What Is Happiness?

What Is Happiness?

Happiness is an emotional state characterized by feelings of joy, satisfaction, contentment, and fulfillment. While happiness has many different definitions, it is often described as involving positive emotions and life satisfaction.

When most people talk about happiness, they might be talking about how they feel in the present moment, or they might be referring to a more general sense of how they feel about life overall.

Because happiness tends to be such a broadly defined term, psychologists and other social scientists typically use the term ‘subjective well-being‘ when they talk about this emotional state. Just as it sounds, subjective well-being tends to focus on an individual’s overall personal feelings about their life in the present.

Two key components of happiness (or subjective well-being) are:

  • The balance of emotions: Everyone experiences both positive and negative emotions, feelings, and moods. Happiness is generally linked to experiencing more positive feelings than negative.
  • Life satisfaction: This relates to how satisfied you feel with different areas of your life including your relationships, work, achievements, and other things that you consider important.

Signs of Happiness

While perceptions of happiness may be different from one person to the next, there are some key signs that psychologists look for when measuring and assessing happiness.

Some key signs of happiness include:

  • Feeling like you are living the life you wanted
  • Feeling that the conditions of your life are good
  • Feeing that you have accomplished (or will accomplish) what you want in life
  • Feeling satisfied with your life
  • Feeling positive more than negative

One important thing to remember is that happiness isn’t a state of constant euphoria. Instead, happiness is an overall sense of experiencing more positive emotions than negative ones.

Happy people still feel the whole range of human emotions—anger, frustrastion, boredom, loneliness, and even sadness—from time to time. But even when faced with discomfort, they have an underlying sense of optimism that things will get better, that they can deal with what is happening, and that they will be able to feel happy again.

Types of Happiness

There are many different ways of thinking about happiness. For example, the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle made a distinction between two different kinds of happiness: hedonia and eudaimonia.

  • Hedonia: Hedonic happiness is derived from pleasure. It is most often associated with doing what feels good, self-care, fulfilling desires, experiencing enjoyment, and feeling a sense of satisfaction.
  • Eudaimonia: This type of happiness is derived from seeking virtue and meaning. Important components of eudaimonic well-being including feeling that your life has meaning, value, and purpose. It is associated more with fulfilling responsibilities, investing in long-term goals, concern for the welfare of other people, and living up to personal ideals.

Hedonia and eudemonia are more commonly known today in psychology as pleasure and meaning, respectively. More recently, psychologists have suggested the addition of the third component that relates to engagement. These are feelings of commitment and participation in different areas of life.

Research suggests that happy people tend to rank pretty high on eudaimonic life satisfaction and better than average on their hedonic life satisfaction.1

All of these can play an important role in the overall experience of happiness, although the relative value of each can be highly subjective. Some activities may be both pleasurable and meaningful, while others might skew more one way or the other.

For example, volunteering for a cause you believe in might be more meaningful than pleasurable. Watching your favorite tv show, on the other hand, might rank lower in meaning and higher on pleasure.2

Some types of happiness that may fall under these three main categories include:

  • Joy: A often relatively brief feeling that is felt in the present moment
  • Excitement: A happy feeling that involves looking forward to something with positive anticipation
  • Gratitude: A positive emotion that involves being thankful and appreciative
  • Pride: A feeling of satisfaction in something that you have accomplished
  • Optimism: This is a way of looking at life with a positive, upbeat outlook
  • Contentment: This type of happiness involves a sense of satisfaction

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