What is Happiness?
Written by: Erin Mitchell, MSW, LCSW
What is Happiness?
Happiness is a word we use almost constantly in our daily language. We are bombarded with advertisements promising that we can pay money to buy this item or go on this trip to be happy. It is something that we have aspired to for so long, and yet what does it mean to be happy? Is it a state of being? Or is it an emotion? What are your thoughts on happiness? How permanent of an experience can it be?
According to Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert, “We all want to live happily ever after. To experience more pleasure than pain. More delight than despair. More joy than sorrow.” There is so much truth in that statement, we don’t want to sign up for struggles, however struggles will happen anyway and we just want the good to outweigh the bad. The reason it can be important to consider how permanent happiness is for you personally, is because it can change your relationship with the idea of being happy. If you believe that happiness is an emotion, than you would also believe that it cannot exist all the time. It would have to make room for all of the other emotions that are part of everyday life. On the opposite side of that spectrum, if you believe that happiness is a state of being, then you may believe that it is an overall contentedness with life and less of an immediate experience. What do you believe?
So once we define what happiness is for ourselves; how do we encourage happiness in our lives? One of the first places to begin is by figuring out what we value in our lives. Everyone has values that are a little bit different, so it is beneficial to consider which ones matter most to you. Do you really value independence? How about family? Peace? Love? Wisdom? Relaxation? Safety? Beauty? Adventure? If you are looking to find a list of possible values, try searching for a Values Clarification worksheet. There are a number of them online that may help you to determine what they are for you. There is also a helpful article written by one of our wonderful clinicians, Dr. Pamela Heilman, called Let Your Values Be Your GPS.
There is no wrong answer when it comes to the values in our lives, they just are. Once you have an idea of what your personal values happen to be, consider which ones are present in your life right now. Which values are you missing? Think about ways you better add those values into your life. If you know the things you feel strongly about or value, you can feel a greater sense of fulfillment and overall contentment.
Another important factor that plays into our overall happiness is our social support. Humans have thrived because we are connected to one another and don’t do well in isolation. For many people, the pandemic has worked to further isolate us from the people we care about. Having friends, family, and/or overall connections with others is very important to our wellbeing. Give some consideration to how much time you are spending with the people in your life who are supportive to you or even just share similar interests with you. We have more ways to connect with others than we ever have before, it is just a matter of using them.
No one can tell you how to be happy, it truly is something you must seek for yourself. By understanding your own definition of what happiness means, finding out and living your own values, and by spending time with others you care for; you have a greater chance at finding your own happiness in your life. That does not prevent bad things from happening, but it does help you to have a better ability to recover from the bad times.