Happiness and sadness run parallel to each other.
When one takes a rest, the other one tends
to take up the slack.
-Hazelmarie Elliott ("Mattie")
So let's break happiness down a bit. Understanding it at the barest level may help us achieve it in the end.
What Is Happiness?
Happiness is a state of mind in which we feel positive or pleasant emotions. It can mean many things to many people, and be described in a series of ways. Happiness is a feeling.
Read more about feelings.
Feelings, also known as our emotions and sensations, are not the same as thoughts, beliefs, interpretations and convictions. There exist many arguments for why we might benefit from the ability to pinpoint how we feel.
One of the most straightforward: when we have an accurate name for something we are feeling, particularly when the feeling is negative, we are taking a step toward resolving the issue that is causing that feeling.
Using an appropriate word for our feeling allows for clearer thinking. This, in turn, gives us control and empowerment.
What are some other words for happy, you ask?
- In high spirits
- Riding high
That is an extensive list, but it helps capture the variety of ways a person may describe his or her feelings. Some people feel a sense of calmness and contentedness and are more passive in their expression of happiness. Others feel "revved up" and exuberant.
Breaking the definition down further, the dictionary defines happiness as "a state of well-being and contentment" as well as "a pleasurable or satisfying experience."
This gives us two clues to begin to understand happiness. A state of well-being and contentment refers to the idea that our physical and emotional state of being is relaxed, mellow, satisfying, and joyous.
For some, this might be reading a book in the sun, for others it might be climbing a mountain. Whatever you enjoy doing and makes you feel at ease and at peace are what count.
Happiness feels like:
- Warmth starting from the inside and radiating out
- Excitement (butterflies)
When you are happy, your brain is releasing all kinds of neurochemicals to their transmitters that tell your brain to be happy. When someone does not have all the appropriate neurochemicals, they may enter a state of depression.
Read more about depression.
The other definition of happiness is a pleasurable or satisfying experience. This refers to simply doing what you love to do. This can be any kind of activity that brings you pleasure.
Some examples are:
- Talking with a friend or loved one
These are activities that you do to relieve stress and to even out your mood. It is what we turn to at the end of a stressful day, when we have some free time, or when we need to be cheered up.
On a higher level, there is momentary and long-term happiness.
Imagine that you are having a great day. You might describe it as a happy day, or that you are happy. This is a more short-term type of happiness. It is the direct result of a positive situation that brings you pleasure.
On a longer-term basis, you may be described as a happy person, or you may describe your life as happy. This is often the result of many factors, that lead you to be generally satisfied with your life. It could be that work, family, money, and responsibility are all working in harmony and balance, bringing you long-term joy.
The Pursuit Of Happiness:
Happiness is hard to measure for a number of reasons, most of which have to do with the fact that measuring happiness is based upon subjective self-report. This means that you report how happy you feel - no one can tell you for you.
However, there are some psychological assessments that can be used to help define happiness. Several themes appear to be reasonably consistent across several areas of testing. They include:
Relationships - Those who have at least several, deep and close friendships are more likely to be happy. The number is less important than the quality of the relationship. Building a solid support network is key to coping and stress relief.
Caring - Those who are empathetic and care for others on any level tend to be happier. Caring can consist of being there for your friends or family, volunteering, or taking care of a pet. All of these activities get you in touch with your feelings and give you a sense of helping others.
Exercise - Exercise is key to physical happiness. Exercise is the only way to reduce the chemical 'cortisol' that is produced by the body when we are stressed. Cortisol makes us want to hibernate, eat unhealthy foods, and reduce our activity. Exercise instead gives us endorphins, which are the body's way of saying "Hey! Feel awesome!"
Spirituality - While everyone's experience and description of religion and spirituality differ, lots of research indicates that there is a strong correlation between spiritual or religious practice and happiness levels.
Strengths - Psychology has tuned us in to the idea that those who are able to identify their unique skill - the thing that they are great at, are happier people. It gives you a feeling of self-worth and competence.
Positive Attitude - There is absolutely information that states that a positive mental attitude and optimistic thinking are key to how you feel. It can turn the tide on illness, it can boost you up, and it can keep you going.
Here are some links to different happiness scales:
What To Do With Your Happiness
The question of what to do with your happiness is as varied as the ways we feel happy. You can cuddle it and save it for yourself, you can share it with your friends. We here at The Band would love to hear your story of happiness and joy. Feel free to contribute your story here.
Additional Resources About Happiness:
Enlightenment Podcast - Dr. Robert Puff produces a regular happiness podcast. You can listen online or download to a portable music device.
Pursuitofhappiness.org - This website is dedicated to all things about happiness and how to achieve happiness in your life. There is information about the science of happiness, inspiration, and sharing.