The True Essence of Happiness
Every person has its own perspective of every thing be it real or abstract, and that perspective is shaped from experiences, culture, norms, beliefs, theories and the thought of words handed from generations to generations. That’s why; finding the truth of truths is a collective process. Now, what about finding and knowing the truth of happiness. Literally, happiness refers to the emotion, mood, and state. But on the in depth content of it, the meaning varies from one person to another, from one experience or belief and more. Hence, it is relative.
They may view happiness that it is something that comes from within heart and mind. A person is happy because that’s what the state of his heart and mind. And that justifies from the popular quotes of Abraham Lincoln ““Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” So, to be happy is a choice, and a state of mind. The experience of happiness is one of those general terms we use to say, “I feel good emotionally.” People use different terms to describe what feels good for them. For someone it might be excitement, passion, exhilaration, fulfillment, freedom, feeling fully alive with inspiration and joy. For another it might be more peaceful, content, capable, hopeful, satisfied, and comfortable feeling. Whatever it is called, it just something comes from the thought and heart. Some view happiness as embedded with the physical world. He is happy because he is rich. He is happy because he won the lottery. He is happy because he has lots of gifts from his friends. He is happy because of his new car. He is happy because of money and more. These are examples of physical world. The happiness is attained through outside forces, from what we see, we feel, touch and sense. According to Bergsma, A (2004), happiness is all about minimizing pain and maximizing pleasure. If being poor is a pain. He will work hard to minimize it and be able to succeed and experience the pleasure of life, his pleasure of happiness. The underlying idea of the author’s definition is that there is a kind of mathematics of happiness. Imagine if on our deathbeds we were able to add up all the moments of pleasure in our lives and then all the moments of pain. The amount by which the pleasures exceeded the pains would tell us how happy we were during our lives. To live as a poor, to some people is a total grudges and bitterness. That’s why it motivates them to work harder for them to maximize the pleasure of life that they desire.
In contrary, there are rich people but are not attaining happiness. They have pleasure of living in physical things, they do have lots of money and successful career individual but unhappy. Physical things become meaningless because these are not the needs for them to experience happiness. It is something coming from other factors–the happiness that is achieved from the inside. A person may be not incredibly rich and beautiful but is nonetheless contented and satisfied with what he or she has. A carpenter is poor yet experiencing wealth—the wealth of happiness and satisfaction. Happiness is also a personal choice. People have the power and decision to be happy. They possess control over the things that will make them happy. Different people may have different things and reason that will make them happy. Some people will be happy if they get high grades or have a lot of money. Some people are happy because of other simple things like a kiss from their husband and children or by an act of generosity from a complete stranger.
The movie The Pursuit of Happiness is a story of the hardships of a single, unfortunate father trying to raise his son alone. The storyline deals with what really makes a person happy. It examines what things people should pursue in order to attain an incredible bliss out of life. People grow old and there may be a chance that they will die unhappy because of doing things that do not give them happiness. Happiness is a concept that is viewed differently by people. Happiness is an undertaking and people should try to achieve it to obtain satisfaction and contentment that is not ephemeral.
Further, happiness is an abstract concept that is hard to define. The concept is viewed differently by people. The term is define of physical existence and sometimes may be different from one point of view to another. It is good that we should be able to grasp a good definition and have better understanding of the word ‘happiness’. Understanding happiness will give us an idea on how to understand our emotions and what really makes us happy and maybe what we really want in life. Based on the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, happiness is “a state of well-being and contentment” and it is also “a pleasurable or satisfying experience” (“Happiness”). As such, something that is so valuable may become meaningless if that thing does not give us contentment and satisfaction. One source of happiness is being able to achieve what we want and be contented with having it.
Another source of happiness may come from an act or experience that gives a person joy and satisfaction. If a person does something willingly and it renders him satisfaction and no remorse in the end, it will also give the person the sense of happiness. These definitions offered by Merriam-Webster Dictionary are good starting points in digging deeper into the true essence of happiness. Happiness has been an inspiration to many writers and poets in creating statements that would best define or capture the real meaning of happiness. Each may have a deep meaning and somehow provides an understanding of the word. People also attempt to define the concept of happiness by embodying it in quotations passed to generations. We may come across numerous quotations talking about happiness and what it meant for some people. We also come across prose that provides an elaborative story of what happiness is and examples of how people achieved the abstract sense of the word. Mahatma Gandhi said that “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony” (Latumahina). It says that happiness can only be achieved when you think, say and act on things all at the same time. It means that you do, think and say about something willingly, free of coercion and regrets. This is actually the same context that William H. Sheldon is trying to express in his timeless quotation that says, “Happiness is essentially a state of going somewhere, wholeheartedly, one-directionally, without regret or reservation” (Latumahina). On the other hand, a very profound and meaningful statement is provided by Aristotle saying that “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence” (Latumahina). Aristotle suggests that the real purpose of man living on earth is for him to attain his own happiness. He deeply believes that men should live and die happy.
