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It seems like an odd question, but is it? Do you know how to define happiness? Do you think happiness is the same thing to you as it is to others?
What’s the point of it all? Does it even make a difference in our lives?
In fact, happiness does have a pretty important role in our lives, and it can have a huge impact on the way we live our lives. Although researchers have yet to pin down the definition or an agreed-upon framework for happiness, there’s a lot we have learned in the last few decades.
for our purposes in this piece, it’s enough to work off of a basic definition that melds the OED ‘s definition with that of positive psychologists: happiness is a state characterized by contentment and general satisfaction with one’s current situation.
Happiness, as we described above, is a state characterized by feelings of contentment and satisfaction with one’s life or current situation. On the other hand, pleasure is a more visceral, in-the-moment experience. It often refers to the sensory-based feelings we get from experiences like eating good food, getting a massage, receiving a compliment, or having sex.
Happiness while not a permanent state, is a more stable state than pleasure. Happiness generally sticks around for longer than a few moments at a time, whereas pleasure can come and go in seconds (Paul, 2015).
Pleasure can contribute to happiness, and happiness can enhance or deepen feelings of pleasure, but the two can also be completely mutually exclusive.
For example, you can feel a sense of happiness based on meaning and engagement that has nothing to do with pleasure, or you could feel pleasure but also struggle with guilt because of it, keeping you from feeling happy at the same time.
Humans may resemble many other creatures in their striving for happiness, but the quest for meaning is a key part of what makes us human, and uniquely so.
Roy Baumeister et al. (2013)
Unlike happiness, meaning is not a fleeting state that drifts throughout the day; it’s a more comprehensive sense of purpose and feeling of contributing to something greater than yourself.
There are important distinctions between the methods of searching for and the benefits of experiencing happiness and meaning. Baumeister and his fellow researchers found that:
Although the term is not used very often, it refers to a sense of happiness or satisfaction with one’s self. It is often associated with self-confidence, self-esteem, and other concepts that marry “the self” with feeling content and happy.
In general, it means that you are pleased with yourself and your choices, and with the person that you are.
Some theories see happiness as a by-product of other more important pursuits in life, while others see happiness as the end-goal for humans.
Some theories state that pursuing happiness is pointless (although pursuing other important experiences and feelings may contribute to greater happiness), and some assume that happiness can be purposefully increased or enhanced.
Although they differ on the specifics, these theories generally agree on a few points:
Taking together all the various theories and findings on happiness, we know that there are at least a few factors that are very important for overall happiness:
All of these factors can contribute to a happy life, but research has found that good relationships are a vital ingredient.
When we are happy in our most important relationships (spouse or significant other, our children and/or our parents, other close family members, and our closest friends), we tend to be happier.
The answer from numerous studies is a resounding YES—you CAN learn how to be happier.
The degree to which you can increase your happiness will vary widely by which theory you subscribe to, but there are no credible theories that allow absolutely no room for individual improvement.
To improve your overall happiness, the most effective method is to look at the list of sources above and work on enhancing the quality of your experiences in each one of them.
For example, you can work on getting a higher salary (although a higher salary will only work up to about $75,000 USD a year), improve your health, work on developing and maintaining high-quality relationships, and overall, find ways to incorporate more positive feelings into your daily life. This does assume basic access to safety as well as social equality.
You might be wondering why happiness is considered such an important aspect of life, as there are many components of a meaningful life.
In some ways, science would agree with you.
It appears that life satisfaction, meaning, and well-being can be linked with happiness, but happiness is not necessarily the overarching goal for everyone in life. It is still important because it has some undeniably positive benefits and co-occurring factors.
As you can probably assume from the list above, there is a strong relationship between mental health and happiness! Happy people are healthier, have better relationships, make friends more easily, and find more success in life.
The sources that contribute to happiness are the same as those that provide people with a buffer or protection against mental illness, which explains the close relationship between the two.
The close tie between mental health and happiness is reason enough to make happiness an important priority for parents, educators, researchers, and medical professionals alike, along with the simple fact that we all like to feel happy!
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