I wrote in another blog post that happiness is related to self-development, but neglected to define what I meant by happiness. I intend to rectify that here.
Popularist background to happiness
So yeah, a lot of people have written about this topic. It’s probably because your state of mind influences absolutely everything else in your life, and being in a good state of mind makes life better, more fulfilling, more fun, easier… etc.
Happiness slips and slides around. Everyone will have an opinion on it and yet probably no one except self-help gurus or philosophers would confidently attempt to define it.
I may be supremely unqualified to comment on the nature of happiness because proportionally I have spent probably only a small amount of my life actually feeling ‘happy’. I have however spent a rather larger proportion of my life in pursuit of this state (a mistake, naturally), so I definitely know what doesn’t work.
Recently I have begun to wonder whether being happy actually matters as much as you think it does.
Dictionary.com describes it as:
the quality or state of being happy. [not very helpful!]
good fortune; pleasure; contentment; joy.
So, it is associated with the value property “good” and the physical sensation of “pleasure”, also the mood “contentment” and feeling state of “joy”.
The levels of happiness
In this definition, happiness seems to permeate many levels of being, from our abstract awareness of principles and material possessions but also relating to the visceral experience of sensual gratification. It also relates to the positive feeling state of gratitude for one’s lot in life and also a buoyant, mental sensation of benevolent oneness with the universe (joy).
It makes me feel happy just thinking about it. Happiness is infectious, and so is a social, shared phenomenon. It is also a private feeling state that one can nurture in moments of reflective solitude.
The most accurate definition of happiness
However, all this implies that happiness is static and yet ironically immersed in fleeting feeling states, which I argue is wrong. In contrast, I believe happiness to lie in a certain mental stance that we can take towards our experiences.
I have read many things over the years that attempt to define and help cultivate happiness but the most accurate one I think surprisingly comes from Rhonda Byrne’s dubiously marketed book The Secret.
Despite a very cheesy cover and title, her central thesis is that gratitude, and only gratitude, is the most secure underpinning to happiness.
I actually agree with her (excepting the part that magical thinking can be utilised for material gain). Her contribution has been to put a profound and awe-inspiring idea into a simple and accessible form. Happiness is defined by our positive (and yet realistic) stance towards our lot in life, what we perceive of the world and within our own selves.
Whatever we may have or be, whether gorgeous, talented musician or average, moribund financial administrator, only gratitude will provide a sure and steady alternative to that ephemeral feeling state we refer to as ‘happiness’.
My definition of happiness and how to achieve it
A direction of attitude and intention towards personal growth, characterised by gratitude for all that we are and have, and will have and will be.
Thus, happiness is not a static state, but a fluid, responsive and ever-changing orientation towards life. When life moves, you move too. It can be experienced as a feeling state but is so much more: namely, a deeply held trust that ‘all is well and as it should be’.
Not everyone may agree with this definition but I would maintain that gratitude is the most universal foundation to happiness.
In my own musings, I also decided that gratitude is one of four cornerstones of the type of life that one should live in order to access that ongoing flow of what could be termed happiness.
This is the quickest how-to I will ever write, but the other three cornerstones of ‘the good life’ are:
- Creativity: a life permeated and uplifted by a continuous attempt to transform our experiences, express ourselves, and solve problems in offbeat ways.
- Connection: a fervent acceptance and knowledge that the people in our lives are what give everything meaning, we cannot and should not want to live in a vacuum, and that happiness shared is multiplied countless times.
- Growth: sometimes happiness is so sweet we want to hang on to it forever, but the tighter we hold on to a feeling state, the more elusive it becomes. Devoting ourselves to growth is adopting the attitude that we as individuals are not and will not ever be finished or complete, and that constant growth is what gives life its essence of meaning and joy.
I hope that makes sense. It’s a pretty long definition. I think I’m right because all the times I’ve felt happiest have been when I’ve lived by these principles, and remembered calmly that it has always been the hardest times that have made my life richer and more rewarding.
Catherine Julianne is a writer and digital communications professional obsessed with the field of personality systems theory. She also likes drawing, yoga, meditation and being in nature.