Everyone can agree that happiness is an emotion. However, if you speak to different people, are they going to give you the same definition of happiness? What one person thinks of as contentment or being happy might not mean quite what it does to someone else. To follow this train of thought, it makes sense that what a person thinks about happiness could tell a great deal about their mental state. In this article, we're going to talk about some different definitions of what it means to be happy and what they imply about the person who came up with them.
The United States Declaration of Independence from Great Britain so memorably speaks about "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." But what exactly does the pursuit of happiness mean? Most people seem to define happiness as pursuing whatever activity leads to their contentment and state of general wellbeing. What's interesting is that some people don't think of themselves at all when it comes to their personal definition of happiness.
Many people derive feelings of joy or contentment from helping others. These individuals find happiness by volunteering at a soup kitchen or a church. They clean up impoverished neighborhoods, or they volunteer at animal shelters. This altruistic nature seems to imply a thoughtful, considerate way of looking at the world. It is these people who make the world a better place through the choices that they make, and it was the Dalai Lama who stated, "Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions."
In theory, if everyone operated like this, and were quick to help strangers and those less fortunate, then society would be in better shape. The only time that this sort of attitude can be a drawback is when it crosses the line to where the person in question is neglecting their wellbeing in their efforts to help others.
One of the most practical ways of handling your happiness is to spend some time helping others, but also taking care of yourself. If you're giving away money to the poor yet you can't pay the rent on your house or apartment, then you've gotten to the point where you're out of balance, and you need to reconsider your priorities. Still, most psychologists would agree that acts of charity are one of the most surefire ways of making yourself happy if you don't feel fulfilled in your life.
Being happy when you spend time with your family and do things for them is something that probably feels familiar to every soccer mom or dad who coaches Little League. This sort of happiness is similar to that which comes from helping strangers, and yet there is a vital distinction because you're attaining good feelings from helping those you know who are closest to you.
You're putting others before yourself, but you're doing so in a healthy way. You want to see the people who you care about most succeed. Maybe that means helping your kids with their homework, being supportive of your spouse when they are facing difficulties at work or giving a relative some time when they call you on the phone during a personal crisis.
Just as with the individual who is happy when they help strangers, helping your family can bring you great joy as long as you set firm boundaries and mind your needs. It's easy for someone who defines their happiness through others to feel bereft or uncertain of themselves when they need some self-care. You should know how to care about your family and nurture them, but still find the time to do a spa day, take a walk in the woods sometimes, or whatever else it is that gives you pleasure. Remember that as much as you love your family and cherish them, they can still take care of themselves. They should not rely on you every second of the day.
Some people are intrinsically more introverted and derive peace and joy through mediation and self reflection. Some people also need to focus on themselves and their own mental state before they can even begin to help others. Maybe you're a solitary person, who isn't close with your family, is uncoupled, and has no pets or dependents of any kind. Your definition of happiness is almost going to have to be involved with yourself exclusively because there are not many other people in your life with whom you care to share it.
This seems like it could potentially be a lonely existence, but it would not be right to be judgmental of such a person. Some people like being by themselves, and they're perfectly happy keeping society at arm's length.
The only problem here is that humans are generally understood to be social animals. It's hard going through every moment of your life being self-reliant and not letting anyone else in. It's the rare individual who is by themselves every minute of every day and doesn't feel lonely sometimes. If your happiness comes through solitude, then it might not be a problem at first, but as the years' pass, you may begin to feel differently about things.
There are also those individuals who seek happiness through wealth and material gains. In the Buddhist philosophy, this is a path toward disaster if contentment is ultimately what you desire. It is true that there are people who are happy when they make their whole lives about things like money, cars, yachts, mansions, and spending time in the finest restaurants rubbing shoulders with the glitterati. However, much like being alone all the time, you run the risk of suddenly feeling unfulfilled one day and realizing that you should have spent your life differently.
You might pursue material possessions and money your whole life, and it may never lead to a spiritual crisis. However, if you do so, you should take a step back from the chase occasionally to acknowledge your non-material treasures like your family and friends. It is a lonely tycoon who has sacrificed their family's special moments in search of closing the next business deal. Literature is full of stories of contemptible misers who die on top of a heap of gold craving the warmth of a genuine human connection, the one thing which they cannot possibly buy.
You Must Pursue Your Own Path
Ultimately, each of us must find our own definition of happiness. As long as what you're doing isn't harmful to anyone else, then there should be no problems if you continue to travel along your path and seek your own way. You should keep in mind, though, that life is all about learning and growing. Most people don't stay the same throughout their whole life. If they do, then they have become stagnant, and their personal growth has ceased.
As you get older and you go through experiences that shape and change you, you should not be surprised if your definition of happiness changes as well. What once satisfied you might not do so anymore, and there's nothing wrong with that. If you've arrived at such a place in your life and you need to speak to someone, then you should reach out to a mental health professional.
For most people, you should try to find a degree of balance in your life if you want to have an ongoing measure of happiness. You should be charitable, both to those you know and those you do not. In that respect, you should subscribe to the axiom of treating others the way you would hope to be treated yourself.
You should be true to your definition of happiness as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else. That means if you want to be alone, then you should do that, but you should try not to shun society completely. Everyone needs someone to talk to sometimes, even if they only serve as a sounding board for your own thoughts. Try to cultivate at least a couple of friendships even if you have no family of your own.
You should try not to be overly materialistic. However, at the same time, you must acknowledge that a lack of money and resources can be the cause of distress for many people because it leaves them unable to care for themselves. Therefore, try to earn money but do not worship it.
Also, don't anticipate being happy every minute of every day. It's not a realistic expectation. Life is ever changing, a tapestry which brings with it moments of intense joy and also the occasional bleak moments. Lastly, if that bleakness is more than a short interlude for you, and it has become the prevailing theme of your life, seek help. Sometimes people don't know what it is that makes them happy anymore. If that has happened to you, then there is no harm in speaking to someone who might have some suggestions as to how you can retrieve your mojo.