What does it really mean to be happy?
Since young we’ve all been taught that happiness is something that we should strive for in life. But what exactly does that equate to when we say “I want to be happy”?
Does having more wealth, power and social status equate to happiness? Or is happiness simply being satisfied with what we have at any point in time?
Why is it that after so many studies we still haven’t a specific system for achieving happiness and does it all really even matter?
One morning, I decided to put my 6 year-old son to the test by asking him the following question:
“Hey buddy, what’s the meaning of happiness?”
Being the cheerful boy that he is, he broke into a smile and exclaimed “it means being happy all of the time!”.
I smiled at the simplistic nature of his answer.
As it turns out, my son’s answer was actually on par with one of the world’s most intelligent source for answers…
Embarking on my quest to find the meaning of happiness, I decided to turn to technology and big data for an answer.
A simple Google search yielded the following result from Oxford Dictionary:
“the state of being happy”
So much for a definitive answer huh? Even my 4-year old son could have answered that (and he did!).
Not even the omniscient Google could answer this question definitively for everyone. Is it that hard to define what it means to be happy?
But if you think about it, the reason is simple really.
Happiness is a subjective principle. There is not one single meaning of happiness because it’s relative to the person who is experiencing it. Makes sense?
Scientific Definition of Happiness
Now that we’ve established that happiness is indeed subjective from person to person, how exactly do scientists define happiness?
Being in the state of happiness involves experiencing positive emotions which are made of a combination of pleasure and deeper purpose. It also means a positive mood and a positive outlook for the future.
The general agreement is that happiness involves feeling positive emotions, contentment and satisfaction. What actions invoke such feelings then depends on the individual.
Does Being Successful Make You Happy?
Many people have bought in to the thinking that you have to acquire wealth, fame and fortune be in order to be happy. In short, being happy is a product of attaining a certain level of success.
This correlation between happiness and success does not imply causation.
For years and years, people have always been enchanted with the notion that success brings about happiness. The book titled, “The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor“, documents several scientific studies carried out that actually debunks this “myth”.
It would seem then that the opposite is actually true. The conclusion from those studies was that happiness causes success and achievement instead of the other way round.
The previous studies were conducted based on job performance and income levels.
Other studies that focused on the relation between health and happiness also concluded that people who felt happier more often of the time went on to have superior health, higher productivity and longer life spans – all of which may also be seen as factors that contribute to success.
People with higher happiness levels were also proven to have stronger immune systems when exposed to certain viruses under a controlled condition.
Recent research from Barbara Fredrickson also documented a “broadening effect” of the brain that is biological in nature. Positive emotions make us more creative and expand our intellectual, social and physical resources that we have in achieving our goals.
Positive thoughts and emotions induce more dopamine and serotonin into our blood stream which not only makes us feel good but also crank up brain’s learning capacity to higher levels. The resulting enhanced creativity, problem-solving capabilities and analytical advantage give us a chemical edge over other “not-so-happy” folk.
So what’s the take from all of this?
Being happy is instrumental to achieving success.
It’s a bit of a chicken and egg conundrum:
Success breed happiness, and happiness breeds success.
There’s no denying that it works both ways but the important thing to take away from this is that being happy during the process will actually help you reach your desired outcome much more efficiently!
Happiness isn’t the direct outcome of attaining success (although perceiving that you are successful will also bring about feelings of happiness). Happiness is one of the magic ingredients that allow people to succeed.
In the past I had always been a strong believer of “success = hard work”. Being an individual who prioritizes long term gains over short term benefit, I would put my head down and spend long hours ploughing through my work – even at the expense of rests, breaks or fun activities with my friends and family.
In my youth I would work my guts out and enjoy later on in the future. At least that was the thinking…
I have since changed my perspective in the pursuit of happiness.
With this knowledge, there’s really no point trying to sacrifice your happiness at this point in time for later!
That’s not to say that I no longer believe in working hard. Heavens no!
But I now believe that I need to create the conditions so that I enjoy working hard, not just “suffering” now for the sake of the hope that I will benefit later. And that means carefully selecting the things and activities that I give my attention to.
As my little 6-year old genius put it “it’s about being happy all of the time!”.
To me, happiness is the joy that I feel when I am living at my fullest potential at any given time. Be it working, socializing or having a rest day with my family. I take pride and joy in the process for every pursuit that I engage in.
Quotes on Happiness
To end this post I would like to share some of my favorite quotes on the concept of happiness that have resonated well with me. I hope they too will give you better revelation and inspiration to lead a positive life.
“It isn’t what you have, or who you are, or where you are, or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about.”Dale Carnegie
“There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.”Epictetus
“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 Keonig
“Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony.”Mahatma Gandhi
“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”Herman Cain
“Happiness is not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.”Franklin D. Roosevelt
“The secret of happiness is not in doing what one likes, but in liking what one does.”James M. Barrie
What’s your take on happiness and what is it that makes you happy? Do you agree with my thoughts on happiness or are there any other points you would like to add?
Leave your thoughts in the comments below, we would love to hear from you!
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