The Question of Happiness

Woman with a happy expression

Happy Holidays! Happy Birthday! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Anniversary! Happy Valentine’s Day! Happy St Patrick’s Day! Happy Easter! Happy Halloween! Happy Graduation Day! Happy New Year! Etc., etc., etc.

With all these happy occasions you would think we would have constant smiles plastered on our faces. We should be in a state of Nirvana most of the time, huh?

Of course, I don’t really think that’s the case. I would bet the vast majority of us are not basking in regular joy. In fact, I would also wager that many of us find it hard to achieve happiness on a regular basis – even when we are expected to be happy.

What is going on here? Is happiness a goal? Are we even able to truly achieve happiness? Should we?

What is Happiness?

In conducting my research on this topic I began to feel a bit like Alice falling down the rabbit hole. Every time I thought I was making sense of what I was seeing something new showed up and took me in another direction. Pursuing happiness, even on paper, can be very challenging.

So how do we define happiness?

One place to start is understanding the two main types of happiness – Hedonia and Eudaimonia. Hedonia is happiness that comes from pleasure and doing what feels good. Eudaimonia is happiness stemming from seeking meaning and is associated with value and purpose.

In the article What Is Happiness? Defining Happiness, and How to Become Happier, the author suggests yet a third type of happiness, Engagement. This form of happiness relates to feelings of commitment and participation.

Many who write about happiness most closely associate it with a feeling. Yet, how we ‘feel’ is relative to our needs, desires, fears, etc. How do we standardize that to fit all humanity?

Another definition of happiness found in an article in Positive Psychology calls happiness a state and NOT a feeling.

“Happiness is a state characterized by contentment and general satisfaction with one’s current situation.”

However, Professor Ben C. Fletchers writes in an article for Psychology Today that Happiness is Not a Feeling – it is a Doing.

Okay, now we are left with the question of how do we ‘do’ happy? Prof. Fletcher’s research suggests that shifting our focus in how we look at things and in how we conduct our day-to-day actions may be the pathway to a happier life. One study in the article discovered that happiness scores go up when people break habits and behave differently.

This is easier said than done. Braking patterns and creating new habits is a challenge whether it is weight loss, better parenting, stronger work ethics, or attaining happiness. All of the changes are very important to us. Perhaps we haven’t given happiness the same significance as these other aspirations?

One thing the academics seem to agree on is that happiness plays an important role in our lives. Science shows that it can affect our health, our sense of well-being, our relationships, and in some cases, even our paychecks!

Are We Happy?

When you meet up with a friend on the street it is a foregone conclusion that you will be asked something like, “How are you?” Think back on recent times when this has happened to you. How did you answer? Was it the perfunctory, “I’m fine”? Did you even consider your actual happiness as you responded?

We are painfully aware of when we are unhappy, but it takes a bit more time and effort to think about our actual state of happiness and what makes it so.

Some have taken it upon themselves to answer this question on a more global level. Every year since 2002, happiness has been looked at through a statistical lens in the World Happiness Report. Their poll is conducted in 149 countries and contains questions in six categories: gross domestic product per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make your own life choices, generosity of the general population, and perceptions of internal and external corruption levels.

The top ten happiest places in 2021 and 2022 are all Nordic and Scandinavian countries with Finland sitting in the top position. What do they know that we don’t?

“The ranking credited the citizens of Finland’s strong feelings of communal support and mutual trust with not only helping secure the #1 ranking, but (more importantly) helping the country as a whole navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, Finlanders felt strongly that they were free to make their own choices and showed minimal suspicion of government corruption. Both of these factors are strong contributors to overall happiness.” – 2021 World Happiness Report

Let’s examine the variables. Gross domestic product may not seem to immediately affect our personal happiness until it affects job availability or income. It is very easy to see, however, the way the other five categories could directly affect our personal happiness. With the pandemic and the particular political unrest in the world today, areas like freedom to make our own life choices, and our perceptions of political corruption are deeply affected. Subsequently, our state of mind about the country and individual communities in which we live can alter our generosity, social support, and even our life expectancy.

