What is Happiness?


Have you ever asked a friend or family member: “What do you think the purpose of life is?”.

If you haven’t, I recommend trying it out.

What’s your answer?  Take a moment and think about it.

Seriously.  What is the purpose of life?

Write it down in front of you.

I’ve asked a few people, and most often the answer is either a sarcastic reply, a misdirection or a general non-answer.  After all, it really isn’t everyday general conversation. Understandably, even when worked into conversation (as best one can), it takes people off-guard.

In my experience, those that do give an honest answer usually say “to be happy”. Which, in all honesty, is what I would say as well.

My rational is that, on the grand scheme of things, we’re here for a short while, and therefore “the purpose of life is to find happiness and be fulfilled”.

If you do end up asking this question to others you may find this is the answer you get as well.

So, if this is the most common answer, the next question then becomes: “If the purpose of life is happiness…What defines happiness?”.

After all, the definition could mean many different things to different people, right?  One person could say “happiness is a double cheeseburger” while another could say “I am happy only when engaging in deep meaningful conversation”.

Does this mean happiness is subjective?

… think about that for a moment…

Does what makes me happy differ from you, and if so, should I do everything in my power to ensure my own happiness?

This line of reasoning is dangerous as it seems to lead to justified selfishness. Example:  “I’m going to go out drinking with my friends tonight because I’ve had a hard week and I deserve it, so if I call in sick tomorrow it isn’t a big deal.”

The overarching problem is people mistaking pleasure for happiness.

Pleasure: I want this now to feel good. Happiness: I am content with my life on a larger scale.

Seems pretty simple!

In practice though, it doesn’t quite play out.  To be happy overall we must do things that we don’t really enjoy. We help others, go to work, do our chores, etc.

Some find joy in these day-to-day activities, but most do them simply because they need to.  Either way, it leads to a fulfilled, meaningful life.

Some people think “if I won the lottery I would be so happy”. This simply isn’t true.  In fact, studies have shown that those that win the lottery see a spike in happiness after winning but this dips down to normal levels after a very short time.

Why is this? Because your normal defines your happiness.  If you can’t be happy with what you have you cannot achieve more.

So what is happiness?  It is your overall perception of the quality of your life.  If you feel it isn’t “enough” or you should be feeling more, this may be an experience of displeasure and not an overall discontentment.

Take a moment.  List out the facets of your life you are grateful for. And answer the question:

Are you happy?






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