What is Happiness?

Ok, pop quiz.  Describe the feeling of happiness with out the word ‘happy’.  Take 10 seconds. Go.

Well, how did you do?  Any ideas?  Well if you are like me you tried a fair number of similar words but realized that they just don’t cut it.  Content, mmm, not quite right.  Enjoyable, well it describes an action but not the feeling itself.  In the end I find it hard to not describe happiness with anything but the word ‘happy’.

Yet what is happiness?  Is it a moment in time?  A rush of feeling?  A state of being? Or can it be all of those things?  All good questions.  Yet here are some more: is you happiness the same as mine?  Or does previous experience limit the amount of happiness you can feel or define?  For example, on a 1 to 10 scale let’s say I’m generally a 7.  Yet you say you hang out at 5 most of the time.  Is that because you had such a good trip on your vacation last week (like a 9) that you normal life seems a lot duller than you thought?

The point is despite all our language and thought we are very poor at knowing what is happiness.  It’s a feeling most of us strive to be at, but how to get there and stay there is a completely an unique experience.  I can’t tell you how to be happy.  I can provide some ideas of what typically makes people happy, but that doesn’t mean it will work for you.

So with that little nugget of wisdom, why do people consistently assume we should all lead some what similar lives?  Why do we all need a 9 to 5 job, spouse, two kids and a dog?  Do you really need to own a home when you are almost never there beyond sleeping?  Do you really need a job making $80,000/year when you only live off $30,000?  Would you be happier doing another job and earning less?  Do you really need to live in your current country or would you be happier in another?

So despite a desire to be happy, few of us live lives that are unique.  We fit our square selves into round holes and wonder why we didn’t become happy there.  We live the lives we are told to do and get the stuff we are suppose to and then it doesn’t feel right.  So rather than wait until your financially independent or retired, let’s start now.  Do something now that makes you happy.  It is ok if it takes money or if it is completely irrational.  Belly dancing is fine.  A painting class is fine.  Do what you want.

Why?  Because here is the secret.  A lot of people are unhappy a lot of the time despite the fact of everything we have.  We live the lives we are suppose to and never question if it is all wrong for us.  Perhaps we don’t need one way to live but rather millions of ways.  So cast off the mold and break it to the thousand pieces.  Be yourself and find your own happiness.  You don’t need a million dollars or even one.  Just find your own way.

6 thoughts on “What is Happiness?”

  1. that’s very true…
    I once read an article about how a Ivy League doctor decided to ditch her job and would spend 6 months in Africa doing volunteering work and the other 6 with her parents and she was so happy and that really led me to think…
    I know plenty of people with good jobs and they have a lot of “things” but yet they’re miserable.

  2. Very insightful. There is a person in my family who makes barely enough money to pay rent yet he and his partner just had a baby. They don’t worry about it. I sit and analyze excel spreadsheets worrying that we can’t afford a child. But we are drilled by society, parents, you MUST get a good education, you MUST get a good job, you MUST work your butt off at the job to get promoted and stay ahead of your competetive co-workers. All this is leading to misery and I am looking for a way to escape but I’m not sure quite how to yet. being a financially oriented person, I find it hard to break away from my projections and spreadsheets and just can’t see how it will work?

  3. Yes, happiness is a hard thing to define, isn’t it? I guess it’s kind of like pornography, hard to define but you know it when you see it. (Or in the case of happiness, you know it when you feel it!)

    And you’re right, happiness isn’t “transferrable” in that the fact that one person is happy doing one thing doesn’t mean that another person will be happy doing that same thing. It certainly is very personal, what make an individual happy.

    Knowing yourself and your own values, and living according to those is probably pretty important to happiness. Filtering out how others (or society) think you should be living from how you want to be living can be a tricky thing to untangle.

    I’m pretty convinced that attitude has more to do with happiness than anything else. Everyone has things to to be unhappy about and things to be happy about–each individual determines which ones they let influence them more.

  4. A couple of things on my “happy” checklist. Am I having any fun? Are my kids having fun with their Dad? Is my partner enjoying her days? Is she having fun?

    Money helps. Of course it does. But at what cost. I spent last weekend working on a rush project. None of the people I cared about were having fun and the money I made, while pleasant, is not critical. So that was a wasted weeekend on the happiness index.

    But you are dead right when you say we need millions of ways to live because we each find happiness – or not – by our own lights.

  5. Mintycake,

    I agree we tend to get drilled on certain concepts and they are not even valid. People have kids in the third world and manage to raise them to adulthood on less than what most of us make in a month. Waiting to ‘afford’ children is an weird concept.


    I agree attitude is a large portion of happiness for people. If you think the world is good, it will be. You look for the goodness and tend to let everything else slide.


    Oh I agree money can have a positive/negative effect on happiness. It depends how much you have. Really after you have the basics and a few extras you don’t need any more. We think we want more, yet I seen money make some good people very unhappy in the long run.


  6. Probably the best post I have read on happiness in a while. Simple. To the point. Inspiring.

    Two of my favorite excerpts:

    “We fit our square selves into round holes and wonder why we didn’t become happy there”


    “So cast off the mold and break it to the thousand pieces. Be yourself and find your own happiness”

    I’m adding this blog to my feed.. great stuff. keep it up!

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