Happiness is a state of generalized well-being associated with feelings of pleasure, joy, and satisfaction.
What is Happiness?
Philosophers, clergy, mental health professionals, and numerous others have debated the meaning of happiness for generations, and happiness is a highly subjective concept. While happiness is sometimes used interchangeably with joy, pleasure, or glee to denote a fleeting emotion, happiness is more typically used to refer to long-term feelings of well-being and satisfaction. Happiness does not necessarily mean freedom from suffering, stress, or negative emotions. Instead, happiness indicates overall satisfaction and a tendency to view one’s life as good, meaningful, and fulfilled. Some criteria common to many definitions of happiness include:
- Feeling satisfied with the direction one’s life is going
- Holding oneself in high regard and being forgiving of your mistakes and shortcomings
- Finding satisfaction in simple pleasures and in relationships
- Having several areas of fulfillment in life
- Having an optimistic disposition and tending to see the glass as half full
- Viewing setbacks as opportunities for growth
- Taking responsibility for one’s own satisfaction rather than allowing emotions to be manipulated by outside forces.
The Science of Happiness
Researchers are increasingly interested in the science of happiness, particularly with the advent of positive psychology—a field of psychology that focuses on happiness, well-being, and drawing upon people’s strengths. There is some evidence that people may be born with a happiness “set point” that affects their reactions to life circumstances. However, therapy, changing habits, and reframing thoughts can all help alter this happiness set point and enable people to be happier.
Most research indicates that happiness is not dependent upon material possessions or even on success. Several studies have shown that, after people have enough money to cover basic needs, money no longer affects happiness. Similarly, highly successful or respected people are not necessarily happier than others; happiness seems to be the combination of personality traits such as optimism and happiness-increasing habits such as spending time with loved ones.
Tips for Cultivating Happiness
- Have a sense of purpose. Having goals and pursuing them with purpose is one of the key ways to increase happiness. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi proposes that a state of happiness and contentment is best achieved by immersing oneself in challenging experiences and inhabiting a state of “flow.” Channeling mental attention into challenging activities can be more rewarding than leisure activities such as watching TV or surfing the Internet.
- Maintain healthy relationships. Human beings are wired for connection. Having strong interpersonal relationships with positive people is an important factor for maintaining emotional and mental well-being. Also, recognizing when certain relationships are having a negative impact on one’s well-being, and taking steps to correct it, can greatly improve feelings of happiness.
- Live in the present moment. Spending too much time ruminating on the past or focusing on the future can contribute to anxiety and general dissatisfaction. Mindfulness teachings encourage people to focus on the here and now in order to savor the richness of human experience.
- Practice gratitude. Being grateful, even for small things, can help to significantly boost mood. Many people practice gratitude by repeating thankfulness mantras, keeping a gratitude journal, or expressing gratitude toward others on a daily basis.
- Get support when you need it. If you are feeling overwhelmed, melancholy, excessively stressed, or bogged down by other difficult emotions on an ongoing basis, it may be necessary to reach out for help. For people coping with a mental health condition such as depression, it can be especially difficult to experience feelings of happiness. Help may come in the form of support groups, trained mental health clinicians, doctors, and/or your own social network.
- Klein, S. (2006). The science of happiness: How our brains make us happy–and what we can do to get happier. New York, NY: Marlowe.
- Luscombe, B. (2010, September 6). Do we need $75,000 a year to be happy? Time. Retrieved from http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2019628,00.htm
Last Updated: 12-1-2015