If you are curious, the United States ranks 16 on the list this year, never having cracked the Top Ten. Not an awful ranking and up from 2021, but not particularly impressive for a country that boasts of its wealth and personal freedoms. For more on the World Happiness Report, click here.

Is Happiness Achievable?

“Happiness does not come from a job. It comes from knowing what you truly value and behaving in a way that’s consistent with those beliefs.”

– Mike Rowe

Although arriving at a clear definition of happiness continues to be a challenge for the academic and scientific communities, they do offer some advice on factors that can affect our level of happiness. The following list comes from an article in Positive Psychology titled, What Is Happiness and Why Is It Important?, by Courtney E. Ackerman, MA.

In the area of personal happiness these factors are important:

  • Individual income
  • Labor market status
  • Physical health
  • Family
  • Social relationships
  • Moral values
  • Experience of positive emotions

It is interesting to note that this list is reminiscent of the factors used in the World Happiness Report.

Even our governments are taking the happiness of their citizens seriously as some have launched initiatives dedicated to their citizens’ life satisfaction. An article in The Atlantic notes, “The United Kingdom has appointed a minister for loneliness, the United Arab Emirates appointed a minister of happiness, and New Zealand reviewed its national budget based on how government spending would affect people’s well-being.”

I do want to clarify the correlation between personal wealth and happiness. Yes, there is a relationship there but only up to a point. In a surprising 2021 article called “Can money buy happiness? A review of new data,” the authors argue that as an individual’s income increases, people’s well-being increases at a slower and slower rate until it reaches $75K per year where it barely increases happiness or it stops increasing well-being altogether.

So if money is not the answer, it might be time to take a more personal approach. Some studies suggest inserting practices that promote happiness, such as:

  • Adopting changes like monitoring how you speak to yourself and challenging negative thoughts in your head can make a difference.
  • Appreciating the smaller things in life like a beautiful sunset after a hard day at work or an unexpected call from an old friend to fuel a sense of well-being.
  • Keeping a journal of gratitude to help you to stop and reflect on the positive events and thoughts of the day.

It is important to note that happiness ebbs and flows and cannot be a constant. Striving for a continuous state of happiness will actually have the opposite effect.

Happiness in Your Job

“When you have balance in your life, work becomes an entirely different experience. There is a passion that moves you to a whole new level of fulfillment and gratitude, and that’s when you can do your best… for yourself and for others.”

– Cara Delevingne

How many of us have our dream job? I don’t know the statistics on that, but I do know what I hear from friends, family, and clients. There is a lot of dissatisfaction in the workplace and making a change is not a simple task. Some of us just need to stay in a job as a means of survival. So how do you find happiness there?

If you work outside your home you probably have other people there with which you normally would not interact. Look for the helpers, the smilers, the lighter-hearted ones who always seem to make the day go a bit better. If there aren’t many of those folks around, maybe you could try to be the light in the workplace.

Happiness is actually contagious. When we spend time around positive and happy people we tend to feel that way too. Dr. Gordon Bower, a psychologist at Stanford University who is a leader in the research on moods shares that, “In general, you seek out people who are in the same mood you are in.” Why not seek out (or be) someone who projects happiness?

We have the choice to make the change from keeping company with negative voices. We can choose to seek positive influences who can rub off on us at work, at home, or in the community. We can also choose to be that positive person to whom others gravitate.

Happiness at Home and in the Community

”There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.”

– Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

As I reflected on the topic of happiness I thought about my childhood. I can honestly say that it was easy to pinpoint the people in my family or community who always seemed to brighten the room when they were present. I am happier just thinking about them and their optimistic outlook.

