When I ask, “What does happiness means to you?” I often get long pauses or blank looks. If we can’t define happiness, how are we supposed to know it when we experience it?
I attended a convention that featured a session on “The History of Happiness” presented by a professor who had written a book on the topic. He spent most of his sixty minutes quoting ancient philosophers like Aristotle and Plato. He left time for one question.
The gentleman next to me raised his hand and said, “What’s your definition of happiness?”
Dear in headlights. The professor stumbled and mumbled and finally confessed he didn’t have one. There was an almost audible gasp from the audience at this surprising revelation.
The gentleman next to me wasn’t about to let him off the hook. He said, “You’ve studied this topic for twenty years. Surely you have your own definition.”
The professor realized he wasn’t going to dodge the question and admitted, “Well, if I have to give a definition, I guess I’d agree with Stendahl, “To describe happiness is to diminish it.’
That was it. End of session.
Wow. I turned to the man next to me and said, “I so disagree with that. I think defining and describing happiness helps us be more alert to it and appreciative of it.”
He nodded in agreement. I asked, “When was the last time you were happy?”
He thought about it for a moment and then smiled. “My daughter called last week from her hospital to ask for my advice. She is a physician who has gone into my specialty of internal medicine. She had a patient on his death bed and they hadn’t been able to diagnose what was wrong. I asked her to list all his symptoms. I got a hunch based on what she told me and asked if they’d tested for a rather rare disorder. They hadn’t. She called back to say the hunch was right. They’d started treatment and it looked like they’d caught it in time and he’d recover.”
I told him, “That’s happiness. To have an adult child who respects you enough to go into your profession, who seeks your advice, which saves a life, and for you two to get to share that?”
“You’re right. It was satisfying on many levels.”
I persisted, “So, how would you define happiness?”
“I guess I’d define it as being able to share meaningful activities with the people I love.”
“Hmmm. Yes, being healthy, and helping others to be healthy, goes into the mix.”
“Put that together - being healthy, helping others be healthy, being loved and sharing meaningful activities with the people we love – that’s a pretty good definition of happiness right there.”
How about you? When was the last time you were happy? What did it look like and feel like to be happy? The clearer you are about defining and describing what happiness means to you – the more alert to it and appreciative of it, you’ll be.
I’m collecting definitions of happiness for SOMEDAY is Not a Day in the Week and hope to include yours. Being happy means different things to different people, and my goal is to share different perspectives to facilitate a comprehensive , well-rounded discussion of this topic.
Will you please take a moment to share your (under 50 word) definition of happiness here?
Here are inspiring quotes to kick-start your thinking. You may see an ingredient that deeply resonates with you and you can include it in your description.
Once you’ve crafted that definition, post it where you’ll see it every day. Keeping it in sight, in mind will keep it top-of-mind which will help you be more aware of when you’re happy. Being conscious of our happiness is the key to experiencing it more deeply and appreciatively. Here are those quotes. Read ‘em and reap.
1. “There is only one happiness in this life: to love and be loved.” – George Sand
2. “A happy person experiences frequent positive emotions (e.g., joy, compassion) and infrequent - thought not absent - negative emotions (e.g., sadness, anger, anxiety).” – Sonya Lyubomirsky
3. "My happiness depends on me, so you're off the hook." Esther Hicks
4. “Happiness is not ready made. It comes from your own actions.” – Dalai Lama
5. "A smile is happiness found right under your nose.” – Ziggy (David Wilson)
6. “The secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in the little details of daily life.” Wm Morris
7. “Folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” – Abraham Lincoln
8. “Someone once asked me what I regarded as the three most important requirements for happiness. My answer was: A feeling you have been honest with yourself and those around you, a feeling you have done the best you could in your personal life and in your work, and the ability to love others.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
9. “Happiness is a state of well-being and contentment.” – Webster’s Dictionary
10. “I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness – it’s right in front of me if I pay attention and practice gratitude.” – Brene Brown
My definition of happiness? “Making a positive difference for as many people as possible, while enjoying healthy, creative, connected relationships with family, friends and Nature.”
By the way, I agree with all the above definitions, in particular that we must make up our mind to be happy - and that paying attention to and being grateful for what’s right in our world - is the key to doing that.
I look forward to seeing your definition. And thanks for sharing this with others, so we can collect definitions from around the world and create a global resource of what it means to be happy.