical question is, “What are my needs?”
Over the millennia many have offered answers to this question and nearly all came back with too simple answers to what is, at its core, a complex problem.
Let me ask you a question. Would you say that you, all humans, are complicated to understand? Of course you are. We all are. If we weren’t life might be much simpler but also much less rich. That complexity means that there are no simple, one-size-fits-all answers to what makes us happy.
Our individual needs vary our genetics, how we were raised, and our life experiences. That complex combination is what makes each of us unique, both in our exact needs, and in every other aspect of what makes us the person we are.
We may each be complex but we are all human and that provides the foundation on which we can discover our essential human needs. Just as we are all born looking human on the outside, we all share common basic needs on the inside. Where we differ is exactly how strongly we feel each of those needs.
I to think of each of us one of those big recording studio mixer boards, the ones with all the sliding controls and knobs, some of which interact with each other, some working separately, all working together to produce the final product. We’re that.
Each knob and slide may be set a particular way, the way that produces the person we are. Each of us is the same model of mixer board, let’s call it Homo Sapiens 1. We each have the same knobs and sliders but we each have them set a bit differently.
Our current theory, largely new scientific discoveries about how the brain works and on current happiness theories, has identified 9 universal and overlapping human needs which go by the handy acronym WE PROMISE.
WE PROMISE stands for:
- Wellbeing – mind-body connections, aspects of your physical body that affect your mood, and vice versa
- Environment – external factors safety, food availability, freedom, weather, beauty, and your home
- Pleasure – temporary experiences such as joy, sex, love, and eating
- Relationships – as a social species, relationships are at the foundation of what it means to be human
- Outlook – how you approach the world through adventurousness, curiosity, and making plans
- Meaning – having a purpose and the wisdom to understand it
- Involvement – to be happy you have to be engaged and actively involved
- Success – confirmation from yourself and others that what you do has value
- Elasticity – how you recover from life’s inevitable negative events
These 9 categories cover the range of human needs in a very general way and are intentionally overlapping, just as our thoughts and feelings overlap in our mind.
For example, the thrill of a roller-coaster ride is a mix of: fear (Elasticity), joy (Pleasure), adventure (Outlook), shared experience (Relationships), safety (Environment), upset tummies (Wellbeing), the courage to ride (Involvement), and the reward of having done it (Success). All these are experienced in one event, many at the same moment in time.
While the WE PROMISE categories are a convenient way to organize and simplify our universal needs, they are just the beginning – we are each more complex than that.
Within each category are 5 to 10 specific items which we call Happiness Essentials™, for a total (as of this writing) of 58 “knobs and sliders.”
Going Deeper – How to Build a Happy Life
To go in-depth about WE PROMISE and your Happiness Essentials, I have created a special 14-part series, “The Keys to Happiness: Your Ultimate Guide to Building a Lifetime of Fulfillment and Satisfaction” which not only explains much more about the WE PROMISE categories and all of your Happiness Essentials, but shows you how to build a Happiness Plan, and even compute your Happiness Index to give you a measurement of your happiness which you can track over time.
To get “The Keys to Happiness” e-series, please click here now.
Wishing you happiness and fufillment,
Kenneth Benjamin and the Happiness International team