What's your definition of happiness? Research in the field of positive psychology and happiness often define a happy person as someone who experiences frequent positive emotions, such as joy, interest, and pride, and infrequent (though not absent) negative emotions, such as sadness, anxiety and anger (Lyubomirsky et al., 2005). Happiness has also been said to relate to life satisfaction, appreciation of life, moments of pleasure, but overall it has to do with the positive experience of emotions.
The key to these definitions is that positive emotions do not indicate the absence of negative emotions. A "happy person" experiences the spectrum of emotions just like anybody else, but the frequency by which they experience the negative ones may differ. It could be that "happy people" don't experience as much negative emotion because they process it differently or they may find meaning in a way others have not. In fact, using the phrase "happy person" is probably incorrect because it assumes that they are naturally happy or that positive things happen to them more often. Nobody is immune to life's stressors, but the question is whether you see those stressors as moments of opposition or moments of opportunity.
Regardless of where you are on the happiness spectrum, each person has their own way of defining happiness. Philosophers, actors, politicians, and everybody in between have all weighed in on their own view of happiness. Read some of our favorite definitions below and let us know what resonated with you.
The ancient Greeks defined happiness as:
"Happiness is the joy that we feel when we’re striving after our potential."
Shirley MacLaine, Academy Award winner, said:
"To be happy, you have to be willing to be compliant with not knowing."
Michael J. Fox said:
“My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations.”
Mastin Kipp, the founder of Daily Love, said:
"I don’t expect to always be happy, I simply accept what is. And that acceptance is key. This is what self-love is all about, really, acceptance and the ability to love yourself right where you are."
Gabrielle Bernstein, author, said:
"Choosing happiness is the path of least resistance."
"Happiness is a state of activity."
Dr. Shefali Tsabary, psychologist and author, said:
"Only when we fill our own need and feel satiated from within can we truly be fulfilled and happy."
Eleanor Roosevelt said:
"Someone once asked me what I regarded as the three most important requirements for happiness. My answer was: A feeling that you have been honest with yourself and those around you; a feeling that you have done the best you could both in your personal life and in your work; and the ability to love others."
What's great about all these definitions is that commonalities start emerging. Shirley MacLaine and Michael J. Fox tell us to accept life's situations and to accept uncertainty as a natural part of life. And the greater we are able to do that, the greater we can lean into happiness. Mastin Kipp tells us it's ok to not strive to be happy, but accept whatever we're feeling. He hints at an important concept, which is that we so often try to fix things and get to be "happy" or "at peace" or "over a situation," but sometimes we need to acknowledge what we're feeling (whatever that is). What you often find is that acknowledgement will allow you to move into the "happy space" more quickly because your emotions aren't trying to get your attention. Your emotions aren't screaming at you, telling you that you're sad or angry. You've already begun the work of processing it.
Lastly, Aristotle shares a crucial part of happiness, which is staying active. How many "happy" people do you know who sit at home all day, everyday? They might be content or "ok" temporarily, but are they truly thriving in happiness? Happiness is often found in the doing of what you're passionate about and in building connections that are meaningful to you. Research has supported this with findings showing that strong social support is correlated with a number of positive outcomes. You might be in a rut now and you might have moments where you lose your connection to life, but you always have the opportunity to rebuild that connection.
So now it's your turn to begin finding the happiness in you. What brings you joy? Maybe it's a night in watching TV. Maybe it's a night out at a new restaurant in town. Maybe it's staying up late watching a movie with your significant other. Maybe it depends on your mood. Wherever your happiness resides, go enjoy it. And tell us which of these definitions of happiness resonated with you most. Leave a comment and let us know how you define happiness.
Rubin Khoddam is a PhD student in Clinical Psychology at the University of Southern California whose research and clinical work focuses on substance use issues and resilience. He founded a website, Psych Connection, with the goal of connecting ideas, people, research, and self-help to better connect you to yourself and those around you. You can follow Rubin on Twitter by clicking here!