Everyone wants to be happy. For many people, "To be happy" is the Meaning of Life.
Great. But if you’re going to have a goal, it helps to know exactly what is.
So, what is happiness?” Its definition is almost as elusive as happiness itself.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as... nah, who cares? They sit inside and write dictionaries all day. I should probably go ask some surfers, but there aren't many here in New Jersey.
Lots of people run with, "I know it when I feel it.” If it works, that's fine.
But defining happiness for yourself can be a valuable roadmap, maybe even a shortcut, to meeting the goal.
For me, a one-sentence definition doesn't suffice. But if somebody held me at gunpoint and demanded one, I would say something like this:
Happiness is a state of inner peace and fulfillment that allows you to consistently enjoy daily life, have enriching and meaningful relationships, be constantly grateful, weather life's toughest challenges with strength and resilience, and illigitimi non carborundum (don't take that last one too seriously).
Yes it's a mouthful, but it is one sentence. (BTW, living in the present moment is crucial for inner peace and fulfillment.)
Now for a deeper dive. Happiness can be hard to define because, in my opinion, it’s not one thing, but a composite of many.
Forest Gump said, "I am not a smart man. But I know what love is."
Love is what I mean by “one thing.” We all know what love feels like. It’s a distinct, unmistakable emotion.
Ditto for compassion, joy, contentment, inner peace, kindness and other most other warmhearted emotions, as I call them.
Is happiness just a composite of feeling warmhearted emotions much or most of the time -- living in a state of "warmheartnedness" or high emotional well-being?
Warmheartedness is the most important factor, but it's not enough by itself. You can’t eat love with a side of joy and wash it down with a pint of compassion juice. Other conditions need to be met.
Mine are below. Having all of them all the time is impossible. Having most of them most of the time is plenty.
There's a twist after these bullet points of conditions. So please wait for it.
- An acceptable quality of life, including financial situation, ability to afford necessities and maybe a few extras, feeling safe and comfortable at home. (It's tough to be happy if you're food- or housing-insecure).
- Meaningful, fulfilling relationships
- Meaningful work (unpaid work, like raising kids, absolutely counts)
- A positive attitude and optimistic outlook
- The ability to meet life’s toughest challenges with strength and resilience
- A few pursuits you enjoy outside of must-do responsibilities
So here’s the twist: Warmheartedness, or high well-being, brings down the threshold for all of these conditions, making them easier to attain.
The better you feel, the less you’re going to believe you need for an acceptable quality of life. You'll realize you can get by without buying an 82-inch widescreen or the same gleaming bad-ass lawnmower that your neighbor has.
Your friendships and family bonds will strengthen and mean more to you, it will be easier to make new friends, you'll feel more engaged at your job, you'll be more motivated to do the things you love rather than mope around, and illitimi non carborundum will be mission accomplished.
The opposite is true. A friend of a friend was once on the cover of a national magazine being hailed as a hero for his work on a huge national health crisis.
But he was so stressed out and emotionally troubled that he told my friend, and I’m paraphrasing, “I don’t feel any of this. It’s like I’m missing the whole thing.”
To society, his work could not have been more meaningful. No one deserved the recognition more, or to feel deep meaning in his job. But he felt detached from it because of low emotional well-being.
You may have noticed that getting married and having children aren't on the list of conditions. It's an illusion that marriage or kids will somehow "complete you." As a divorced father of two, I love to no end my delightful, quirky children who never cease to amaze and amuse me, and I get along well their mom.
But getting engaged and married and having kids never significantly increased or decreased my emotional well-being. I had to improve that separately. My happiness meter didn't budge.
America's has been going down. Despite spending staggering amounts of money seeking happiness, Americans are getting unhappier! Amazingly, happiness in America peaked in the 1990s! It's lower than it was in 1976. It has fallen in recent years.
There are many factors behind that. In my opinion, the biggest one that gets overlooked is the inability of talk therapy to create happiness.
Talk therapy can be effective against depression. That's critical. If you feel depressed, I'd say go to a therapist before anyone else.
But I've never met anyone who seemed to change much by going to therapy.
Most forms of talk therapy won't make you happy because they don't even try. Generally speaking, they aim to “fix something wrong” — to bring you “back to normal” — rather than also training you for happiness and warmheartedness.
Most people want and deserve more than "normal." Surveys of what people want most in life almost always include happiness, love, inner peace, fulfillment and other warmhearted emotions.
That’s a main emphasis of our Tame Your Mind, Love Your Life Workshop.
Make emotional well-being a top priority. It can greatly enrich your life experience.
At least for a little while, turn off the Home Shopping Network. Respond to emails a bit later. Pause the search for the "perfect" partner or suspend your efforts to "improve" the partner you have.
On a daily basis or close enough, do whatever helps you feel better, whether it's exercising, meditating, doing yoga, praying, practicing mindfulness, holding someone's hand in silence, singing along to your favorite song, watching butterflies (they don't like to be chased) or anything else that nourishes mind, body and soul.
We try to do our part by offering the workshop and posting content on our site. Here are some posts. Enjoy!
- 10 Reasons Why There’s No Such Thing as Meaningless Sex (just for fun)