Philosophical ideas also tried to explain and encapsulate the meaning of happiness through people’s acts and behavior. There are so many areas that explored happiness. It is tackled in psychology as a form of emotion that is felt by a person. Psychologists believe that it is moving from one gratification to another. A person derives happiness from a satisfying and jovial experience. In Western psychology, pleasure and happiness are treated as the same and the positive affect is the significant end of the process (Gilbert 25). In the field of philosophy, happiness is treated in many ways. Many ethical and moral principles are anchored in happiness and these principles become one of the bases of moral and ethical standards. An example is hedonism. Hedonistic principle is deeply anchored in happiness. It says that everything that renders happiness is considered right or righteous. If something makes a person happy, then what he or she is doing is right. Hedonistic principle deeply believes that happiness is the basis of what is right and wrong. If something denies a person of his or her happiness, then it should not be done. Another principle in philosophy that is anchored in happiness is the Greatest Happiness Theory or Utilitarianism. It says that moral should be based on something that is giving out happiness to the most number of people. It may mean sacrifice for others but if a great number of people will be happy with it, then it is still considered right. These moral and ethical principles are two of the most interesting studies in the field of philosophy. There may be a twisted and selfish part on the theories but happiness is never a bad thing for anyone. Sometimes following its lead is not a bad idea and sometimes worthy.
Definition of happiness evolves. In the new science of happiness, a new and blossoming field of psychology – positive psychology – has begun to uncover fascinating, evidence-based answers to many questions about happiness. One popular author of this era Eric Weiner (2007) defines happiness as varied on location or geography. Using the ancient philosophers and the much more recent “science of happiness” as his guide, Weiner travels the world in search of the happiest places. Many authors have attempted to describe what happiness is; fewer have shown us where it is, and what we can learn from the inhabitants of different cultures.
As Weiner makes his way from Iceland (one of the world’s happiest countries) to Bhutan (where the king has made Gross National Happiness a national priority) to Moldova (not a happy place), he calls upon the collective wisdom of “the self-help industrial complex” to help him navigate the path to contentment. He travels to Switzerland, where he discovers the hidden virtues of boredom; to the tiny-and extremely wealthy-Persian Gulf nation of Qatar, where the relationship between money and happiness is laid bare; to India, where Westerners seek their bliss at the feet of gurus; to Thailand, where not thinking is a way of life; to a small town outside London where happiness experts attempt to “change the psychological climate.” He also travels within the U.S.-and discovers that paradise is always a step away and many more. This notion is really an evident that why people in particular country is happier than another one. The setting of living affects on how we experience blissfulness or the contrary of it (Weiner 79). In specific case, people living in the cities enjoy the blissfulness through industry and technology. That is basically because of how the place is being set. Whatever things around us influenced how we experience happiness.
Talking about evolution of the definition, there is scientific understanding of happiness. Psychologist Ed Diener, the leading authority on happiness, began his 1984 review by stating that “Throughout history philosophers considered happiness to be the highest good and ultimate motivation for human action.” Social scientists began studying happiness comprehensively in the 1960’s. Norman Bradburn in 1969 described it as having more positive emotions and moods than negative emotions and moods. Angus Campbell in 1976 found that happiness included a third component; satisfaction with one’s basic circumstances. In 1978, psychologist Jonathan Freedman wrote that “people generally agree about what they mean by happiness. It is a positive, enduring state that consists of positive feelings…and includes both peace of mind and active pleasures or joy.” He went on to write that “People may pursue happiness differently…But by and large it is the same happiness for everyone.” In 1984 the leading authority on “international” happiness,” Ruut Veenhoven, described happiness as “the degree to which an individual judges the overall quality of his life-as-a whole favorably.” In 1990, English psychologist Michael Eysenck concurred with Bradburn and Campbell, and described happiness by the equation Happiness = Satisfaction + Hedonic level. Finally, in 1999, Diener and colleagues again reviewed the literature and divided the “satisfaction” component into two distinct components; “Life (global) Satisfactions” and “Domain (work, family, self, etc.) Satisfactions.”
