We are obsessed with happiness. We listen to songs about it. We read books about it. We long for it. We revel in happy endings. The U.S. Constitution even guarantees our right to pursue it. Yet many of us are trapped in the pursuit, with only fleeting moments captured.
So what is this thing called happiness, and where do we get some?
Before going further, as you read this, reflect on moments when you felt happy. I admit that i actually find this request to be quite annoying, and always felt dismayed when asked to do the same. For many of us, this isn't easy. Happiness as it appears in ads and on social media feels remote. Our personal happy times or experiences may have been fleeting, few and far between, or associated with desirable feelings other than what we perceive as happiness, which is why it's important to recognize what happiness means to each of us personally, so that we can cultivate more of it.
Let's dive in.
Positive psychology says that happiness is having more positive than negative emotions, and that a happy person is one who experiences frequent positive emotions such as joy, curiosity, affection, and empathy, and infrequent, though not absent, negative emotions such as sadness, anxiety, and anger.
Note that to be "happy," we need to experience our full range of human emotions. This full complement of experiences informs our growth, our understanding of, and appreciation for life. Our range of emotions gives us data about how we perceive and interact with life and the worlds engage in, and keeps us in charge of deciding how to move forward.
I see happiness as one's personal definition of subjective wellbeing. What are those moments in which you experience what you define as happiness?
Here are the moments in which I am "happy":
--In the quiet of nature, on the summit of a mountain far above the daily noise. Nature is my "happy place" and I feel serene.
--When I'm engaged in meaningful effort, such as when I counsel a student and the issue that the student's been struggling with, is resolved; or writing this blog, or creating and facilitating programs that bring solutions to challenges with which people grapple. To me, this feels like fulfillment.
--I feel "happy" pursuing a new physical challenge, such as riding 10 miles further than my previous ride, or conquering an incline I'd never been able to surmount before. To me, that feels like exhilaration and accomplishment, and fuels my drive to carry on.
--I'm most "happy," when I'm with people I love--family and friends with whom I'm simply eating, sharing, and hopefully, laughing. In these moments, I feel content, serene, and at peace. That is my happiness, and these are my most precious moments.
To someone else, happiness may mean exuberance, all-night dancing to rhythmic music, partying 'till dawn on the beach, travel and exploration. It may be engagement in creative work--art, poetry, music, writing, problem solving.
Happiness may be thrill-seeking, or the thrill and challenge of passing a difficult exam, negotiating a deal, counseling a person in distress, drafting policies that have positive impacts. The list is as endless as our human experiences.
In my experience, pursuing meaning is the fastest route to "happiness." Why do you do the work that you do? Does it align with your core values--with what matters to you most--in some way?
How does your daily effort fuel your inner drive to thrive? This is where we find happiness. Now go get some. ;)