Happiness. We all want to be “happy”, and much of our lives is spent in pursuit of happiness. But happiness can be elusive, or temporary. One of the leading causes of relationship break down is because one or both parties aren’t “happy”.
Happiness seems like a pretty important concept to understand, so what exactly is it? Where to start? Well, how about the dictionary. Since I don’t have one I’ll rely on good old Google.
Merriam-Webster defines happiness as:
- A state of well-being and contentment
- A pleasurable or satisfying experience
Let’s look at point b) first. If happiness is a pleasurable or satisfying experience, then it is a point in time event or activity. A good meal can be pleasurable or satisfying. So it was enjoyable, but did it make you happy? Sex can/should be pleasurable, and hopefully it’s satisfying. But does it make someone happy? Not necessarily. In fact it can make people unhappy, especially if they have regrets about doing it later. I would argue that sex can only cause happiness when it is done with someone you love. At that point it transcends the physical act and becomes both an emotional and spiritual connection (but that’s a topic for another day).
Looking at b), I would argue that it is not a suitable definition of happiness. A particular experience or action may be enjoyable, but it doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness. If I’m generally miserable, I have my doubts that satisfying meals can make me happy.
Now let’s look at point a), happiness is a state of well-being and contentment. This makes a lot more sense to me as it seems to speak to a person’s general take on life. What is your state? Are you a happy person or not? If you are a happy person, does that mean you are always happy? I would argue no. Everyone has good days and bad days. And even looking at a point in time slice of life, I think you can be happy about certain parts of your life without being happy about everything.
This makes me think of a sign I saw recently. I don’t recall the exact words, but it’s something like:
Happiness does not mean everything is perfect
It means you are willing to look beyond the imperfections
I’ve given that one some thought, and I don’t think it’s quite right. Depending on the scale of those imperfections it might not be realistic to look past them. For example, I don’t think anyone can or should “look beyond” things like abuse. So I’ve reworded it slightly:
Happiness does not mean everything is perfect
It means you are willing to look beyond the imperfections you can live with
And you are willing to try and resolve the ones you cannot
This concept of happiness links back to happiness as a state. It doesn’t mean things are perfect, but there is contentment with your current state.
Let’s look at another source. Wikipedia says happiness is:
“a mental or emotional state of well-being characterized by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy.”
“Happiness is a fuzzy concept and can mean many things to many people. Part of the challenge of a science of happiness is to identify different concepts of happiness, and where applicable, split them into their components.”
Wikipedia also views at happiness as a state. I like the fact that it refers to happiness as a fuzzy concept, because it is a difficult concept to define. How do you know if you are happy? How can you pinpoint it? And if you are happy, why are you happy? What causes you to be happy vs. being unhappy? How do you achieve this state?
I looked around a bit and found a pretty interesting article full of quotes from various people on what makes up happiness. At the end of the article the author says that happiness is a decision, that requires actions on our part. Some of my favorite quotes are:
Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.
Happiness is different from pleasure. Happiness has something to do with struggling and enduring and accomplishing.
Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude.
My Take on Happiness
Here’s what I think…
Happiness is an outlook, and it’s a conscious decision. We as individuals decide if we want to be happy. We decide how we want to view our lives, and we control the actions that lead to our own happiness. There are definitely outside influences that affect our ability to make these decisions. And events can occur that can impact our happiness (such as accidents, illness etc). But we are responsible for our own happiness.
I think of myself as a fairly happy person. If that’s true what is it that makes me happy? What are my sources of happiness?
First off (and most importantly), it comes from within. I’m not sure when, or how, but I have chosen to view the world through an optimistic lens. I believe that things will work out somehow. Even in difficult times I believe that I will get through things. Why do I believe that? I think that comes from self-confidence. I can look at myself in the mirror, and I am largely content with who I am, the things I have accomplished, and the potential for the future. As the sign I saw says, it doesn’t mean everything is perfect. There is lots of room for improvement and growth. But as a general state, I am content with my life.
My life isn’t exactly working out the way I expected at the moment, but that’s alright. I know I will get through this, and I know that I will still be able to have a happy future. I believe in myself and the decisions I have made. Adversity is an opportunity for learning and growth. Happiness comes from the decisions and actions that you make.
Thinking of everything above, here is my definition of happiness:
Happiness is a state of mind. It comes from a personal sense of fulfillment or accomplishment. It can be impacted by outside events, but it is something that largely comes from within. It results from a person’s decisions, and the actions they have taken.
In order to be happy, you have to be happy with yourself, and for that to happen you must have a strong sense of self-worth and identity.
No one is “always” happy, but to be a happy person you must have a positive outlook on the world. You must focus on what you do have, instead of what you don’t. You must be willing to overlook imperfections where possible, and be willing to work to improve on the things you cannot overlook.
Alright, I’ll admit that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue; and you won’t see it as a t-shirt slogan anytime soon. But hey, happiness is a complicated thing!!!
Happiness in Relationships
So now we’ve got my take on happiness. But how does that tie into relationships? Why do people find themselves “unhappy” in their relationships? From what we looked at above, happiness is a state of mind and it comes from within. A problem couples can get into is when they expect their spouse to make them happy. You need to be happy with who you are before you can be happy with someone else. Think of all the musicians and actors who looked like they had everything (wealth, fame, beauty) only to end up throwing everything away, or worse, dead through suicide or drug overdoses. My guess, these weren’t happy people.
A while back I came across the following quote, and I think it sums up a lot of where relationships break down.
Generally, people give up too easily on relationships. They expect the relationship to make them happy as opposed to them making themselves happy. A good relationship takes a lot of work. The only person that could ultimately make you happy is you.
If you are someone who is unhappy with where your life is at the moment, here’s something to think about. Perfection is an ideal that can not be attained. Nothing is perfect. No person is perfect and no relationship is perfect. But I’ll guess if you take a good look at yourself you will see that you have a lot to be thankful for. Take a look at your relationship and look at what is good about it, not at what is missing. Focus on the positives and allow yourself to appreciate what you have around you. If you can do that you will find your overall level of happiness will increase. Fix your own outlook on life and not only will the negatives in your life not seem so bad, but they will also be easier to approach and try to improve.