Vocabulary.com tells us that, “Happiness is that feeling that comes over you when you know life is good and you can’t help but smile. It’s the opposite of sadness. Happiness is a sense of well-being, joy, or contentment. When people are successful, or safe, or lucky, they feel
“Happiness is that feeling that comes over you when you know life is good and you can’t help but smile. It’s the opposite of sadness. Happiness is a sense of well-being, joy, or contentment. When people are successful, or safe, or lucky, they feel happiness.”vocabulary.com
So, is happiness just a fleeting feeling of pleasure that comes and goes?
I remember reading somewhere that ‘happiness’ was longer lasting and more stable than ‘pleasure’. I guess this resonated with me as I have remembered it and it has become a part of my own understanding and interpretation of happiness.
Funny though, that when you look up the definition of pleasure, it mentions being happy or having feelings of happiness and satisfaction. So it turns back on itself a bit like Oxford’s description of happiness discussed in the last post, What is Happiness? Other definitions go on to mention feelings of joy, ecstasy and euphoria and these are commonly fleeting emotions we only have for a short time.
My understanding of ‘satisfaction’ is that it is not the same as ecstasy or joy. Satisfaction is not just a momentary feeling or emotion, but almost a lack of other feelings. A lack of dislike or hate, a lack of euphoria or joy but most importantly a lack of wanting more. Satisfaction and contentment for me are synonymous. But for others, satisfaction brings other words or feelings to mind.
Is happiness a state of mind, a feeling or an emotion?
Researching more about happiness I discover a whole new debate about whether happiness is a state of mind, a feeling or an emotion. They are apparently all quite different things even though in daily life the words may be used to describe the same things.
I like how this post explains the difference between feelings and emotions. While we use these words interchangeably they are describing different things. The explanation given is that emotions come from our subconscious and trigger physical responses within our body. While feelings are our brain trying to give a reason to why we are feeling that particular emotion at that particular time based on our past experiences and current outlook.
“There are currently two main scientific ways of explaining the nature of emotions. According to the cognitive appraisal theory, emotions are judgments about the extent that the current situation meets your goals. Happiness is the evaluation that your goals are being satisfied, as when winning the lottery solves your financial problems and being asked out holds the promise of satisfying your romantic needs. Similarly, sadness is the evaluation that your goals are not being satisfied, and anger is the judgment aimed at whatever is blocking the accomplishment of your goals.”Paul Thagard Ph.D.
This is very interesting and explains quite succinctly how we evaluate situations and how those evaluations arise to feelings or emotions within us. He has categorised happiness as an emotion in this case. Is this the same as a feeling or state of mind?
Collins dictionary defines a ‘state of mind’ as your mood or mental state at any particular time. I like Wikipedia’s definition, especially, “the condition or character of a person’s thoughts or feelings”.
Personally, to me, a state of mind is much bigger and longer lasting than a feeling or an emotion. Feelings and emotions may come and go but a state of mind can be maintained, with work, regardless of and throughout the feelings of many emotions. Is this getting confusing or what? For example, I believe, it is possible to maintain a state of gratitude, or a state of openness, even when you may experience emotions like fear or joy or both over a period of time.
Happiness is the evaluation that your goals are being satisfied.
But, let’s go back to Thagard’s explanation of happiness, that happiness is the evaluation that your goals are being satisfied. This is interesting. It accounts for why happiness is defined differently for each person, as we all have different goals and aspirations. It also suggests that it is linked to a person’s expectations. And this is where we can truly make a difference and influence our own happiness. If our goals or expectations are too great, we may never hope to attain them and will always feel disappointed. But, on the other hand, we don’t want our goals or aspirations to be too low or we will never be motivated to learn or try or stretch ourselves to meet them. This, in turn, could lead to never feeling a sense of pride in ourselves and lower our satisfaction.
Balancing our expectations seems to be the key.
In my experience, finding a balance means bringing expectations back to yourself. If we have expectations of situations and other people that are outside our control we will often be disappointed and unhappy. With this way of thinking our happiness remains at the whim of the fates.
If we say we can’t be happy until we win the lottery then there is a pretty big chance that we will never be happy. Same for financial success. This can take years of hard work to achieve that goal. If we won’t give ourselves happiness until we get there, then there are years of not being happy. If we say we can’t be happy until we find love, then again, there will be a lot of time wasted feeling unhappy. Also, an unhappy person will probably not be as attractive as a happy person and therefore we hinder our chances of achieving our goal of finding love.
If, on the other hand, we bring our expectations down a notch and back to being about ourselves we have a better chance of finding success, and subsequently, happiness. For example, if we say that doing our best in any given situation will make us happy then we have direct control over that and a much greater degree of success. We are motivated to be the best version of ourselves that we can be at any given time and can feel happy about it, no matter what the outcome.
We’ll continue to look at ways we define happiness and how we can bring ourselves more happiness.
How do you define happiness? What makes you happy?
Please tell me in the comments below.
Subscribe and stay in the loop.