“Happiness” – a word that is bandied about countless times in a day, out loud and in our minds, during conversations, in the midst of disagreements or arguments, in our private lives and in the workplace. During my many years as a Life Coach, what I hear over and over again from so many of my clients is statements like– “I’ll be happy if I can only lose 10 kg, when I find my true love, when I get that work promotion, when I can buy that new home or car…………” All the “if’s” and “when’s”! Does any of this sound familiar to you?
This brings me to ask: Is Happiness a destination? Or is Happiness a journey?
Let’s explore a bit more:
What is Happiness?
This is a question that man has grappled with since the beginning of time – and still today continues to ponder.
In different cultures, happiness has very different meanings. Let’s explore a few of these, many of which originate in cultures from around 2500 years ago:
- The Chinese philosopher Confucius – had a concept of JEN, as seen in his quote.
“A person of jen or humanity who finds happiness and brings it to others, brings good of others to completion and does not bring the bad in others to completion.”
What he is saying, is that happiness is in some way an outward orientation to enhancing the welfare of others.
- , Buddhism, another Easter tradition has a beautiful quote from the Dalai Lama, which again stresses the outward reach of happiness:
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion”.
This tradition believes that happiness stems from acceptance of what is, no matter what the circumstances are. It also emphasizes the principle of non-attachment, to people or to things.
- Taoism – and the philosopher Lao Tzu:
“When man is born he is tender and weak. At death he is stiff and hard. All things, as well as the grass and the trees, tender and subtle while alive, when dead, withered and dried. Therefore, the tender and the weak are the companions of life and the stiff and the hard are companions of death.”
This suggests, perhaps somewhat paradoxically, that weakness and tenderness may be the secret ingredient to a life of happiness.
- Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, suggested that acceptance of and moderation in all our passions, both good and bad, was the pathway to happiness.
- More recently, the European Hedonist view of happiness is that, it is found in the absence of pain and in the experience of daily pleasures and sensations – eg. a walk on the beach, the aroma and taste of a hot cup of coffee, the feeling of warm sun on your skin………….
These are but a few of the many definitions of happiness throughout the ages.
Take a moment now to consider what YOU think happiness is?
How is Happiness defined from a Scientific viewpoint?
There has been much work and many ideas and thoughts on this from the likes of Marty Seligman, Danny Kahneman, Ed Diener and many other scientists, psychologists and researchers.
- Sometimes happiness is measured on a hypothetical Scale.
- Kahneman on the other hand suggest 4 different levels of analysis:
- What is my general state of well-being – how is my life going overall?
- Or it could signify a trait , eg. as a person, I’m generally enthusiastic with a positive approach to life.
- It could refer to a specific sensation or sensory experience eg. At this moment in time, holding my partner’s hand, makes me feel really good.
- It might be the feeling of an intense emotion, like gratitude, and this makes you feel happy.
- Ed Diener’s very simplistic version:
- How satisfied are you with your life?
- On a daily basis, what array of negative and positive emotions are you feeling?
- Positive psychology researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky, describes happiness as:
“the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.”
So, how do we measure happiness?
Matt Killingsworth pioneered a sampling approach of asking people randomly, in the moment, what they were doing, how they were feeling and how that related to their level of happiness.
Alternatively, some researchers also look at behavioral indicators that suggest happiness. Our deepest thoughts and emotions are portrayed in our physiology – how we present our bodies to the world, the expressions on our faces.
Even more scientifically we could measure the levels of certain chemicals, like oxytocin, serotonin, cortisol and dopamine in our body.
You get the idea that there many different dimensions and facets of happiness and a vast number of ways in which happiness can be measured.
How would you measure Happiness in your life?
What makes us Happy?
Research has found that the following factors, some of which may be controversial, play a large part in our perceived state of Happiness:
- The power of Social connection,
- Co-operation and giving
- An attitude of gratitude
- A state of mindfulness
- The feeling that your life has meaning
- Acceptance of “what is” in your life,
- The story you tell yourself about your life
Much controversy arises when considering whether happiness and meaning are irrevocably intertwined, or whether they are distinct and occur each in their own right.
Your thoughts on this?
The Benefits of Happiness:
I’m sure we all agree, that everyone wants, is some way, to be Happy. But why – what exactly are the social, mental, and physical benefits of Happiness? Is making all this effort to be Happy actually worthwhile? Scientific evidence reveals many compelling reasons to aspire for greater happiness and fulfillment. Happiness doesn’t only make you feel good, it brings with it a host of fantastic fringe benefits too!
- In comparison with less happy peers, happier people are more sociable and energetic, more charitable and cooperative, and better liked by others.
- This allows for richer networks of friends, social support and a greater likelihood of getting married, and staying married.
- Happy people are more flexible and creative in their thinking and more productive in their jobs.
In becoming happier, we not only boost experiences of joy, contentment, love, pride, and awe but also improve other aspects of our lives:
- our energy levels,
- our immune systems,
- our engagement with work and with other people, and
- our physical and mental health.
- In becoming happier, we bolster as well our feelings of self-confidence and self-esteem;
- we come to believe that we are worthy human beings, deserving of respect.
Work benefits: The work of Stephane Cote at the University of Toronto, and others, finds that if you’re the manager at an organization and are cultivating happiness and connection, the people you’re supervising are creative, more productive, and actually have better health profiles at work. So, lots of benefits to happiness at work!
Social benefits: Countries who rank high on the Happiness Index, (see link below) have higher longevity in their citizens, kids who are better adjusted and who do really well and generally a much higher standard of social well-being.
In this 2017-2018 WHR, (world Happiness Report) it is interesting to note that South Africa ranked # 105 out of the 156 listed countries.
If you would like to read the United Nations World Happiness Report 2017_2018, follow the link below:
A final and perhaps least appreciated plus is that if we become happier, we benefit not only ourselves but also our partners, families, communities, and even society at large.
[The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, by Sonja Lyubomirsky (Penguin Press, 2007)]
What must I do to become Happier?
What is the secret of Happy people? The $1 000 000 000 question!
Be on the lookout for Part 2 of “Happiness – a Destination – or a Journey?” where we look at some of the secrets to becoming Happier.