H is for Happiness
Updated: Jun 25, 2021
“Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life; the whole aim and end of human existence” Aristotle
“Happiness is not a goal...it's a by-product of a life well lived.” Eleanor Roosevelt
Happiness resides on a continuum; it is a lifelong pursuit. The pursuit of happiness (whether directly or indirectly) is a primary motivation for our actions. We spend our life consciously or sub-consciously seeking to gain it, keep it or recover it.
“Consciously or not, directly or indirectly, in the short or long term, whatever we do, whatever we hope, whatever we dream – somehow is related to a deep profound desire for well-being or happiness.” Matthieu Ricard
Our ability to achieve happiness links very closely with gratitude. Gratitude is not only about feeling and expressing appreciation for all we do have (however much or little that may be) but it is also about being grateful for all the things that have not gone wrong that could have!
Happiness comes easier when you stop complaining about all your problems and start being grateful for all that you do have.
“We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.” Frederick Koenig
The subject of happiness has been written about throughout the ages and from all sorts of angles and perspectives and with ‘guaranteed proven methods’ being advertised it is no surprise that ‘happiness’ has become a very ‘consumer- based industry’ rather than a ‘whole-person – connected with others’ approach.
There are various books that I have read on the subject and keep dipping back into; in particular:
“The How of Happiness” A practical Guide to getting the Life you Want by Sonja Lyubomirsky
“Happier” by Tal Ben-Shahar (Who does an excellent free course on Positive Psychology via YouTube)
Perfectly Yourself - Nine lessons for Enduring Happiness by Matthew Kelly
and Anthony Sheldon’s “Beyond Happiness”
but it was only recently that I was recommended a book that explains why we need to encompass the whole spectrum of our feelings to be happy
“Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.” Carl G. Jung
So what is happiness?
“(The word happiness) is commonly used to designate something intricate and ambiguous, one of those ideas which humanity has intentionally left vague, so that each individual might interpret it in his own way.” Henri Bergson
Happiness relates to a wide range of emotions including joy, elation, satisfaction, peace of mind etc and can also be described as psychological and subjective well-being.
In “The How of Happiness” Sonja Lyubomirsky 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”
Three sources of happiness
According to Positive Psychologists, happiness is described as having three sources:
Our genetic make-up (which we have little control over)
Our environment (which we have some control over) and
Our actions (which we have the greatest control over by developing our strengths and good habits)
Three levels of happiness
“Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action” William James
Daniel Nettle describes three levels of happiness. Towards the lower level, feelings of happiness are more immediate, physical and measurable whilst higher level happiness feelings are more rational, relative and values-related
Level 1 happiness (momentary feelings) are the relatively short-term emotional highs we get when e.g. we experience joy from listening to a piece of music, when winning something etc. These type of emotions can be easily measured by neural scans and will show certain parts of the brain becoming active.
Level 2 happiness is more thoughtful and complex. It is concerned with judgement about our feelings i.e. a subjective assessment of how we make sense of our lives. It is also tends to be relative, as we often make decisions about how happy we are by comparing ourselves with others
Level 3 happiness is concerned with quality of life. It considers questions of fulfilment and achieving one's potential and being optimally happy. At this level people are more in harmony with their true selves and are in alignment with their values; consequently they have few inner conflicts.