Practicing optimism in your current community can be a pathway to more happiness in your own life. Some of the other recommended practices include:

  • Appreciating who you are and what you bring to the world
  • Trying new things
  • Accepting faults in yourself and in others
  • Connecting with others; exercising empathy
  • Giving back to others through service
  • Admitting you need others
  • Finding a way to smile and to laugh (even at yourself)
  • Not comparing yourself to others
  • Keeping things in perspective/ challenging negative thoughts
  • Make room for the things you love
  • Enjoying the moment

Community is not just your town or state. Community is the whole world. Did you know there is a World Happiness Foundation that works in partnership with the United Nations? This large and prestigious membership has made its purpose to spread happiness to 10 billion people by 2050. The goal may seem lofty but it is also noble. With all the so-called ‘influencers’ in the world today hoping to entice us to buy a certain product or act a certain way, it is refreshing to see so many who are committed to bringing happiness to more people. If you are interested in learning more about the Foundation or joining them to help meet their goal, you can find more info here.

What Does Happiness Mean to You?

Remember that being happy is not having a sky without storm, a road without accidents, a job without effort, a relationship without disappointments.”

– Pope Francis

What brings us to a state of happiness can be confusing. The deeper you dive into trying to understand the outward meaning of happiness the more convoluted it becomes …

Happiness is a feeling

Happiness is not a feeling

Happiness is a state of mind

Happiness is a trait

Happiness is a doing

Happiness is how you feel in the moment

Happiness is how you feel overall

(It sounds kind of like a Dr. Seuss book, doesn’t it?)

You can always view multiple TED Talks on happiness if you are looking for more background or inspiration. You can take a variety of happiness quizzes on the internet. There are countless books written on the subject. But none of these have a consistent answer to exactly what happiness is or how to find it for yourself.

Many who study happiness do agree that it involves positive emotions and life satisfaction. So why are so many famous, wealthy, attractive, and successful people in the world unhappy? You would assume their life satisfaction is off the charts.

My best advice to you is to look within for happiness.

Do your best to answer that tough question, “What does happiness mean to you?” If you find it’s hard to come to a decisive response, it might make more sense that the great minds of science and academia are so divided on the subject. Happiness is so subjective it is hard to pin down unless we take it to the individual level.

Here is one thing you can try. Do some deep reflection about the happiest times of your life. What were the circumstances? Who was present? Does proximity to family play a factor? Is nature in the forefront of the activity or event? Do you remember doing something new or challenging as a recurring part of your positive memories? Does a pattern arise?

I felt it was important to write this blog as we find ourselves in the midst of the holiday season which brings with it high expectations of happiness. If you aren’t achieving the outwardly expected levels of contentment, please don’t punish yourself for it. Happiness does not just appear because we have been told it should. Like other positive things in our lives, happiness does take effort.

Now that we are perched on the cusp of a new year, wouldn’t it be great to start off with a focus on happiness – not the pursuit of it, but a mindset that allows happiness to present itself more organically by focusing our awareness on the small moments of happiness that occur throughout each day. By celebrating the daily moments of happiness, I bet we will all recognize more of them and our happiness factor will generally rise. Let’s make some small changes now that can put us on course for a more naturally happy life in 2023 and beyond.

JuliGeskePeer, #questionofhappiness, #happiness, #whatishappiness, #lifesatisfaction, #humanconnection, #success, #2023success, #successinanyarena, #successfulleaders, #leadership, #juligeskepeerauthor


Award-Winning Finalist in the 2022 International Book Awards!

This book is written for anyone who wants to make a difference in their own life and the lives of others. Using your 5 senses effectively, you can become the leader that makes the world a better place. Please take a moment to explore my book, 5 Senses for Success: Strategies to Thrive in Any Arena. I am very proud to share these approaches and truly achievable practices that were born out of my own life and career experiences and strategic research. Each of us has it within us to achieve success and create healthier relationships within ourselves and with others

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Juli Geske Peer is a leadership, relationship, and accountability strategist whose professional credentials include two academic degrees, mediator training, train-the-trainer certification, two coaching certifications, numerous other learning and certification accomplishments, and now, author!

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