What is happiness?
It seems like an odd question, but is it? Do you know how to define happiness? Do you think happiness is the same thing to you as it is to others?
What’s the point of it all? Does it even make a difference in our lives?
In fact, happiness does have a pretty important role in our lives, and it can have a huge impact on the way we live our lives. Although researchers have yet to pin down the definition or an agreed-upon framework for happiness, there’s a lot we have learned in the last few decades.
This article will dive into the science of happiness, what it actually is, and why it matters.
First, let’s take a look at the definition of happiness so we’re all on the same page. Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of “happiness” is a simple one: “The state of being happy.”
Not exactly what we were looking for, was it? Perhaps we need to dive a little deeper. Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of “happy” is a little more helpful: “Feeling or showing pleasure or contentment.”
That’s better! So, happiness is the state of feeling or showing pleasure or contentment. From this definition, we can glean a few important points about happiness:
- Happiness is a state, not a trait; in other words, it isn’t a long-lasting, permanent feature or personality trait, but a more fleeting, changeable state.
- Happiness is equated with feeling pleasure or contentment, meaning that happiness is not to be confused with joy, ecstasy, bliss, or other more intense feelings.
- Happiness can be either feeling or showing, meaning that happiness is not necessarily an internal or external experience, but can be both.
Now we have a better grasp on what happiness is—or at least, how the Oxford English Dictionary defines what happiness is. However, this definition is not the end-all, be-all definition of happiness. In fact, the definition of happiness is not a “settled” debate.
What Is the Meaning of Happiness in Positive Psychology?
The meaning of happiness in Positive Psychology really depends on who you ask.
Happiness is often known by another name in positive psychology research: subjective well-being, or SWB. Some believe happiness is one of the core components of SWB, while others believe happiness is SWB. Regardless, you’ll frequently find SWB used as a shorthand for happiness in the literature.
And speaking of the literature, you will find references to SWB everywhere. A quick Google search for the word “happiness” offers over 2 million results (as of January 6th, 2019). Further, a scan for the same term in two of psychology’s biggest online databases (PsycINFO and PsycARTICLES) returns 19,139 results from academic and other journals, books, dissertations, and more.
Is It Difficult to Define Scientifically?
With so many takes on happiness, it’s no wonder that happiness is a little difficult to define scientifically; there is certainly disagreement about what, exactly, happiness is.
According to researchers Chu Kim-Prieto, Ed Diener, and their colleagues (2005), there are three main ways that happiness has been approached in positive psychology:
- Happiness as a global assessment of life and all its facets;
- Happiness as a recollection of past emotional experiences;
- Happiness as an aggregation of multiple emotional reactions across time (Kim-Prieto, Diener, Tamir, Scollon, & Diener, 2005).
Although they generally all agree on what happiness feels like—being satisfied with life, in a good mood, feeling positive emotions, feeling enjoyment, etc.—researchers have found it difficult to agree on the scope of happiness.
However, for our purposes in this piece, it’s enough to work off of a basic definition that melds the OED‘s definition with that of positive psychologists: happiness is a state characterized by contentment and general satisfaction with one’s current situation.
Pleasure vs. Happiness
With the close ties between pleasure and happiness, you might be wondering how to differentiate between them. After all, the OED definition of happiness describes it as a state of feeling pleasure!
The association between the two makes sense, and it’s common to hear the two words used interchangeably outside of the literature; however, when it comes to the science of positive psychology, it is important to make a distinction between the two.
Happiness, as we described above, is a state characterized by feelings of contentment and satisfaction with one’s life or current situation. On the other hand, pleasure is a more visceral, in-the-moment experience. It often refers to the sensory-based feelings we get from experiences like eating good food, getting a massage, receiving a compliment, or having sex.
Happiness, while not a permanent state, is a more stable state than pleasure. Happiness generally sticks around for longer than a few moments at a time, whereas pleasure can come and go in seconds (Paul, 2015).
Pleasure can contribute to happiness, and happiness can enhance or deepen feelings of pleasure, but the two can also be completely mutually exclusive. For example, you can feel a sense of happiness based on meaning and engagement that has nothing to do with pleasure, or you could feel pleasure but also struggle with guilt because of it, keeping you from feeling happy at the same time.
VERDICT:-Happiness is the own wealth of us.