“Probably the biggest insight… is that happiness is not just a place, but also a process. Happiness is an ongoing process of fresh challenges, and it takes the right attitudes and activities to continue to be happy.” Ed Diener
Three factors in a suggested 'hierarchy of happiness' (This section is based on a brief summary of work by Kyle Kowalski - see link below*)
Money : Happiness can be ‘bought’ (to a point) – aim for enough
"Happiness is a place between too little and too much". Finnish Proverb
"Once a person or family reaches a moderate level of income, here are the factors that research has shown contribute most to happiness: good health, personal growth, strong social relationships, service to others, connection with nature". Duane Elgin
Simplicity : Happiness comes from simplicity of living
"Happiness is simple pleasures, is spending time doing what you love and spending time with those you love". Leo Babauta
Relationships: Happiness is best when shared with others
"Emotional happiness is primarily social…The very best thing that can happen to people is to spend time with other people they like. That is when they are happiest". Dr. Daniel Kahneman
Culture: Happiness can be learned from other environments
The World Happiness Report creates a ranking of the happiest countries. It is interesting reading particularly in the light of Covid-19
Expectations: Happiness is about keeping them in check
"The essence of philosophy…happiness shall depend as little as possible on external things." Epictetus
Practice: Happiness is a skill that requires training
"In every moment, in everything that happens, you can look on the bright side of something. So I used to do that forcibly and then I trained it until it became second nature".
Choice: Happiness is a mindful choice
"Happiness is a choice. You are as happy as you choose to be. If you don’t know how to be happy with what you have, you will never be happy with more". Rick Warren
Purpose: Happiness is a by product of meaning
"I’ve learned that there is nothing more consistent with unhappiness than spending your time in a way that doesn’t serve who you are. And…there is no more profound source of fulfillment and happiness than knowing you are traveling your own path." Scott Dinsmore
Presence: Happiness is the path in the present moment
"We begin a never-ending search for a satisfying experience of identity. We look beyond ourselves for the next thing that will make us happy…But the search is both endless and hopeless, because it is continually directed away from the ‘self’ that is doing the searching." Duane Elgin
Letting go: Happiness is letting go and accepting life as it is
"Happiness is a default state. It’s what’s there when you remove the sense that something is missing from your life". Naval Ravikant
Transcendence: Happiness is transcending yourself
‘The self-transcendence of human existence’…being human always points, and is directed, to something, or someone, other than oneself—be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself—by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love—the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself…self-actualization is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence". Viktor Frankl,
Joy: Happiness is living the joy of Being
"When you make the present moment, instead of past and future, the focal point of your life, your ability to enjoy what you do – and with it the quality of your life – increases dramatically. Joy is the dynamic aspect of Being. When the creative power of the universe becomes conscious of itself, it manifests as joy". Eckhart Tolle
Why seek to be happy?
What is good about well-being and positive emotions can be explained by Aristotle’s law of Identity A=A ie it feels good to feel good!
“If you deliberately plan on being less than you are capable of being, then I warn you that you’ll be unhappy for the rest of your life.” Abraham Maslow
When we are feeling happy we are more motivated and have more energy because we are actively pursuing something rather than running away from something i.e. an ‘approach goal’ rather than an ‘avoidance goal’.
“Positive emotions have an evolutionary reason. They have a purpose beyond just making us feel good” Barbara Fredrickson
Positive emotions help us expand our thinking past what we are thinking and experiencing right now. People who work on their own happiness through the vicissitudes of life become happier and build better relationships, are more creative, open, generous, accepting and tolerant of other people and themselves. Seeking happiness helps us build increased capacities/resilience and have better overall health.
“Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared” Buddha
Happiness is a “positive sum game” not negative i.e. if I have more happiness no one else will have less. It is not being selfish seeking to be in a state of happiness.
“I believe compassion to be one of the few things we can practice that will bring immediate and long-term happiness to our lives” Dalai Lama
Seeking happiness is in a sense a ‘selfish’ act and a ‘benevolent act’ at the same time as we end up in a reinforcing loop where helping others, helps ourselves, which in turn helps others i.e. our happiness is tied to others in a web of empathy. If we are happy and working hard on our own happiness we are contributing indirectly to other people’s happiness.
“Happiness is the only thing that multiplies when you share it.” Albert Schweitzer
So how can I be happy?