How do those scientific definitions compare with our common usage of the word happiness? Let’s refer to The Oxford Universal Dictionary which gives several definitions for “happy.” Definitions #1-3 describe it as fortune or luck. #4 suggests that it is a feeling derived from satisfaction with one’s circumstances. Webster offers the following clarifying distinctions; “Happy generally suggests a feeling of great pleasure, contentment, etc., Glad implies more strongly an exultant feeling of joy,. Cheerful implies a steady display of bright spirits, optimism, etc., Joyful and joyous imply great elation and rejoicing.” Finally, Webster defines Bliss as “great joy or happiness.”
So, how do happiness researchers know how happy we are? Well, they might ask us directly with a scaled (e.g. 3, 5, 7, 10 levels) question like “Taking all things together, how would you say things are these days, would you say you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?” Or they might ask us to answer a battery of questions designed to collectively reveal our happiness level. Or they might ask our friends and family how happy they think we are. Interestingly these three methods generally yield very similar results, suggesting the validity of each instrument.
Happiness is no mystery. Most people are quite clear about what happiness is, and can easily describe how happy or not they are. Most people also consider happiness their most important goal in life. Happiness definitely rules! As happiness is viewed differently by people, every person desires happiness and to live a happy and fulfilling life as people try to define happiness for themselves. Happiness already exists before people have developed a term for it. It is a natural desire for joy and well-being. Happiness was believed to be the connection between the Creator and the nation’s destiny. The founders believed that the effectiveness and morality of the state can be measured through the ability of the people to achieve happiness in their lives (Brooks 2). In the declaration of the United States independence in July 4, 1776, one of the famous lines is the self-evident truths that expresses that all men are created equal and we are blessed by the Creator of unalienable rights which includes life, liberty and pursuit of happiness (Brooks 2). Joy is included in the basic rights of every person and we are all entitled to attain happiness. The government has the duty to protect people’s happiness for it can be ruined by adverse conditions and circumstances such as death of a loved one and having a chronic disease. The government may be unable to make people happy, but they can protect the obtained happiness of the people by giving the right services to the public (Kupperman 24).
Nowadays, our leaders may have forgotten the principle of happiness and its relevance on the constituents of the land. Have you heard how ill the politicians talk about the essential things in man’s life such as health care and social security? It seems like that we set high standards of happiness each year (Brooks 2). The idea of happiness no longer seem profound to us and is often ignored by most leaders today. But we all should look back in the idea of measuring our happiness as a nation for it brings us back in our founding ideals (Brooks 3).
What best describes happiness? Is it a momentary feeling of lightness, a positive assessment of one’s life, a sense of contentment and satisfaction, existing based on moral values, the absence of pain or a combination of all of these? There are times in our life that we feel euphoric and experience a moment of bliss when something good happens to us. This kind of feeling is fleeting and not enduring. But there are some sources of happiness that have an overall impact in our lives. This kind of happiness affects us in a way that it alters some aspects of our life.
Happiness is an emotional state wherein a person feels good. One of the elements of happiness is to know what would cause you this feeling. Personal happiness is composed of what you feel good over a period of time and the reflective judgments of what would give you the best quality in life (Kupperman 25).
Michael Argyle’s The Psychology of Happiness is a book that deals with the concept of happiness as he tries to define and describe the concept. The book discussed it in an informative yet informal way. It is believed that happiness is a part of a broader syndrome which includes “choice of rewarding situations, looking at the bright and high self-esteem” (Kupperman 26). The three elements tend to render happiness to people and happiness is only the result of our decisions and actions. The choice of rewarding situations is an essential factor that contributes to a person’s happiness. It is a basic instinct and insight that people avoid situations that involve high risks and situations that may only result in making someone miserable. It is part of human’s behavior that we tend to choose circumstances that will give us happiness. We consciously and subconsciously gravitate toward the situations that will render us the best quality in life and fulfilling our desires, while we tend to move away from things and situations that will cause us sadness and grief (Kupperman 26). Of course, bad situations may be inevitable even when we believe that we have chosen the right one. But despite the risk, in the end there is still a possibility that these will develop into something good.
