How does one explain happiness?
Happiness! And Joy. Intriguing topics. Bestselling Publisher Linda Joy has released the final book in the best-selling inspirational trilogy that brought us Choosing Happiness and Cultivating Joy.
As Linda Bard puts it: “I believe gratitude has a power that everyone, no matter her circumstances, can embrace.”
Here’s my take on happiness then:
“Looking for happiness is like clutching the shadow or chasing the wind.” Japanese proverb
Happiness. Who of us doesn’t count it as the top quality condition and emotion we want to have?
Try to close your eyes and envision a time when you last threw your head back, laughed fully and unreservedly, your eyes closed in delight and enjoyment, your heart full and the core of your body light.
The plodding, everyday life routines, demands on our time and energy, emergencies, endless to-do lists, the never-ending pull and tug on our attention, the endless variety of people we have to satisfy and please do one terrible thing: we lose it. We simply just lose it. We lose happiness, and the ability to even remember what it felt like.
One day we suddenly realize how far down the slippery slope we’ve tumbled, unbeknownst, and silent, like a thief in the night, it came and stole away our joy, our enjoyment, our smile, our laughter.
How on earth does it happen? And why does it happen to so many of us?
What is happiness then? It means many emotions and reactions to many people. Generally, I would say it’s a balance sheet: if the good outweighs the bad in your life at a particular time, you might be feeling happy.
I asked myself these questions:
- Do people across the world experience happiness in the same way?
- What about our make-up determines happiness? Do we have individual differences which impact our happiness?
- What brings us happiness?
- What is the possible definition of happiness?
Firstly, there is a difference between well-being, happiness and life satisfaction.
Well-being includes happiness, health and being comfortable.
Happiness is an emotion: feeling good, feeling warm inside, and positive, fun, hopeful, pleasant, satisfied, ecstatic, elated, euphoric and delighted.
Life satisfaction is the overall evaluation of the quality of the life you lead.
Do people across the world experience happiness in the same way?
Higher living standards bring about higher expectations of happiness. It just stands to reason, doesn’t it? You have so many more ‘things’, so much more which makes your life easy, and effortless, and pleasurable. So it should make you happier, right?
There was not such big difference between developed and developing countries with regards to happiness as such.
People around the world all count happiness and well-being as being very important to them.
Some poorer countries remarkably have a higher happiness index than wealthier countries; perhaps they expect less and are thus happy with more.
Differences between democratic/capitalist countries and totalitarian/socialist countries are for instance about overall wealth, basic needs met, faith/religious choices, freedom to choose your own life/ career/spouse and then war, instability, famine, accessibility of conveniences.
Other influences on happiness perception could be: more pressure to perform, conform, or because of too high expectations of each individual. This sometimes results in a country with seemingly excellent living conditions, having very high suicide rates.
In their decision-making, Western cultures value self-esteem, self-respect and self-determination, yet in collectivistic societies this has lesser importance. Westerners also place high emphasis on congruent and consistent behavior, in accordance with each individual’s own life view. Their basic needs are also more satisfied.
Peculiarly, as people are supposedly more satisfied and happy with their elevated life conditions, they change them! People marry, which produces a lovely prolonged period of happiness, and then they divorce. Or someone has a good life, yet performs suicide.
Culture does play a role. People with individual rights and freedoms, who are able to make decisions about their own lives, based more on feelings and emotions, report a higher perception of well-being and life satisfaction than those who live in communities where consultation takes place, and personal sacrifices are made for the greater good. Duty, norms and social standards here play a bigger role than individualism.
However, if these communal members are able to make decisions more in line and in accord with their own desires while simultaneously satisfying their societies, they do tend to also feel more happiness.
Having more money increases your life satisfaction but not necessarily your happiness. Higher income increases expectations, and thus it takes ever more to feel happy.
In poorer countries, people currently report happiness also to mean obtaining goods which richer countries have.
What about our make-up determines happiness?
You are born with a predisposition to react to certain events in a certain way. Your make-up, emotions and moods determine how you will react, view and interpret circumstances and happenings around you. Temperament influences your individual judgements of events.
This predisposition emerges early in life and remains fairly stable throughout.
Your nature, the qualities you inherited, your personality, character and ability to be more positive will have a bigger impact on happiness than your attractiveness, career, money, possessions, and even your health. The way you are raised plays some part in the happiness equation.
All of us have a baseline, (a paradigm, a threshold, a standard), which guides our feelings and reactions. The severity of events might take us up or below this baseline, but we’ll be inclined to return to our control or basis rather soon. This standard foundation remains stable over time and all circumstances.
