What Is Happiness And What Does It Mean?

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated April 17, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Happiness can seem like a straightforward concept, but it may be more complex under the surface. With an understanding of human emotion and personality, the idea that happiness can be stable 100% of the time may not be realistic. However, psychologists have studied the pursuit of happiness for years, and several theories surround it. Understanding the connection between health and happiness, how emotions arise in the body, and the synonyms connected to happiness can help you decide what happiness means to you.

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What is happiness?

Happiness is both a concept and an emotion, which may have different meanings to different individuals. However, on a base level, happiness is a temporary emotion, often known as joy. Studies have shown that happiness can be a physical and emotional concept. 

When happiness occurs as an emotion, it may cause a release of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins to cause an increase in joy and enjoyment. This response may last a few seconds to several minutes or hours. However, it often fades to make way for other emotions, which can cycle throughout the day. 

People often associate happiness with synonyms to the term or a state of contentment. To define happiness, it can be valuable to define these synonyms often associated with joyful feelings. 


Well-being can involve how comfortable you feel with your life and health. Those who experience well-being may have frequent moments of joy, feel healthy, and experience satisfaction with their life events. Different people may have different levels of well-being. You might experience well-being but not feel completely satisfied, which can also be typical. 

Well-being is not limited to one area of life. You can experience well-being in several areas, including but not limited to the following: 

  • Emotional connections 
  • Physical health 
  • Social health
  • Workplace environment 
  • Societal connections 

You may have well-being in one area and not in another. Some people may strive to achieve well-being in more than one of these areas to feel truly fulfilled. What makes you feel fulfilled may depend on your preferences. However, note that you might not achieve physical well-being without mental well-being, and vice versa. Many of these areas are interconnected. 


When one is flourishing, one may experience an influx of positive feelings. Flourishing people may experience various positive emotions, including happiness, excitement, love, and others. Although they are human and still have challenging emotions, these emotions may be less frequent and quickly addressed. 

Those who are flourishing might experience positive mental health, as well. Flourishing can mean your social health is thriving, signifying multiple healthy relationships, whether familial, romantic, or platonic. You may feel safe in your connections and enjoy your time with others. 


Contentment can involve accepting and being happy with the current state of one's life. One reason people may be unhappy is envy. They may want what others have and spend their life trying to make it happen by any means necessary. Being content is the opposite and can mean finding your home, friends, location, and life satisfaction. 

Being content does not necessarily mean you can't set goals and try to improve your life. However, it can mean you won't drive yourself to the point of unhappiness to make it happen or try to compare yourself to others. Some people are content with having a lower income, while others feel content with enough money to buy luxuries. Find what makes you happy and go after it, but try not to let envy run your behavior. 

Quality of life

Quality of life measures the overall satisfaction with one's life. Some of the factors to look at to determine a person's quality of life include:

  • Physical health
  • Family connections 
  • Education
  • Employment
  • Finances
  • Religion or spirituality 
  • Environment

If one or more areas are met, and an individual feels content, it may indicate life satisfaction and significant quality of life. 


Is religion a part of happiness?

Religion can play a part in one's happiness. However, one does not have to have a religion or spirituality to feel happy and content. 

One example of a religious concept of happiness comes from Christianity. There are multiple Christian faiths, but many want to find eternal happiness after they pass, believing in the concept of heaven. Heaven is considered a place where people can reconnect with passed family members and enjoy happiness and peace. Believing in a God and heaven during one's life may offer hope and happiness to them. 

Buddhism is another religion where happiness is a theme. People who practice Buddhism may strive to be kind, compassionate, and content with the world around them. They want to reach nirvana, a place of eternal happiness—a state of ascended being that may come from activities like mindfulness and empathy. 

In Judaism, happiness is another valued philosophy. It's known as Simcha. This word may be used during exciting events or to describe the joy of connecting. It is commonly used to describe happy events like weddings or a bat mitzvah. This form of happiness describes the joy of coming together to experience the events of life that often cause a feeling of joy and connection with one's faith. 

What are the differences between optimism and pessimism?

Individuals and researchers have used the metaphor of whether one sees a "glass half empty or half full" to determine if someone is an optimist or pessimist. Optimists are said to see hope in a situation, whereas pessimists may view the situation as a loss or the expectation of disappointment. 

Those who think positively, smile often, and try to look on the bright side may experience more happiness, but this isn't the case in every scenario. At times, people use positivity to ignore inner pain. In addition, acting positive when you don't feel that way might cause you to ignore the health risks associated with suppressing your emotions

Both optimists and pessimists can experience happiness to a degree, and both mindsets can be unhealthy when used in excess. Other, being too pessimistic can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies. You may believe someone won't like you and become anti-social in response, causing them not to like you. 

Try to have a balance of optimism and realism. Think positively and look on the bright side, but be realistic when needed. Allowing yourself to feel your feelings is part of genuine optimism, as you can recognize that all emotions are part of the human experience and necessary for health and growth. 

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Support options 

If you're not happy with yourself, you're not alone. A counselor or therapist may help you understand the causes of your unhappiness and guide you in taking steps to achieve more, potentially improving your quality of life. However, some individuals may find speaking with an in-person therapist overwhelming. 

If you face barriers to face-to-face therapy, you're not alone. Platforms like BetterHelp can help you reduce the stigma of seeking support, as you can sign up with a nickname and choose between various session formats, including video, phone, or chat. In addition, you can attend therapy from home and reduce potential stress. 

Some people experience a lack of happiness due to a mental illness, like depression or anxiety. In these cases, studies have found that online therapy can be more effective than in-person options, especially when treating depression. Reduction or remission of symptoms can be common, and quality of life may increase. 


For some, happiness is a subjective concept but can also be described through its various synonyms and official definitions as an emotion. If you want to learn more about happiness or are struggling to experience this emotion in your daily life, you're not alone. Consider reaching out to a licensed therapist for further guidance and compassionate support.
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