What Your Personal Happiness Definition Could Imply About Your State Of Mind

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated April 17, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Many people value happiness as a key part of the human experience. However, what one person associates with contentment might not align with the values of others. When considering what makes you and others happy, knowing what these beliefs about happiness could mean for your mental health and state of mind might be valuable.

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What is the pursuit of happiness?

The United States Declaration of Independence speaks about "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." However, some people may be unsure of what pursuing happiness means to them. 

For some, it can feel simple to define happiness as pursuing whatever activity leads to contentment and well-being. However, many people might not think about themselves regarding their definition of happiness, which could be reflected by the human desire for social connection and approval

What does your happiness definition say about you?

Below are a few scenarios that may be associated with the values of individuals in society. Knowing which beliefs you connect with may offer insight into your personality, goals, and values. 

"Happiness means helping others" 

Some people may derive feelings of joy or contentment from helping others. These individuals might enjoy volunteering at a soup kitchen or a church. They may clean up impoverished neighborhoods or volunteer at animal shelters. 

This altruistic nature might imply a thoughtful, considerate way of viewing the world. These people may care less about their own material possessions and try to make the world a healthier and happier place through their choices. The Dalai Lama stated, "Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions." This quote might resonate with you if you believe happiness means helping others. 

This attitude might be a drawback when a person neglects their well-being in their efforts to help others. One way to prioritize happiness may be spending time helping others when you have the energy but prioritizing self-care in your daily life. 

“Happiness means family connection”

Feeling happy due to family connections and behaviors may be relatable to a few people. This happiness definition can be like that which comes from helping strangers. However, the motivations might differ as you support those you are close to. 

If you tend to find happiness through family, you may want to see the people you care about succeed. The actions that make you happy might include helping your kids with their homework, supporting your spouse when facing difficulties at work, or giving a relative a listening ear when they call you to discuss a personal crisis.

As with the individual who is happy when they help strangers, helping your family may bring you joy if you set firm boundaries and ensure self-care. However, someone who defines their happiness through others could also feel uncertain of themselves or taken advantage of by others. 

It's healthy to care about your family and nurture them. However, consider a spa day, a walk in the woods, or a self-compassionate schedule. As much as you love and cherish your family, they can care for themselves in some ways by also practicing self-care.

“Happiness means self-involvement and self-compassion”

Some people are intrinsically motivated or introverted. These individuals may derive peace and joy through mediation and self-reflection. Some people might also value focusing on themselves and their mental state before helping others. If you define happiness this way, you might be a solitary person or someone who enjoys finding mental peace and clarity. 

Despite what you might hear, feeling best when you're by yourself can be healthy. However, total self-reliance and isolation from others aren't healthy because humans are social creatures, and being consistently alone can be associated with health risks. As a result, finding a balance between alone time and time with others may be healthiest.  

Consider budgeting your time for yourself, dedicating some time to journaling each day, or prioritizing self-care. After caring for yourself, spend time with those you love. You might schedule this time on a calendar to prepare for its arrival. 

Self-induced happiness might suggest that you thrive the most when you control your surroundings. It may also mean you feel overworked, taken advantage of, or dedicate too much of your mental energy to others. As long as self-involvement doesn't cause stress, you may be introverted or introspective, which can be unique and healthy qualities. 

"Happiness means material wealth" 

Some individuals seek happiness through wealth and material gains. In some cases, people are happy when they focus on money, cars, yachts, mansions, and spending time in the finest restaurants. However, if you pursue happiness through these means, you may risk feeling unfulfilled or isolating yourself from meaningful relationships and experiences.

Still, taking pleasure in material possessions might not be inherently unhealthy. For some, they stand as a symbol of resilience and the payoff that can come from it. However, a preoccupation with having the most expensive or valued items might stem from a desire to impress others or low self-esteem. It could also derive from equating worth with wealth or another measure of success. 

If you find happiness primarily through what you own, it may be worth considering your motives. If the underlying reason is rooted in a desire not conducive to long-term happiness, this philosophy may be causing you more harm than benefit. 

“Happiness means the pursuit of knowledge and experience”

For some, material wealth, relationships, and supporting others might not be as joyful as looking for knowledge and experiences in the world. These people might enjoy traveling often, hiking, getting an advanced education degree, or learning new skills. They might thrive on seeing a new culture, talking to an interesting person, or expressing themselves through hobbies.

In moderation, healthy risk-taking can be beneficial. Forbes reports that people who take risks are generally happier than others. However, if risk-taking, adventure, or the pursuit of knowledge are used to avoid responsibility, ignore emotions, or escape a situation, they might not be helpful. 

If you enjoy learning new skills and having exciting experiences, it could mean you value adventure, open-mindedness, expression, and expansiveness. In addition, it might mean you enjoy learning from others and feel the world has a lot to teach you about yourself. 

How do you find your definition of happiness?

Each person can find their own definition of happiness. If your actions and values aren't harmful to yourself or others, seeking your own definition of fulfillment is healthy. However, keep in mind that learning and growing may also be beneficial. What you value in one stage might not be what you value in another.

If you're unsure what makes you happy, consider asking yourself the following: 

  • How do I feel when I help others?
  • What emotions arise when I consider my needs?
  • Have I ever had any hobbies that brought me immense joy?
  • Do I have any specific values? 
  • What is my moral code?
  • Who in my life makes me happiest? 
  • How would I feel if I had no relationships? 
  • Do I feel confident in my ability to set boundaries?
  • Would I feel content if I never had wealth or luxury possessions? 
  • How do I feel when I experience a chance to take risks? 
  • What do I value in the face of adversity? 

Want to discover your own definition of happiness?

Counseling options 

If you've arrived at a stage where you're unhappy or unsure about your definition of happiness, you may find it helpful to contact a mental health professional via counseling. Anyone can attend counseling, regardless of whether they have a mental illness or are looking for advice. In addition, even if you face barriers to therapy, there are affordable and convenient forms of counseling, including online therapy.

Online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp can save you money. For example, you can receive guidance on discovering happiness from home without paying for gas, childcare costs, and other financial factors to attend an appointment. In addition, online therapy can be cost-effective and flexible. You can set video, phone, or messaging sessions at a time that fits your schedule. 

Research supports the efficacy of online therapy. One study noted that online therapy is effective in treating and reducing the symptoms of anxiety and depression, each of which often coincides with questions about personal happiness and success. No matter where you're at in the process of self-discovery, online therapy might fit your values at this stage of life. 


What personal happiness and fulfillment look like to you may depend on what you take pleasure in, the goals you set, and the challenges you face. Because it's an individual experience, understanding your definition of happiness might take introspection and support. A mental health professional may be able to help you navigate questions surrounding happiness and develop an identity and lifestyle that resonates with your values.
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