We humans seem to have a natural inclination towards feeling good, pleasant emotions. We are born with a positive starting point.
Unhappy and happy people will treat life conditions differently. Your state of mind matters.
And extroverts, open and outward-living individuals have an advantage over neurotic types (those perhaps more sensitive, anxious, distraught, manic, obsessive, uptight, nervous, highly strung).
Humans are easily habituated, and soon the same-old, same-old prevails. That which was just so fabulous and amazing a week ago is now just as if it had been there all along.
If and when misfortune comes calling, you will at first be deeply unhappy and stressed out. But soon you will find, without much fanfare or even awareness, you have coped, and accepted, and are no longer reporting the same level of deep unhappiness.
People are marvellously adaptable, and will tend to become used to external changes in circumstances surprisingly rapidly. When someone becomes paralyzed, he or she will often enough quickly become used to the condition and feel more pleasant emotions again. This varies according to the severity and frame of reference of each person, but it is still startling.
Imprisoned people (which we would think of as a terrible situation to be in) seemingly adapt quite soon to their conditions, whereas it takes longer to adapt to, for instance, losing a loved one. Something like noise and other everyday conditions take the longest to tolerate and get used to. Strange, isn’t it?
But circumstances do play a role in how you interpret your happiness scale. For instance: people with a disability, especially a severe infirmity, will feel less pleasant emotions more often than others. Pain and suffering also influences your levels of happiness.
Getting married or losing your spouse will both make you feel ‘off’ your usual baseline for a longer time.
We compare situations as they happen, with previous, similar situations in our lives, and this will influence how we react to the new events. If it previously made us feel good, we will be more inclined to feel good in this instance also. And the same goes for unhappy previous results.
Sadly, the better the circumstances in our lives, the more we seem to upscale our expectations of even more happiness, and our deserving more gratification. We’re not happy with what we have, wanting more material goods and trappings, and then expecting more happiness, spiraling ever upwards.
As situations happen, they don’t have the same impact and effect on us that long-term experiences and factors have. The latter have a bigger imprint. If you have more consistent positive experiences, you will, by default, be happier.
What brings us happiness?
This will surprise you. Having goals you value highly, and consistently moving towards the fulfillment of those specific goals, is one of the really big drivers of happiness. Being able to adapt the goals to new circumstances and conditions is equally important.
If your life has the means, the assets, the supplies, the aids and advantages which help you on your way to those goals, you will be happier than if you had less of those resources. Being attractive, and socially adept, more outgoing, having the right skills and talents, is also a decided advantage towards reaching goals in order to feel fulfilled.
Living according to and in line with your values, as well as optimism, enthusiasm and positivity have all been identified as important in the pursuit of happiness.
Happiness is engaging in activities which you find interesting, exciting and which fulfill you.
But beware: too much happiness in the form of excitement or rapture is not a good thing, as each set point of happiness becomes too high to reach, and you keep having to do more and more to keep getting the same ‘high’. Much like addiction, yes? You don’t need rapturous bliss and ecstatic joy in overdrive all the time. Intensity is good for a wow moment, for a jolt of cloud nine, but prolonged intensity brings exhaustion, and a decided flattening of feeling.
And sometimes people grab at the concept of happiness, and talk about it, pretending they have it, in order to fit in, to be appropriate. It doesn’t work. It’s not necessary. We each define our own ideals of happiness.
Can you be happy?
Happiness is not so much a choice, as a determination, an iron will, a clear and uncompromising view on your well-defined and visualized goals, and an inexorable march towards their fulfillment.
Happiness is when you take care to optimally fulfill those goals and obtaining all the necessary resources towards developing and realizing those goals.
Happiness is when you have the freedom to direct your own rewarding life and choosing your own spouse, career, associations and societies. It’s excellent if you can do this whilst having a family structure connected and cohesive enough to offer constructive support.
It is when you feel neither the heights of success nor the depth of despair too deeply or for too long.
Happiness is yours if you can be self-directed and do what you want, yet still do only good and act only responsibly towards all others.
Happiness is when you can be grateful and find satisfaction with what you already have.
The more regularly, and not necessarily the more intensely, you experiences positive feelings, the happier you will think you are.
The weapon most powerfully in your possession is your own attitude.
And one final thing: happiness is contagious. So is a positive attitude and outlook. So go infect and affect someone, today.
May good fortune beam down on you and may you always keep your face turned towards the sun.
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Research done, inter alia, on http://bit.ly/1wGZbjg and http://bit.ly/1EJoQcw