The science of cultivating happiness.
Posted May 2, 2020 | Reviewed by Kaja Perina
- How many times have you told yourself, “I just want to be happy?”
- There is a plethora of research about the science of happiness, and results conclude that each one of us can work towards the goal of happiness. But what does it exactly mean to “be happy?”
- Is happiness a fleeting emotion or a state of mind?
The word “happy” is an adjective that was derived from the noun “hap,” which means “chance” or “fortune” in most languages. This derivation poses an interesting question: Did our ancestors believe that happiness was mainly a byproduct of luck?
The present-day definition of happiness refers to a feeling that relates to contentment and satisfaction. Happiness is a state and not a trait, meaning that it is not a long-lasting or ingrained permanent feature but rather a changeable state depending on our mindset, environment, and circumstances.
Happiness vs. pleasure
Although happiness is not necessarily ingrained or a permanent state, it does differ from pleasure, which is more visceral, an "in the moment" feeling. As humans, we take pleasure in sensory-based feelings such as physical touch, eating a good meal, or receiving a compliment. Happiness is more stable than pleasure as feelings of happiness usually stay around longer than a few moments. Pleasure can come and go in seconds. Also, we may experience moments of pleasure when we are unhappy. For example, we can be extraordinarily stressed but indulge in pleasurable activities that can bring us moments of hedonistic escape. Pleasure can contribute to happiness, and happiness can enhance or deepen feelings of pleasure, but the two can also be completely mutually exclusive.
What creates happiness?
Have you ever come across someone who always seems to be happy? Have you ever wondered how this person is always happy, regardless of the current state of society? There are a few ingredients that contribute to happiness and although it is not necessary to have all of them, having at least one of these ingredients while working towards another can lead to a state of happiness:
- Individual income (up to about USD 75,000 a year)
- Physical health
- Experience of positive emotions
- Social relationships
- Moral values
- Basic access to safety and social equality
Can you choose to be happy?
The simple answer is, YES. We can achieve a state of happiness by working towards improving the status of each of these ingredients above. For example, you can work on obtaining a higher salary or seeking a job that brings you innate satisfaction and purpose, on improving your physical health by exercising and eating whole foods, and on building stronger relationships with your friends, family, and community.
With that said, happiness comes in all shapes and sizes and can look different for many different individuals; however, we usually must have at least one of the ingredients from the list mentioned above.
- A woman who lives alone finds great pleasure in her work, and has a close relationship with her nieces and nephews.
- A widow who enjoys visits from her grandchildren and who volunteers at her church.
- A man who is happily married with three children and works at a below-average paying job.
- A social worker who works 60 hour weeks with no overtime pay but takes great pleasure in making sure everyone in her caseload is in good hands.
- A single man who lives in a van with limited earthly possessions but has a close connection with his God.
- A single man who earns a high salary and lives with his dog.
- A teenager who lives in a foster home and enjoys his classmates and playing soccer.
Can you be happy while having feelings of sadness?
The simple answer is YES. We can experience mixed emotions, especially when we are experiencing bittersweet moments such as a graduation, moving to a new area, or leaving an old job and starting a new one. These endings that are also beginnings often bring up sadness and loss while simultaneously bring up feelings of hope and happiness for new beginnings.
Another common example of mixed emotions is when elderly family members die after living a good life. This is particularly true, especially if they were struggling at the end of life, and now they are in a better place.
Are you searching for happiness?
We do not need to have everything we want to be happy. True happiness can be obtained by finding joy in what we already have, however much or little that may seem.
Signs of a happy person
- Happy people are generally healthier
- Happy people have a strong support network of friends and family
- Happy people enjoy giving their time, money or skill to someone in need
- Happy people are content being alone
- Happy people often influence others to seek happiness
- Happy people engage in deep, meaningful conversations.
- Happy people smile and laugh more
- Happy people find the beauty in the little things
- Happy people invest in their future
- Happy people are more productive and creative
- Happy people have an easier time navigating through stressful scenarios
- Happy people treasure people over possessions
- Happy people are less likely to engage in jealousy or gossip
- Happy people exercise self-care
- Happy people are less likely to hold grudges
- Happy people are happy for other people
- Happy people are enamored with the simplest moments in life.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time dedicated to highlighting the importance of mental health, eliminating the stigma associated with mental health disorders, and raising awareness about self-care and happiness. My wish is for everyone to seek and find happiness at some point in their life, as I believe we have the option to work towards finding our own happiness, but this may take more time and work for some individuals who must overcome more significant obstacles than others.