Happiness is part of every person’s collection of experiences and we attempt to define it by what it meant to our lives. Experiences develop us into someone that comprises who we really are. People gather so many experiences since childhood. Happy people have good experiences. Though bad experiences are part of life and also mold us and our whole personality, good experiences are still those that make people happy. Argyle’s second element of happiness is looking at the bright side. It positively affects us, which enables us to gravitate toward positive situations and circumstances that will render us happiness (Kupperman 28). Looking at the bright side is a positive attitude that makes us see the positive side of things and prepares us to whatever negative factors and possibilities that is present in the experience. The first two elements are casual contributions in our happiness. The third element is high self esteem and is also a part of happiness. We must understand first what is happiness and what counts as self-esteem. Happiness is a positive sense towards one’s life. Happiness is felt because of several things and it is tied to things that render us happiness. The feeling of happiness may last at different times. Happiness is a positive feeling towards the world and life’s experiences. This is the difference of happiness and pleasure. Pleasure, on the other hand, is a short-lived feeling when people get more of what they fancy. Objectless happiness is a degree of how well you have come to terms with yourself. Someone who basically does not like him or herself will still not be happy. You cannot be happy until you are pleased of yourself and have accepted yourself to some extent. Thus, this is the feeling of self-esteem (Kupperman 28).
Self-esteem is often contrasted with self respect which has two areas of extreme reluctance. Someone with high self respect would be unwilling to be put in a humiliating and degrading situation. Also, self respect is connected with the basic rights as a rational being. People with high self respect have certain things that they will simply not do because it is unworthy of their time and attention. Self-esteem and self respect tend to overlap each other. Some people may have high self-esteem in the form of pride and it implicits their moral value of self respect. However, there are also some people whose general behavior are acceptable in society but are lacking self-esteem (Kupperman 29).
Choice is a very critical notion in countries like the United States. People are given the opportunity to choose and their free will is valued. It is also a critical characteristic of freedom and autonomy, without forces to tell what to do or what to believe in. “Choice is a clear and powerful instrumental value: it enables people to get what they need and want in life” (Schwartz 99). Typically, the basic needs of people are food, shelter and clothing. But people have different choices when it comes to their needs and wants. Some people opt for simple things such as bread and an apartment while others prefer caviar and three-storey house on the hills. Choice enables people to pursue their wants and needs in life according to their own preference and within the limits of their finances (Schwartz 99).
A long time ago, Adam Smith developed a principle that is effective in producing and distributing goods in the society. He developed a competitive market that is free from control of the government and full of free and eager independent players providing the consumer their products and services. With a lot of opportunities laid out in front of us, we are offered unlimited choices that we are free to choose from. But why does the contemporary American society is feeling helpless despite the numerous choices they are provided with? Because the opportunities and control gets broader and almost unlimited, expectations of people get higher to parallel the experience, thus still leaving us without contentment and satisfaction (Schwartz 104).
People have been trying to measure happiness for decades to determine what makes people happy and to gauge the social progress in terms of gross national happiness or satisfaction. Some of the studies show that people in rich countries are happier than those who live in poverty. It shows that money is a contributing factor in making a person happy. But this does not work all the time; we may still find the same number of happy people in Japan and Poland despite the difference in levels of wealth. Then what might be the important factor contributing to people’s happiness? Close social relationships seem to be the most important factor in providing happiness. People, who are married, have good friends, and who are close to their families are happier than those who are not. It is also found out that people who participate in community and church activities are happier than those who deny it. People who are connected to others are also happier (Schwartz 107). Our social relationships and how we strengthen such relationships give us contentment and satisfaction more than what money can provide for us. It is how we nurture our relationships with others that give us happiness.
Personally, I think happiness is a decision that a person makes. Just like how we decide on what meals to cook and eat or which TV shows to watch, we choose to be happy for our own sake and our own stakes. And as such, the decision for us to be happy is in our hands.
How we view and achieve happiness is really relying on our actions, and these actions require decisions that will bring us towards the greater living. Happiness is also a choice. We choose how to make our life happy and meaningful. If we do otherwise and become sad, that is our choice too. We can carefully pick out the things that will make us happy and how to make most of what life offers. Happiness is a concept beyond emotion. It is beyond feelings and state of mind. Rather, it is a product of our hardships in achieving something that we really want and something that we almost die for. True happiness is beyond the superficial, ephemeral laughter and smiles. It lingers in a person and captivates everyone on his way. It is contagious and has a positive affect on everyone. For a happy person, there will be no reason to be mad and unsatisfied. Like what Aristotle said, it is something that a man should live and die for. Happiness is a man’s greatest pursuit. Happiness is a subjective experience for each of us. We should exert great efforts in doing everything that is possible to achieve eternal bliss by attaining, loving and being contented with what we already have.
Happiness is not just a headlong charge towards whatever makes us feel pleasure, it is about finding satisfaction in ourselves and in what we have done even when what we have done has been painful, and has sacrifices, whatever means we take it, it is us who can say what really happiness is.
