What is Happiness?

What is Happiness?

What is Happiness?

I woke up the other morning to sunlight peeking into my bedroom through the slender space between the curtains and the window frames. As I pulled back the curtains, my room flooded with warm, comforting light. I scanned the yard and took in the fallen leaves that have carpeted the thirsty earth, the stack of firewood that awaits fast approaching colder days, and the abundance of slowly ripening lemons that weigh down young, slender branches. It’s a beautiful fall day, I thought to myself, and I felt happy and grateful.

Today, however, I’m navigating a loss that has me sitting with grief, sadness, confusion, uncertainty, and other complex emotions. In the midst of this cloud, I pause, take a few deep breaths, and reflect on all that I have and will continue to learn from this experience. Though the journey to this moment has been at times tumultuous, I see far more beauty in the experience, especially as I reflect on all of the ways in which I’ve grown. When I step back from what I’m feeling right now and take in the entirety of the experience rather than only observe select frames, I’m able to see the deeper meaning in all of it. It’s through this connection with meaning that I’m able to experience some happiness even amidst the pain. 

“There’s nothing in the world, I venture to say, that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one’s life.” —Victor Frankl

Here we have two very different scenarios—one in which I’m relishing the beauty of a particular moment, and another in which I’m finding my way forward through a difficult situation. These two examples could not be more diverse, and yet in each, I’m able to experience happiness. Although the feeling of happiness in the latter example is more difficult to hold onto as it’s competing with other feelings for my attention and energy, I still feel it—like an acorn that’s been planted and is courageously breaking through the earth, on its patient way to becoming a mighty oak.

How can happiness exist in both cases? And more importantly, what is happiness?

I recently began a year-long Certificate in Happiness Studies program through the Happiness Studies Academy, co-founded by Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, who taught two of the most popular courses in Harvard’s history—Positive Psychology and The Psychology of Leadership. Before beginning the program I thought to myself, how much can there possibly be to learn about happiness? After all, can’t we simply distill happiness down to feeling joy or pleasure, and avoiding suffering? To the contrary, there is so much more to happiness, and I’m excited to explore and share it.

“Everything that we choose we choose for the sake of something else—except happiness.” —Aristotle

Happiness can be defined as whole person well-being, or wholebeing. This refers to experiencing wholeness across several dimensions: spiritual, physical, intellectual, relational, and emotional. When there is an imbalance in one or more of these areas, it can impact your happiness. If you’d like to explore how to invite more happiness into your life, begin by looking at your life across each of these dimensions and inquire, how whole/content do you feel? Consider these questions.

  • What do you find meaning in?
  • How well do you take care of your body through exercise, good nutrition, and rest?
  • How do you engage your intellect, and how often?
  • How nourishing are the relationships in your life? Are you able to be authentic at all times?
  • How do you foster emotional well-being?

But we don’t stop there. We need to believe that happiness is a worthwhile goal in and of itself—that there doesn’t need to be some other objective, and that you deserve happiness. In fact, every single one of us deserves happiness. It’s through this acknowledgment that we create the space within which happiness can blossom.

Wholebeing may seem as though it refers to the individual, but are we really whole as lone beings moving about amongst other individuals, and separate from the world around us? No, we’re not. The idea that we’re separate and alone is an illusion that we’re conditioned to believe from an early age. You see, true wholeness lies in the fact everything and everyone is interconnected. From the quantum level to the vastness of the universe, everything exists in relation to something else. Everything is one, and in that sense, there is cosmic significance in all things.

Take a few moments to reflect on the following questions.

  • How happy am I—right now, today, this week, overall?
  • What could I do to increase my overall happiness?
  • What would the benefits be of having more happiness in my life?

I’m inviting you to consider that there’s more to happiness than you may realize, that you deserve boundless happiness and that there is a systematic approach to cultivating happiness in our lives that is rooted in science and research and can be explored and understood across multiple disciplines that include psychology, philosophy, theology, economics, art, history, biochemistry, and more. The nature of happiness is far more expansive and richer than I ever imagined, and I’m excited to explore this with you.