What is happiness, exactly? Is it big smiles and laughter? Champagne, presents and celebration? Love? Peace of mind? Contentment? What does happy look like to you? How does it feel – to you? Most of us list happiness as a fundamental goal but how do we know if we’re achieving it if we haven’t taken the time to define it?
As I look through my life, it seems to me that my definition of happiness has been ever fluctuating. I also notice that my perception of whether or not I felt happy, fluctuated in accordance with those definitions. The more narrow the definition, the less chance I had of hitting the target.
These days my concept of happiness has expanded so much that I find myself searching for another word to describe the feeling. The word happy seems only mildly adequate when describing the appreciation I feel when I recognize beauty, kindness or generosity; or the joy I feel when I’m really present for a friend in need; or the contentment I feel from aligning my life with my moral compass. It doesn’t seem like the right word at all to describe the poignancy of shared grief, the satisfaction of discipline, or the labor of creation. None of those states of being bring to mind the toothy smiles and boisterous laughter usually associated with a happy person and yet I do indeed feel wonderfully alive at all of those times. The feelings all fall under the positive column but to title that column with the word happy seems insufficient. Even the word good is misleading because it conveys a judgment that I have clearly not made. The closest I can come to my current definition of happiness is Positively Alive.
I aspire to be happy (by my definition) in each and every moment. I don’t always succeed, but my success is not dependent upon outside conditions. It’s dependent upon my awareness and recognition of feeling positively alive. In this way, I can feel happy even when conditions are not as I would wish them to be. For example, a happy marriage makes it easier to feel happy but it’s not a requirement for my happiness. Being in good health certainly makes it easier to feel happy, but I can still feel positively alive even when I am ill or injured. Success almost always brings on that toothy smile and boisterous laughter, but I can feel happiness in the moments of the journey, even if my efforts do not produce the desired success.
If we associate our happiness with a specific condition (having a job, home, spouse, children, position, accomplishment, national policy, world peace) we will not, by definition, feel happiness until that condition manifests. And that’s assuming that we will have the wherewithal to recognize happiness even when/if it does! So statements like, “I need a loving partner to be happy,” is self-defeating. What if it takes decades? Are we really willing to waste what for some people is an entire lifetime not being happy? Our society loves to rally against wasted energy, food, resources. What about a wasted life?
So, what is happiness to you? How does it look? How does it feel? On what does it depend? Answer carefully, your happiness depends on it.