“Happiness is not out there for us to find. The reason that it’s not out there is that it’s inside us.” Sonja Lyubomirsky
Happiness is more contingent on our state of mind than what we have, our status etc. We increase our happiness levels and become the best versions of ourselves by slowing down and spending time reflecting, developing self- awareness and working at removing those things that limit us or hinder us e.g. fears, guilt, restrictive relationships, negative scenarios etc i.e. anything that is chipping away and stopping us reaching our full potential and then replacing it by consciously choosing more of what makes us healthier and happier whether this is by ‘going somewhere in our heads’ to our ‘happy’ place, eating healthily or physically creating the time we need to be still, to reconnect with art, nature and ourselves
“Once you start making the effort to ‘wake yourself up’—that is, be more mindful in your activities—you suddenly start appreciating life a lot more.” Robert Biswas-Diener
The type of people we surround ourselves with is also important. By surrounding ourselves with like-minded people, to serve as support and role models we will lift each other up and grow healthier, happier, more positive, energised and motivated. Conversely, if you spend large amounts of time with negative people you are more likely to develop a similar mindset.
“Life is partly what we make it, and partly what it is made by the friends we choose.” Tennessee Williams
There are a lot of factors that can increase or decrease our energy levels It is very difficult to become our best selves and feel happy when our ‘brain energy’ levels are low so it is important to reflect on how to keep our lives balanced and also ask ourselves who and what changes our energy, because our environment, friendships, the way we look after our physical health etc all contribute to our ability to feel happy.
“Remaining in the wrong environment will drain your energy.” Germany Kent
It is not just our own mental limitations or the effect of other’s energy that affects us, simple things like clutter will also sap our strength. Our environment affects us both consciously and subconsciously therefore it is important to create a positive environment for ourselves; one which reflects calm, clarity and positivity. De-cluttering our homes, work areas and our head is a powerful way to protect our energy and open ourselves to further possibilities of happiness.
We are responsible for our own happiness.
“Don’t rely on someone else for your happiness and self-worth. Only you can be responsible for that. If you can’t love and respect yourself – no one else will be able to make that happen. Accept who you are – completely; the good and the bad – and make changes as you see fit – not because you think someone else wants you to be different.” Stacey Charter
The most effective way of preventing anxiety and depression (the opposite of happiness) is by focusing on and cultivating the positive, which in turn creates our reality.
Health, both mental and physical, is a prerequisite for a happy life. It is important to consciously aim to keep body, mind and spirit healthy with periods of stillness, nutritious food, exercise and proper rest. A body that is weak and unfit affects ones mental well-being. To enjoy and appreciate the good things in life we need energy and if we are overtired, overweight, unfit, etc then we will become easily irritated, distracted by our aches and pains, our limitations etc and we will miss out on so much rather than being 100% in the moment, observant and focusing on what is happening around us.
“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.” Thích Nhất Hạnh
Exercise or sustained physical activity helps us to keep fit and at the same time maintain an alert mind. Regular exercise increases blood circulation in our bodies which leads to an increased supply of oxygen to our brains. Good health helps a person to maintain a positive attitude to work and life in general.
“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts: therefore, guard accordingly, and take care that you entertain no notions unsuitable to virtue and reasonable nature.” Marcus Aurelius
It is also important to reflect on what we allow into our head i.e. what we read, watch on tv, what music we listen to etc
In summary, “If you want to be happy, be”. Leo Tolstoy
Finally, when I think about happiness the first thing that comes into my head is Pharrell Williams’ – “Happy” song so will leave it here for you to enjoy too!
What is your favourite “happy” song? Please add your links under comments!
Some questions to think about/or discuss below:
Am I happy right now?
How would I rate my sense of happiness on a scale of 1–10 with 10 meaning I am consistently happy and 1 a feeling of happiness is extremely rare?
What are my goals in life?
What are my passions?
What don’t I like about my life?
If tomorrow was the last day of my life would I have any regrets?
What can I do today to make my life happier?
There is so much interesting research re happiness. If you are interested in some more reading on the subject, here are a few links to get you started:
“We are but visitors on this planet. We are here for ninety or one hundred years at the very most. During that period, we must try to do something good, something useful with our lives. If you contribute to other people’s happiness, you will find the true goal, the true meaning of life” Dalai Lama