In fact, going through times where we are sad can sometimes make that happiness all the brighter. Sadness is a part of life, and sometimes it’s even possible to feel happy and sad about something. For example, we might be happy to move out of home, but sad that we won’t see the family, or our family dog, as much any more. We might even wonder whether it’s possible, or OK to be happy, when there is so much suffering and injustice in the world. Happiness is natural, and it is possible to be compassionate and caring, and in tune with the sadness of the world, while still experiencing happiness in your life.
This awareness might even prompt us to act in a way to help improve the situation of others – an action which may actually increase our happiness. Happiness is something that means different things to different people, but overall it seems that it is the way we choose to think about ourselves, our place in the world, and the world around us, and how we act in that world, that differentiates the happy people from the less happy people. This is something that we actually have voluntary control over, and that we can work on in your daily life. Not only that, but it can contribute to a large proportion of our happiness. It’s really up to us. It is what makes the world go round.
Brooks, Arthur C. Gross National Happiness. New York: Basic Books, 2008.
Gilbert, Paul. “Compassion and Cruelty: A Biopsychosocial Approach”. Compassion: Conceptualizations, Research and Use in Psychotherapy. New York: Routledge, 2005.
“Happiness”. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2009. 13 January 2009 <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/happiness>.
Kupperman, Joel J. Six Myths about the Good Life: Thinking about What Has Value. Indianapolis: Hacket Publishing Company, Inc., 2006.
Latumahina, Donald. “What is Happiness? 10 Definitions of Happiness”. Life Optimizer. 3 July 2008. 13 January 2009 <http://www.lifeoptimizer.org/2008/07/03/what-is-happiness-10-definitions-of-happiness/>.
Schwartz, Barry. The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less. New York: Harper Collins, 2004.
“Desiring Happiness”. The Next 500 stories. Frank Michalic.Logos Publication Philippines. 2004
Eric Weiner. The Geography of Bliss. 2007.<http://www.ericweinerbooks.com/content/book. asp?id=desc>
1. Happiness refers to the emotion, mood, and state.
2. The meaning of happiness varies from one person to another, from one experience or belief and more.
In contrary, happiness is still relative. It varies from one culture to another, from experience, norms and more.
Main Topic: Variation of happiness
Subtopic 1: Happiness as attributed by Physical world
Subtopic 2: Happiness as attributed by unseen or abstract factors
There are rich people but are not attaining happiness. They have pleasure of living in physical things, they do have lots of money and successful career individual but unhappy. Physical things become meaningless because these are not the needs for them to experience happiness. It is something coming from other factors–the happiness that is achieved from the inside. A person may be not incredibly rich and beautiful but is nonetheless contented and satisfied with what he or she has. A carpenter is poor yet experiencing wealth—the wealth of happiness and satisfaction.
Main Topic: Related concept of Happiness
Subtopic 1: The meaning as relate to the concept of “Pursuit to happiness”
Subtopic 2: As relate to Mahatma Gandhi’s wisdom that “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony”
Subtopic 3: “The geography of Bliss” by Eric Weiner. Happiness are relate to geographical set up of the person.
The movie The Pursuit of Happiness is a story of the hardships of a single, unfortunate father trying to raise his son alone. The storyline deals with what really makes a person happy. It examines what things people should pursue in order to attain an incredible bliss out of life. People grow old and there may be a chance that they will die unhappy because of doing things that do not give them happiness.
One popular author of this era Eric Weiner (2007) defines happiness as varied on location or geography. Using the ancient philosophers and the much more recent “science of happiness” as his guide, Weiner travels the world in search of the happiest places. Many authors have attempted to describe what happiness is; fewer have shown us where it is, and what we can learn from the inhabitants of different cultures.
Part 3 Happiness as the science of Psychology
Sub topic1: Chronological view from ancient to modern.
Sub topic 2: Happiness in science is measurable.
In 1978, psychologist Jonathan Freedman wrote that “people generally agree about what they mean by happiness. It is a positive, enduring state that consists of positive feelings…and includes both peace of mind and active pleasures or joy. Psychologist Ed Diener, on 1984 states that “Throughout history philosophers considered happiness to be the highest good and ultimate motivation for human action.” In 1990, English psychologist Michael Eysenck concurred with Bradburn and Campbell, and described happiness by the equation Happiness = Satisfaction + Hedonic level.
From the different insights collected, its approach of explanation may differ but there is only one bottom line on it. Happiness is not just a headlong charge towards whatever makes us feel pleasure, it is about finding satisfaction in ourselves and in what we have done even when what we have done has been painful, and has sacrifices, whatever means we take it, it is us who can say what really happiness is.