What Is Happiness?

While happiness is often characterized by feelings of joy and contentment, it is difficult to define and measure. As everyone experiences it differently, there is no single or universal definition of what happiness really is.

Although it mostly relates to positive emotions, it is more than just a fleeting mood or feeling. Living or pursuing a happy life, furthermore, is not about denying or avoiding negative emotions.

So, What Is Happiness?

Dictionaries define happiness as a sense of joy or contentment. It refers to the feeling of pleasure and positivity or a state of well-being and pleasure. Happiness has a range of definitions, but it is often associated with fulfillment, life satisfaction, and positive emotions. It can refer to what you feel in the moment or what you feel about life in general.

In psychology, there is a relatively new branch called “positive psychology” that centers on helping people lead happier and healthier lives. According to this, happiness is also known as SWB or subjective well-being. SWB is the scientific term for happiness and has three different elements or components.

These include:

  • Life satisfaction – being content with life and career (income)
  • Positive affect – being able to enjoy life and having healthy connections
  • Low negative affect – having fewer worries or anxieties and rarely feeling angry or sad

Some may experience all three elements, but there are also those who experience just one or two. And unfortunately, some people experience none. There is no single cure that can create all these components; people need to obtain each of the elements that drive or cause it.

What Happiness Is Not

Being happy does not mean that you have to ignore sad and negative emotions, or pretend that everything is joyous and alright. Humans are emotional creatures and experience a range of emotions. We need to know and be familiar with pain, sadness, and heartbreak because these so-called “negative emotions” are what make happiness feel more real and happy times even happier.

Negative and positive emotions are a natural part of life and we need to experience both to have a rich and full life. Positive ones broaden our awareness and help us build meaningful connections. Negative emotions, on the other hand, help us defend ourselves and stay away from danger. While these are described as unpleasant, they can motivate us to change or improve our lives.

The Two Conceptions of Happiness

There are two popular conceptions of happiness: hedonia and eudaimonia. Positive psychology views happiness from both concepts and many experts agree that people need both hedonic and eudaimonic happiness to prosper or flourish.

  • Hedonia – This defines happiness as the absence of pain or the opposite of suffering. Hedonia is associated with pleasure in the present moment and engaging in experiences or activities that provide satisfaction or positive feelings, without misery.
  • Eudaimonia – This conceptualizes happiness as the pursuit of being a better person or fulfilling your potential. Eudaimonia translates to flourishing or having a well-lived life. It is driven by a higher purpose and is associated with practicing virtues such as kindness, wisdom, courage, moderation, and others.

Hedonia has developed a bad reputation in the past due to its focus on seeking pleasures through any means available and possible. This, however, is not necessarily true, as hedonic happiness could also mean self-care or attending to your needs and desires. Eudaimonia may seem superior to hedonia, but both are connected and required for a fulfilling life.

Why Happiness Matters

Now that we have explored happiness and its two concepts, let’s dig into why it matters. There is a lot of scientific evidence that supports this, bringing a host of benefits associated with living a better life and creating a healthy and productive society. Below are the reasons why happiness matters.

Happiness promotes success

There’s this long-standing belief that working hard and becoming successful is the key to happiness. Studies, however, suggest that the opposite is true: Happiness fuels or precedes success. It increases your chance of being successful, as being happy can help you function better, be more productive and make sound or wiser decisions.

While having more money or becoming famous can give you a sense of achievement, it doesn’t guarantee long-term happiness. If you spend most of your life chasing goals after goals, it can only burn you out and make you anxious. It is better to mind your health, so you’ll have a focused mind, feel energetic, and strive for things that give your life meaning.

Happiness helps people maintain better and stronger bonds

Relationships are essential to both mental and emotional well-being. Healthy and loving bonds allow you to enjoy life, as well as continue to develop attitudes and behaviors that can help create better and stronger connections. Being happy enables you to bring out the best in yourself and other people, which then benefits your relationship.

Studies also suggest that there is a strong link between happiness and marriage satisfaction. Those who express more happiness are said to be more satisfied with their partners. It is also worth mentioning that happy people tend to have better social and emotional support, and are more content with their friendships and group activities.

Being happy lowers your stress levels

When the body is under constant stress, your cortisol (stress hormones) level increases. This can then lead to symptoms like aches and pains, mood swings, exhaustion, and others. Being happy or displaying optimistic attitudes seems to be related to lower levels of the said hormone, which benefits your physical and mental well-being. It can lower your stress levels and help you build resilience.

This is also the reason why many of the things that promote happiness help ease stress. These include exercise or physical activity, spending time with friends and loved ones, relaxing, performing acts of kindness, or just doing something you’re good at.

