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Defining happiness

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.

The psychology of happiness

  1. Hedonic happiness is happiness conceptualized as experiencing more pleasure and less pain; it is composed of an affective component (high positive affect and low negative affect) and a cognitive component (satisfaction with one’s life);
  2. Eudaimonic happiness conceptualizes happiness as the result of the pursuit and attainment of life purpose, meaning, challenge, and personal growth; happiness is based on reaching one’s full potential and operating at full functioning.

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.

Happiness and mental health

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!

What's so great about hapoiness anyway?

  1. Happy people are more successful in multiple life domains, including marriage, friendship, income, work performance, and health.
  2. Happy people get sick less often and experience fewer symptoms when they do get sick.
  3. Happy people have more friends and a better support system.
  4. Happy people donate more to charity (and giving money to charity makes you happy, too).
  5. Happy people are more helpful and more likely to volunteer—which also makes you happier!
  6. Happy people have an easier time navigating through life since optimism eases pain, sadness, and grief.
  7. Happy people have a positive influence on others and encourage them to seek happiness as well, which can act as reinforcement.
  8. Happy people engage in deeper and more meaningful conversations.
  9. Happy people smile more, which is beneficial to your health.
  10. Happy people exercise more often and eat more healthily.
  11. Happy people are happy with what they have rather than being jealous of others.
  12. Happy people are healthier all around and more likely to be healthy in the future.
  13. Happy people live longer than those who are not as happy.
  14. Happy people are more productive and more creative, and this effect extends to all those experiencing positive emotions.

Happiness vs Meaning cont'd

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:

  • Feeling healthy was related to happiness, but not meaning;
  • Feeling good was related to happiness, not meaning;
  • Scarcity of money reduced happiness more than meaning;
  • People with more meaningful lives agreed that “relationships are more important than achievements;”
  • Helping people in need was linked to meaning but not happiness;
  • Expecting to do a lot of deep thinking was positively related to meaningfulness, but negatively with happiness;
  • Happiness was related more to being a taker rather than a giver, whereas meaning was related more to being a giver than a taker;
  • The more people felt their activities were consistent with the core themes and values of their self, the greater meaning they reported in their activities;

Is happiness important?

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.

What sources create true personal happiness?

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:

  • Individual income;
  • Labor market status;
  • Physical health;
  • Family;
  • Social relationships;
  • Moral values;
  • Experience of positive emotions

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.

Although they differ on the specifics, these theories generally agree on a few points:

  • It’s good to be happy, and people like being happy;
  • Happiness is neither a totally fleeting, momentary experience nor a stable, long-term trait;
  • At least some portion of our happiness is set by our genetics, but the amount varies from about 10% up to 50%;
  • The pursuit and attainment of pleasure will rarely lead to happiness;
  • There are many sources that contribute to or compose happiness.

Happiness vs Pleasure

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.

What is happiness?

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.

Happiness vs Meaning

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.

Can individuals learn to be happy?

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.

Self-happiness

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.

We don’t need to have everything we want in order to be happy—true happiness can be obtained by finding joy in what we already have, however much or little that may seem.

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