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What Is Happiness, and How Can You Achieve It?

Jonathan Riley

“Happiness is an inside job.” – William Arthur Warddrick

Is happiness a feeling or a state of mind? Philosophers, psychologists, spiritual leaders, and others have debated the definition for thousands of years. Even the Dalai Lama has said, “The very purpose of life is to seek happiness”. But what is this elusive thing we’re looking for, exactly? Happiness is linked to safety, contentment, and success, but what makes one person happy may not make another happy. Though we may never have a definitive answer to the nature of happiness, its significance cannot be denied.

Because happiness means so many different things to different people, it is subjective. The term “subjective” refers to something that exists in a person’s mind or is related to a person’s point of view. Because each person’s circumstances and background are different, everyone’s experience of happiness is subjective, resulting in different interpretations.

Sonja Lyubomirsky in her 2007 book The How of Happiness 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. Author Ayn Rand believes happiness is that state of consciousness that proceeds from achieving one’s values. According to Mahatma Gandhi, happiness is when what you think, say, and do are in harmony. While everyone’s definition of happiness is different, there are some key indicators that psychologists look for when measuring and assessing happiness.

Some key signs of happiness include:

  • Feeling like you are living the life you wanted
  • Feeling that the conditions of your life are good
  • Feeling that you have accomplished (or will accomplish) what you want in life
  • Feeling satisfied with your life
  • Feeling positive more than negative

Many people believe that happiness is a singular goal that we should all strive for, but happiness is actually comprised of a variety of factors that must be considered, including:

  • Joy: A often relatively brief feeling that is felt in the present moment
  • Excitement: A feeling that involves looking forward to something with positive anticipation
  • Gratitude: A positive emotion that involves being thankful and appreciative
  • Pride: A feeling of satisfaction in something that you have accomplished
  • Optimism: This is a way of looking at life with a positive, upbeat outlook
  • Contentment: This type of happiness involves a sense of satisfaction

Social media has led many people to believe that wealth equals happiness, but this is not always the case. While living below the poverty line makes it difficult to be happy, more money doesn’t seem to buy much happiness after a certain point. According to a study conducted by the University of Virginia, money increases happiness up to a point where one earns approximately $75,000 per year, after which happiness does not increase with income. Money can certainly assist you in achieving your objectives, providing for your future, and making life more enjoyable, however, research has shown that simply possessing material possessions does not guarantee fulfilment.

One thing to keep in mind is that happiness isn’t a constant state of euphoria. Instead, happiness is an overall sense of experiencing more positive emotions than negative ones. Happiness is a state in which we may feel contentment, ease, or joy, among other positive emotions. However, we also experience prosocial positive emotions such as connectedness, gratitude, and compassion, which provide us with a greater sense of meaning. From time to time, even the happiest people experience the full range of human emotions, including anger, frustration, boredom, loneliness, and sadness. But even when faced with discomfort, these people have an underlying sense of optimism that things will get better, that they can deal with what is happening, and that they will be able to feel happy again.

Finally, happiness is a universal goal shared by all humans. It’s important to think about your own personal definition of happiness. Happiness is a broad concept that has different meanings for different people. Rather than viewing happiness as a goal, it may be more beneficial to think about what happiness means to you and then take small steps towards achieving that goal.