Happiness is linked to improved productivity and creativity

Research suggests that happy people are 12% more productive. They are less likely to show burnout symptoms, which means that they take fewer sick or days off. It is also worth noting that when employees are happy and engaged, they perform at higher levels and are more collaborative in working with others in achieving the company’s goals.

In addition to improved productivity, happiness can also make you more creative. There is a link between optimism and being open to new ideas and experiences, which can promote healthy habits and cognitive responses. Creativity, furthermore, can give you a sense of purpose, as well as promote positive emotions, and lower stress and anxiety.

Happiness may lengthen life expectancy

A 2011 study involving 200 men and women from San Francisco found out that people who have more positive than negative experiences lived longer. Optimism is also said to be associated with a reduced risk of stroke and heart disease and a longer lifespan. Optimists, moreover, tend to age gracefully and enjoy more years free from chronic disease or disabilities.

One of the main reasons for this is that optimistic people feel more satisfied and content with their lives. They also tend to be healthier or make healthier life choices, which is a factor in a longer life expectancy. There is also a link between improved health and positive emotions, which include lower blood pressure, better blood sugar levels, and better heart health.

Happiness promotes good overall health

As previously mentioned, when humans feel good, they tend to make better and conscious decisions about their life and health. They take better care of their body by being more active, getting enough sleep, and eating healthy. This means fewer chances of relying on unhealthy food or other negative substances to cheer themselves or numb any pain.

Another reason why happiness benefits overall well-being is it helps reduce stress. This translates to lower levels of stress hormones, which means less pain and unpleasant physical and mental health concerns. Being happy can also promote better mental health with a reduced risk of developing symptoms associated with anxiety, depression, and other mental health illnesses.

Happy people are more generous or altruistic

It has long been recognized that doing nice things can make us feel happy. Studies have also revealed that there is a strong connection between selfless acts and happiness. It is suggested that giving or being generous activates an area of the brain linked with satisfaction and the reward cycle. This then gives us a warm feeling that can help improve our mood and well-being.

Helping or giving can make both you and the recipient happier, especially if it helps them get out of a bad situation. It is a cycle, as acts of generosity generate more happiness, and even motivate you to have more inclination in helping others. Volunteering, donating to charity, and joining community services are some of the ways people give and display generosity.

How To Be Happy Or Cultivate Happiness

If you’re not one of those people who are naturally happy or cheerful, here are a few things you can do to cultivate happiness or be happy.

  • Exercise – This benefits your body and mind. Regular physical activity can also improve your mood and help ward off symptoms of anxiety or depression.
  • Sleep more – Adequate sleep is essential to emotional well-being and good overall health. Aim to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night and maintain a consistent sleep-wake schedule.
  • Pursue goals – Immerse yourself in experiences that can lead to personal growth and benefit the welfare of others. This can increase your happiness and give you a sense of purpose.
  • Maintain strong and healthy connections – Healthy and strong relationships can improve your health, reduce stress, and increase happiness. Connect with loved ones and friends, as well as recognize and take steps when relationships negatively affect your health and well-being.
  • Spend time outdoors – Studies suggest that spending time in nature for 30 minutes or more a week can help lower blood pressure, as well as anxiety and depression.
  • Put on a smile – Try to crack a smile when you feel low and see how it affects you. Studies show that faking or forcing a smile can trick your brain into happiness by easing stress and lowering your heart rate.
  • Be present – Don’t spend too much time worrying about things or your future. Live in the moment and focus on the now.
  • Be grateful – Showing gratitude even for the little things can greatly improve your mood.  You can do this by keeping a gratitude list or journal, appreciating or enjoying simple moments, or repeating a gratitude mantra.

How Therapy Can Help

If you’re faced with a problem and feel like you can’t make progress or get through it, consider talking to a mental health professional. Online therapy provides a safe and more accessible platform to get expert help in the comfort of your own home. Do take note that you don’t have to be diagnosed with depression or any other mental health condition to seek therapy.

Mental health professionals can help you navigate through your emotions and look at your challenges from a new perspective. Therapy, furthermore, can also help you recognize destructive behaviors or thought patterns and replace them with positive or helpful ones. With professional help, you can develop strategies for coping with challenges and allow yourself to give importance to self-care and your well-being.

If you want to know how to be happy, it is important to get acquainted with negative emotions and tweak your daily habits. Don’t think of happiness as an end goal that you can accomplish and be over with. It requires constant effort and the formation of positive and nurturing habits. Don’t hesitate to seek online therapy or professional guidance if you feel stuck. Keep in mind that help is always available.

Kate Skurat

Kate Skurat

Licensed Mental Health Counselor | Washington, United States

Kate has a B.S. in Psychology and M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University and has worked in healthcare since 2017. She primarily treated depression, anxiety, eating disorders, trauma, and grief, as well as identity, relationship and adjustment issues. Her clinical experience has focused on individual and group counseling, emergency counseling and outreach. Read more