Defining Your Personal Happiness

In order to know what brings you happiness, you first must understand what happiness is. Dr. Martin Seligman defines happiness as the emotion that arises when we do something that stems from our strengths and virtues. Other definitions suggest that happiness is when all of your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs have been met.

The self-help program called A Course in Happiness defines it as a natural state of mind arising from an understanding and acceptance of life exactly as it is. Another definition suggests that happiness is being in love with living. And finally, Ruut Veenhoven defines happiness as how much a person likes the life he or she leads.

Surely, happiness is a slippery and elusive creature. It is hard to define something that is so subjective. Some psychologists believe that happiness is not linked to one or two very intense moments of elation, but rather tied to a steady, more frequent flow of smaller joys into your life. This would mean that lasting happiness comes not from a few moments, but many moments. Further, happiness is directly related to the degree of optimism that you possess in all walks of life.

The quality of life for U.S. citizens has risen steadily since the 1950s, while people report that their level of happiness is no greater since World War II. According to a report in U.S. News and World Report, people today are 10 times as likely to suffer depression as those born two generations ago.

The one thing that is known for sure by researchers, psychologists, therapist, educators, and practitioners is this: You have to work to find happiness. Happiness does not just walk up to you; you have to walk to it.

Types of Happiness

Researchers such as Steve Taylor — researcher and author of the article “Where Is Happiness?” — view happiness in several contexts: materialistic happiness, hedonistic happiness, ego-based happiness, future-based happiness, need-satisfaction happiness, event-based happiness, and circumstance-changing happiness.

  • Materialistic happiness is the type of happiness that you get from having things — material possessions like cars, boats, homes, clothes, fine jewelry, silver, or things that bring your personal joy. This type of happiness is strong, but it does not last long. After we get used to having the “thing” that we wanted for so long, we're ready to move on to our next “materialistically happy” experience.

  • Hedonistic happiness is happiness that comes from pleasure and pleasurable situations and stimuli. These pleasures can be food, sex, alcohol, a comfortable home, dancing in a wild nightclub, sailing on a clear lake, driving through the mountains, or listening to incredible music. These pleasures are very subjective because while food and dancing in a nightclub may be the biggest pleasures in life for some, they can be low on the list of pleasures for others.

  • Ego-based happiness is the happiness we get from success, self-esteem, status, praise, power, and fame. Ego-based happiness can originate from a compliment from a coworker on the quality of your performance, your partner telling you that you are beautiful, or receiving a standing ovation for a performance. These things feed your ego and bring you joy.

  • Researchers have found that women in their mid-forties to mid-fifties describe themselves as “happier” more often than women in their late teens to mid-twenties.

  • Future-based happiness comes from knowing that you have something to which you can look forward, joy on the horizon. Future-based happiness is associated with optimism and hope. It has its ties in plans that you assume are going to bring you joy on some level. It can be as simple as dinner tonight or that Alaskan cruise you're planning for next summer. Future-based happiness is a stimulus that keeps you going.

  • Need-satisfaction happiness is happiness that comes to you when you have had a need met. It can be as complex as the happiness you feel once a major problem has been solved or a health issue has been resolved, or as simple as the happiness you feel once you have slept or eaten.

  • Event-based happiness is happiness that comes to you when you have witnessed or participated in a pleasurable event such as a party, a marriage, obtaining employment, getting accepted into college, or watching your child hit her first home run.

  • Circumstance-changing happiness occurs when you change a part of your life with which you were displeased. You may have moved to a new home, lost weight, moved to another job from one that was not rewarding, or found a better way to do something that had been troublesome before.

Is It Enough? Will It Last?

Each of these types of happiness may bring you joy for a while, maybe even a long while, but each has its drawback and each has its “time limit.” Future-based happiness is wonderful, until that point in your life when there may not be anything on the horizon. Materialistic happiness is great, until you run out of money. Ego-based happiness is wonderful, but what happens when people stop praising you and lavishing you with kind words? Where is happiness then?

One of the most important things about happiness is that it does not exist outside of yourself. You must bring happiness into your life and not expect happiness to be brought to you by an external force.

Researchers on happiness have found that enjoyment assists in good physical health, positive mental health, reduces stress, protects against illness, and combats negative mental activity.

There are several major ways to keep lasting happiness in your life. First is by setting goals and working to reach them. Next is by having an optimistic attitude about the world and the way in which the world moves and turns.

Happiness is also best retained by understanding your spirituality and having a close circle of friends in whom you can confide and disclose important things about your life. Happiness can exist in your life when you remove things such as stress, anger, fear, and negative thinking.

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